REVIEW:  Academy of the Company Theatre’s ‘Les Miserables School Edition’ cast Turning, Turning Wise Beyond their Years

Having read Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Miserables, witnessed three film adaptations including a 1998 mediocre version starring Claire Danes as Cosette and Liam Neesen as Jean Valjean (without an Eponine), GBH’s 10th and 25th anniversary of Les Miserables in Concert as well as Les Miserables live onstage from Broadway to Lexus Broadway in Boston to right here a few years ago at the Company Theatre, the Academy of the Company Theatre’s Les Miserables School Edition features the youngest cast I’ve ever witnessed onstage.  Les Miserables is a masterful show and a paramount redemption tale, but it does deal in underlying mature themes such as criminal injustices, swindling, prostitution, and war.

Weston Hammond as Javert and Sal Garcia as Jean Valjean Photo credit to Dean Palmer Jr./Zoe Bradford

Set in 18th century France, Les Miserables is a brilliant tale about an escaped convict attempting to rebuild his life under the watchful eye of Inspector Javert.  Life experience suggests that adults might have a firmer grasp on the show’s complicated and mature themes, but with exceptional Sal Garcia starring as Jean Valjean and a wise beyond their years cast, it is not difficult to imagine.

Skillfully directed and staged by Sally Forrest and musically-directed by Melissa Carubia, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Les Miserables School Edition continuing through Sunday, January 30 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This musical is over two hours with one intermission.  The School Edition is a bit abbreviated, but only meticulous fans of the full length musical would notice.  Click here for more information and tickets. 

Will Moon as The Bishop of Digne and Sal Garcia as Jean Valjean Photo credit to Dean Palmer Jr/Company Theatre

With a thick beard and an imposing figure, it is not much of a stretch of the imagination that Sal Garcia could take on the reigns of Jean Valjean.  With a vocal range from a whispered lullaby to a powerful belt, Garcia’s vocal gymnastics take off from Soliloquy onward and especially for extraordinary solos, Bring Him Home and Who Am I.  At just 16 years old, it is amazing to think his voice will only become more powerful and pliable in the years to come.  Garcia as Valjean and Will Moon’s clear and distinct vocals as the Bishop of Digne combine for a moving performance in the musical’s most pivotal and iconic scene.  Valjean’s encounters with Weston Hammond as mysterious Inspector Javert work well together to fuel the mounting tension between them.  Hammond’s deep baritone and Garcia’s versatile vocals heighten each scene together.

Sal Garcia as Jean Valjean and Brianna Casey as Fantine Photo credit to Dean Palmer Jr./Company Theatre

Brianna Casey may look young, but her deep and rich vocals exude that maturity needed to take on Fantine’s complexities from a struggling mother to a woman haunted by visions of the past exhibited in the anguish of I Dreamed a Dream.

Elsa Hancock-Happ as Young Cosette is pitch perfect and adorable, but her distinct and reactive facial expressions with the Thenardiers are the most fun to watch.   Jack Baumrind is a little scene stealer as Garouche, his sweet smile and streetwise antics outsmarting most everyone he encounters.

Tessa Beshere and Jackson Parker as the manipulative and amusing Thenardiers only seem to get better as the show progresses.  With a cackling laugh, scheming Parker as Thenardier excels in the show’s darkest number, Dog Eat Dog with Garcia as Valjean and Dabady as Marius.  The Thenardiers’ playful, dynamic chemistry and physical humor is at its best as they become the life of the party for Beggars at the Feast.

Jackson Parker as Thenardier and Tessa Beshere as Madame Thenardier Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Usually I don’t care for the character of Cosette, but Katherine Dee changes my mind through her angelic, soaring soprano vocals and sweet chemistry with Gilbert Dabady as strong-willed and charming Marius.  Dabady exhibits playful chemistry with a lovely Isabelle Assaf as Eponine.  The trio creates beautiful harmonies for A Heart Full of Love and the collective cast’s harmonies are exceptional for One Day More.

Gilbert Gabady as Marius and Katherine Zee as Cosette ‘A Heart Full of Love’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Antoine Aoun is also memorable and charismatic as Enjolras, leader of a student revolution.  Aoun builds excitement for the future with ABC Café and The People’s Song.

