Les Miserables by Ridley High School in Folsom, PA
March 21, 2017
Review submitted by Lizzie Stricklin of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School
Despite what the title may imply, Ridley High School’s performance of Les Miserables: School Edition was anything but tragic as the audience was blown away when they “heard the people sing.”
Les Miserables became a smash hit when it premiered in London in 1985 with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables depicts the odyssey of ex-convict Jean Valjean, who breaks his parole to seek a better life after nineteen years in prison. While being relentlessly pursued by Inspector Javert, Valjean adopts a dying woman’s daughter and becomes intertwined with revolutionary chaos in 1830s Paris.
Due to its formidable singing and acting requirements, Les Miserables is a feat to perform skillfully at the high school level, but the cast of Ridley High School surpassed all challenges in their revolutionary performance.
The cast was led by the amazing Jake Mergott (Jean Valjean) whose near professional vocals and adept acting skill grew to remarkable heights as the show progressed. Equally stunning vocals were presented by Ben Mergott as Javert and James Clark as Marius. The male actors were supported by the delightful performances of Blake Eckert and Sarah Messina as Fantine and Cosette, respectively, whose beautiful ballads tied the show together.
Nevertheless, the sensational ensembles were the lifeblood of the performance. The Barricade Boys, led by Meese Tobey as Enjolras, all displayed their individual vocal prowess through featured solos. The liveliness and passion they exhibited made their inevitable demise all the more emotional. The same is true for the female ensembles of the Lovely Ladies and the Factory Women, who became a dynamic backdrop in vocally rigorous group numbers.
Perhaps the most impressive off-stage element of this production proved to be the Ridley Drama Group Pit Orchestra. Entirely made up of student musicians, the pit performed the challenging score flawlessly, never pausing once throughout the two acts. The pit was supported by the talented sound management, through which a large number of microphones were handled with few mishaps. This production also featured notable publicity, as social media and lobby decorations were taken into account when marketing the show.
With an incredibly well-rounded cast and crew, Ridley’s production of Les Miserables: School Edition was a high-caliber performance any high school would “dream a dream” of matching.
Review submitted by Sanya Kunicki of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School
Ridley High School’s production of Les Miserables: School Edition was a far cry from miserable. Originally opened in London, Les Miserables came to Broadway in 1987 and became increasingly popular over time. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables tells the story of several characters during the French rebellions of 1832. Within this story are several complex subplots revolving a police captain trying the hunt down an ex-convict, the ex-convict’s adopted daughter who falls in love with a student, and the students’ desperate desire for a better life for all.
A highlight of this production was their astounding musical strength. Not only were the stage performers excellent, but the Ridley Drama Group Pit Orchestra consisted of high school students. Les Miserables is a demanding show when it comes to the orchestra, and these student players handled the challenge exceptionally well.
There were a couple difficulties among the actors. At times, their diction was not articulated clearly enough. In addition, the acting was not always at the caliber of the vocals. Considering that the vocals were excellent, this did not diminish the overall quality of the show too much. However, when a given song had a greater focus on the sound than the story, it occasionally felt like a concert.
These few issues aside, the performers demonstrated great skill. The brothers Jake (Jean Valjean) and Ben Mergott (Javert) exuded marvelous emotion in their roles. MacKenzie Cannon (Eponine) exhibited a strong grasp of character, particularly in her response to Marius’s love of Cosette in “A Heart Full of Love.”
It is impossible to address all the talent of the other leads and supporting cast. A particular highlight was the comic characters of Madame Thenardier (Courtney Linus) and her husband, Thenardier (Abdul Kamara) because they entertained with such exuberance. The ensembles also displayed fantastic energy and understanding of character. The masculine ensembles of the Students and Convicts were particularly impressive, as large amounts of boys with strong vocals can be difficult to find at the high school level.
Les Miserables is difficult for sound because it has the challenge of several voices layered on top of each other, each with its own melody, each needing to be heard. The sound crew at Ridley, led by Jenna Brady, did very well with this balance. The stage crew, also, was incredibly efficient. The makeup team, led by Blake Eckert, did a good job creating bruises and scrapes to visually demonstrate characters’ misery.
Les Miserables: School Edition is a challenging show, and the Ridley Drama Group approached it with monstrous amounts of talent, resulting in a stand out show.