Peoria Players opened their 95th season Friday night with a stunning production of "Les Miserables".
Based on the iconic Victor Hugo novel, this story has a bit of everything - love, passion, politics, penance, redemption, faith, and the meaning of life.
As a musical, it has been wildly popular and is, indeed, one of this patron's favorite modern musicals.
Given the show's soaring, operatic score, it is also a difficult and ambitious undertaking for any amateur theater group. I held my breath in anticipation, wondering if Peoria Players could pull it off.
I am happy to report that not only did they "pull it off", but this production replaces "Drowsy Chaperone" on my list as the best thing I have ever seen on the Players' stage!
With a large cast of dozens, there was not a single mediocre vocal performance in the lot.
Among the principles, it is extemely difficult to single out any performance as being superior to the others. Having said that, John Huerta as Inspector Javert was nearly flawless. Likewise, Brian Witkowsi as Marius, has a quite amazing and powerful voice. These two could easily have thrown away their body mics and still deliver the performances they did.
Although his voice cracked on the admittedly difficult but beautiful "Bring Him Home", Charles Brown was excellent as Jean Valjean. According to the program this was Mr. Brown's first leading role at PPT in 34 years! Please, Mr. Brown, do not stay away so long!
Ashley Rufus (Fantine) did a great job on the classic "I Dreamed a Dream". Chloe Martin's wonderful performance as Cosette was only marred by her microphone cutting out during two of her beautiful numbers. Lindsey Pugh also was excellent as the star-crossed Eponine.
Veteran actor Steve Bortolotti and Rachel Lewis shone as the dastardly but lovable Thenardiers. Their delivery of the comic-relief "Master of the House" was precisely executed. Not only did the actors belt out the number appropriately, but they moved seamlessly among their guests relieving them of their valuables in a perfectly choreographed number.
In a brilliant bit of casting, Gianna Colombo as Gavroche was a double threat. Not only did this young lady deliver a great vocal performance, but her acting was superb. I predict a great future for this young actress. I only hope she is in dance class as well in order to become the proverbial triple threat!
In a presentation of this caliber, one must acknowledge the director. Indeed, Connie Sinn's direction was apparent in the attention to every detail in this show. I have seldom seen such focus on the part of the actors. Anytime you have dozens of people on the stage at once, you can usually see one or two scanning the audience or mugging for their relatives. I never saw a single actor 'out of character' and I attribute this to Ms. Sinns' direction.
As stated earlier, this is one of my favorite modern musicals. I still get goosebumps when the priest gives the symbolic candlesticks to Valjean or during the wrenching "Bring Him Home". And who can keep a dry eye with lyrics such as "to love another person is to see the face of God"?
Thank you to Peoria Players, Connie Sinn, and the remarkable cast for such a wonderful opener. I hope that the rest of the 95th season will be half as good.
Les Miserables continues through September 15th at the theater in Lakeview Park.
Sellouts are likely so get your tickets ASAP!
The box office number is 309-688-4473.