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Is Les Miserables the best high school musical ever? (Review kind of). July 22, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
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Having now seen two high school versions of LES MISERABLES, it begs to ask the question, is this the best High School musical ever?

25 years ago, I don’t think any of us would have ever thought that high schools might be doing this musical today. In fact, it seemed so “adult” and so “current” that it was hard to imagine anyone but professionals doing the show. Yet here it is.

Pioneer High School did a decent version a few years ago. Croswell Opera House did a whiz-bang knock-out version of it this past two weekends. Both casts had decent singers and mediocre ones — and yet both versions worked equally well.

Cut to 2.5 hours instead of the 3 hour running time, most audience members will be unaware of the cut material unless you are a true Les Mis expert. Some of the detail is gone, but its barely missed.

What is evident is that this is a show that features dozens of “parts” and the stronger performers are cast in leads while your average high school dramatists are equally happy playing the many many different ensemble parts. The parts fall directly into the vocal ranges of 16 – 18 year olds.

The music is not difficult to perform. Throw in a great orchestra and some straight-forward sets, and you have what might easily become the best current high school musical on the market for those schools tired of Bye Bye Birdie and Hairspray.

That brings me to special kudos for Croswell’s production. Musical Director Jonathan Sills has done a superb job with his (large) high school cast, and the orchestra was simply stunning. No cut-down orchestrations here; the full orchestra sound is lush and glorious.

Doug Miller designed a beautiful set, complete with detailed barricade. If the staging was a bit similar to the recent 25th Anniversary tour of the show, it can only be said that most shows without a turntable are pretty much going to look like that.

In short, I love youth theater and have directed a lot of it — but I was a bit green with envy at the stagecraft (and budget) on display at Croswell Opera House.

One caveat: if you are planning to do the show in your high school, make sure that you have plenty of men. Like most musicals of the last twenty years, its male-centric and you need plenty of them that can act, sing, and (kinda) dance (or at least move to the beat).

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