The Sonora based Sierra Repertory Theatre has rolled out its 35th anniversary season with a spectacular production of the musical Les Miserables - its first ever - that continues through May 4.
Les Miserables, of course, is one of the longest running productions on Broadway with an estimated cumulative audience count of 65 million. It is a rare treat to have the production offered locally with a high-caliber of acting and singing and spell-binding stage art as the nature of law and grace is examined in this timeless human drama.
The magic unfolds at the intimate East Sonora theatre above the Junction Shopping Center where there is no such thing as a bad seat. For three hours a talented cast of over 30 performers sings every word of script as the stage creatively morphs from scene to scene that takes the audience from a prison to a factory and stops at a a tavern, red light district, streets and even a foggy underground sewer system in France in the 1800s. It's there that main character, convict Jean Valjean, is transformed as hardened by 12 years of imprisonment for stealing bread to feed his sister's seven starving children, into a man of passion and love. He adopts Cosette, the young daughter left behind by a working woman who succumbs to illness following life in the tawdry world of prostitution. Cliff McCormick nails the intensity of Valjean and not only dispenses a remarkable stage presence but projects his beautiful voice into the heart of the audience who can feel all the emotion that the broken but impassioned man feels.
The three-hour production includes all of the songs crafted by Boublil and Schonberg for the 1980 stage musical that weaved from Victor Hugo's tale of passion and destruction in 19th century France. Those songs include "Do You Hear the People Sing," "One Day More," and "I Dreamed a Dream." Tenor McCormick, who can sing falsetto with confidence, touches the hearts of his audience during his prayerful rendition of prayerful "Bring Him Home."
As his nation falls under social unrest and violence reigns in the streets, Valjean is chased down by a unrelenting officer Javert (played by Broadway actor Eric Jon Mahlum) for breaking parole. Valjean hides his past by creating a new life as a businessman and esteemed town mayor. Javert, ever smelling blood, forces Valjean to make sacrifices for those he loves.
Comic relief comes in the form of innkeepers the corrupt and lovably despicable Thernardiers whose only interest in keeping Cosette is their financial reward until Valjean sweeps her away as his own daughter. Cathy Schenkelberg and Chris Vettel, who were inSRT's Church Basement Ladies, are true acting professionals. Vettel, who sang for four seasons with the Opera Company of Boston, lends his singing talents to the production.
The costumes are exquisite and lend wonderfully to the authentic feeling of the early French era.
The only drawback of a recent performance was that it was often difficult to make out some of the words of the performers who are miked but failed to clearly compete with the prerecorded music.
Also joining the cast are Scott Sowinski, who plays the revolutionary Enjolras. Sowinski has performed extensively in New York and in regional theaters, as well as undertaking such roles as Anthony in Sweeney Todd for New York City Opera and appearing on opera and concert stages around the world. Sierra Rep audiences may remember him from his turn as Tony in SRT's production of West Side Story.
Ticket prices range from $26 to $42 depending on the day of the performance. For reservations, call 532-3120 or visit www.sierrarep.org.