Les Miserables – Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown, PA
March 22, 2016
Review by: Hayley Derbyshire of Germantown Academy
Stronger than the barricade and more charged than the French revolution: it’s Central Bucks High School West’s production of Les Misérables!
Based on the Victor Hugo novel and set in 19th century France, Les Miserables chronicles the journey of bread-thief Jean Valjean as he strives for redemption.
As Jean Valjean, Ben Harris controlled the stage with a convicting portrayal of Valjean’s character growth and inner conflict. Harris commendably contrasted sweet vocals in gentle ballads such as “Bring Him Home” with solemnity and force in numbers like “The Confrontation”, in which he created an air of suspense alongside an intense Javert (David Loving). Loving’s brilliant portrayal of the obsessive and unrelenting Inspector gave chills. With powerful, unwavering vocals and a commanding presence, Loving’s performance was marvelous.
While these two powerhouse men made quite an impression, the female talent was also abundant. Brynn Parkin brought spunk to the stage as street-savvy Éponine, and broke hearts with a gorgeous rendition of “On My Own”. Emma Gogel serenaded with her beautiful soprano as innocent Cosette. Parkin and West’s voices complimented each other, especially when in harmonious trio with the lush vocals of Marius (Jayce Coleman).
Adding much needed levity to a morbid plot was the hysterical duo of Madame (Madeleine Ahr) and Monsieur Thernardier (Joey Recupero). Ahr’s fabulous vocals, paired with solid comedic skill, made her a perfect partner in pick-pocketing crime with the dynamic and amusing presence of Recupero. The two were truly engaging to watch, especially as they played off each other in the large ensemble number “Master of The House”. Also notable were the wonderful vocals of heroic Enjolras (John Calderaio) throughout the fight, and the dominating voice of a devastated Fantine (Annalee Tomanelli).
Although Les Miserables highlights many talented leading roles, it would be remiss to forget the equally incredible ensemble, who chillingly executed meaty numbers like “One Day More”. Their sheer might onstage made for a moving performance by each and every cast member, all of whom managed to maintain strong character and facial expression through each captivating number. Especially commendable smaller ensembles were the “Whores” in the saucy number “Lovely Ladies”, as well as the resolute rebel fighters at the barricade.
The voices of the cast were booming onstage, but so was the pit! Rarely in high school theatre does one witness such an excellent student orchestra as CB West’s in which musicians played through the score without falter. Despite a faulty sound system that frequently cut out during important moments, the cast did not allow this impediment to hold back their performance, though it certainly was a hindrance.
CB West phenomenally captured the essence of hope and the human will in a superb performance. We heard the people sing, and it was marvelous.
Review by Emily Hershgordon of Upper Dublin High School
A dim light illuminates an empty stage. Dilapidated men trudge in a syncopated rhythm down a diagonal. Suited officers patrol upstage, commanding viewers’ entrance into Central Bucks West’s production of Les Misérables.
Les Misérables tells the story of convict Jean Valjean’s journey from escaping parole (and policeman Javert) to raising the sweet Cosette, who cannot be cared for by her struggling mother Fantine. Originally an 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables first graced the stage in 1980 in France, before making its way to Broadway for several runs. In 2012, the story captured modern audiences in the film adaptation.
Central Bucks West’s performance of Les Misérables was honest and heart-wrenching. In “At the End of the Day,” the large cast was incredibly committed to their characters, and delivered a genuine performance that left audience members teary-eyed and inspired.
At the heart of the performance were male leads Ben Harris (Jean Valjean) and David Loving (Javert). Their deep baritones bellowed throughout the proscenium, and the clashing chemistry between the two was convincing and captivating. Equally talented were female stars Brynn Parkin (Éponine), Emma Gogel (Cosette), and Annalee Tomanelli (Fantine). The three ladies’ sweet, harmonious voices, coupled with truthful cries and whimpers, made the story seem ever more real.
Other highlights in the show included Joey Recupero (Thénardier) and Madeleine Ahr (Madame Thénardier). The pairs’ witty timing and flamboyant physicality was hilarious, adding levity to the otherwise somber tone. Also notable were the Barricade Boys; their weighted motions and pantomiming was quite phenomenal and set a high standard for the rest of the show.
Technically, the performance was quite formidable. Grace Gallagher, Cydney Bittner, and Peter Erickson (Stage Managers and Crew) must be commended, as the swift scene changes allowed the audience to remain immersed within the world of the French Revolution. Make-up, by Julia Nitschke, Maddy Ahr, and Sienna Coleman, was tasteful and complimentary. Unfortunately, it must be noted that the mics were quite faulty; throughout the show, particularly in solo songs, it was often difficult to hear actors’ voices. However, the overall sound was not compromised, thanks to the CB West Harlequin Club Pit. The musicians produced a tremendous sound that served an asset, rather than a backdrop, to the entire production.
Central Bucks West’s production of Les Misérables paid a wonderful tribute to a beloved story. I wish I could see the performance “One Day More.”