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Les Miserables at University of Michigan Musical Theatre Program (Review) April 18, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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There is some lovely music-making taking place at Power Center this weekend (don’t bother looking for tickets, UMMT’s Les Miserables has been sold out for months).  There are also some problems with this musical spectacular.

Performances are top notch, as is expected for this musical theater program. The full orchestra is superb (though it could stand some amplification of the bass). The set, properties, and costumes (professional rentals from Music Theatre of Wichita) look terrific and cost them a million bucks to rent/transport/install (okay, not a million bucks, but more than any other theater program in the State of Michigan and possibly the tri-state area could ever afford).  Lighting is spectacular (despite a few missed cues on opening night).

Conor Ryan plays a remarkable Jean Valjean (and his “Bring Him Home” was superb). Bobby Conte Thornton sings a wonderful Javert and acts well. Sean Seymour is a particularly strong Marius and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is second only to Bring Him Home as the musical highlight of the show. I also very much liked Kalia Medeiros and Mackenzie Orr as Madame and Mr Thenardier. The rest of the cast, leads to ensemble, are very strong but these folks are the standouts in this production. As in all productions of Les Mis the guys have much more to do than the girls.

But there were some big problems on opening night, not the least of which was poor sound design – missing mic cues (I’ve never seen that happen at a UM Musical Theatre production and certainly never at this level of problem), levels that are inconsistent, and poor balance. Credit the terrific student cast that could usually be heard even without their mics.  Also problematic were several special effects and sound cues (most egregious was a missing gunshot sound vital to the drama in Act II).

Guest Director Joe Locarro (who has appeared in Les Mis on Broadway and on tour), has created a tear-less slick-looking production that somehow pulsed with efficiency but lacked emotion. I have never before made it through A Little Fall Of Rain without tearing up, but here nothing. Its also a bit overly bombastic — over the years, Les Mis is one show in particular which has ramped up the” Stand And Belt at the Top Of Your Lungs” school of ballad singing, and its ramped up here as well. Its a bit too loud for the teacup-shaped Power Center. That’s also one of the reasons that Bring Him Home and Empty Chairs worked so well – instead of shouting to the rafters, the nuance of the vocals enhanced the numbers.

It should also be noted that this set was designed to be used without legs and masking — because of the cavernous size of the Power Center stage, black legs and borders have been brought in to cover the gaps at the side of the front set units — this results in blocked sitelines in many scenes for anyone sitting in the side sections house right or house left.

Overall, the show is enjoyable and slick and professional looking — as we have been spoiled in Ann Arbor to come to expect at UMMT shows — in fact, they are usually indistinguishable from Broadway tour productions. But in this instance, all this efficiency and money can’t hide what is in essence an emotionless evening that might leave you cold.


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