Antoine Aoun as Enjolras with revolutionaries and the barricade Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

From subtle cobblestone streets to the finely detailed and massive barricade, Ryan’s Barrow’s set design strikes the contrasting tone of the elite and the poverty-stricken parts of France accentuated by Martine Assaf’s aesthetically pleasing costumes faithful to the musical’s vision.  Dean Palmer Jr.’s impressive lighting is prominent throughout the production from an atmospheric glow to flickering street lamps to twinkling stars to illuminated lanterns most evident in a gorgeous display for Turning and the unique and stirring staging accentuates the resonating and timely number, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables led by Dabady who pays melancholic and poignant tribute to ghosts of the past.

Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Les Miserables School Edition continuing through Sunday, January 30 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Americana Theatre Company’s Michael Kirkland and Jennifer Martin talk bringing epic musical ‘Man of La Mancha’ to the South Shore

Americana Theatre Company is taking the South Shore on an epic quest in the multiple Tony Award-winning musical, Man of La Mancha at Spire Center for Performing Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts through Sunday, July 29.  Starring TV personality Scott Wahle, a fascinating cast, and featuring a memorable score that includes the classic number, The Impossible Dream, Man of La Mancha is based on Cervantes’ masterpiece Don Quixote.

American Theatre Company’s Jennifer Martin and director Dr. Michael Kirkland discuss going through 500 audition tapes, their current season, and why Man of La Mancha sometimes felt like a farce.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Sleepless Critic:  This is your first time directing Man of La Mancha.

Michael Kirkland:  It is, but it is also my seventh La Mancha.  I’ve been blessed to portray Sancho Panza four times professionally.  I’ve also played The Barber, have choreographed the combat and violence in the show maybe six of the seven times, but have always longed to direct it.

SC:  Doing a show that many times makes you that much more prepared of what works and what doesn’t.

MK:  Directing the show is a real blessing because I have formulated well germinated ideas about the piece and I finally have an opportunity to experiment with those ideas, but I never lock myself out of the possibility of change.

SC:  Although Man of La Mancha is a comedy, Americana Theatre Company’s past production of The Three Musketeers also featured swordplay and took place in a similar time period.  Did the actors train the way they did for The Three Musketeers?

MK:  Yes, it is a physical show with combat fighting ranging from realistic to stylized to serious to comical narratives and techniques.  Similar challenges but different than swordplay.  Swordplay has more rules and challenges that come with it.  This is all hand to hand and found weapons, which are objects laying around that become unusual weapons.

SC:  Man of La Mancha’s The Impossible Dream in itself is epic.  So how did Americana decide to take on this show?

Jennifer Martin:  This is our third foray into musical theatre having taken on Grease and Lucky Stiff previously.  We try to choose stories that we believe matter, have great entertainment value, make our community better, and are ensemble driven.  Man of La Mancha is a storytelling, ensemble-driven show that works well with our company.  This show is great for that because Cervantes enters the prison and uses the prisoners to tell his story.

American Theatre Company Man of La Mancha

Scott Wahle as Don Quixote and Bethany Lauren James as Aldonza with Ruben Navarro as Sancho Panza

SC:  TV personality Scott Wahle stars as the Man of La Mancha.  He’s been in a few shows in the area such as Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s Guys and Dolls and Company Theatre’s Paragon Park.  He has a certain charisma and comic timing that fits Man of La Mancha.  How was the audition process?

JM:  We posted the audition on Backstage for our New York auditions and viewed about 500 audition videos for Aldonza, Sancho Panza, and Don Quixote (Cervantes).  After reviewing those videos, we traveled to New York and we did a full day of five minute audition slots.  We found Aldonza and Sancho Panza, but we still didn’t have our Man of La Mancha.  Americana’s President Peter Martin suggested his friend Scott Wahle.  Finding the Man of La Mancha was our actual quest and once we found him, everything fit into place.

SC:  What has been the show’s biggest challenge?

JM:  The first rehearsal process and making sure that above all, the words and richness of what was written is experienced by the audience while moving quickly.  The other challenge unique to our company is our four company members performing in the show are wearing multiple hats.  Managing Director David Friday plays The Governor and The Innkeeper while being the set builder and designer.  We’re doing a comedy, but sometimes it feels like a farce.

MK:  The concept we had settled upon affords an exploration of layers.  What I’m trying to communicate in this particular interpretation is even Cervantes does not completely understand the power of what he has written and it takes these prisoners and him watching how his story redeems them that truly brings home the power.

SC:  Man of La Mancha has something for everyone, but I think men will especially enjoy it.

MK:  It is a show with depth, substance, and great heart.  It also has some bite to it and aspects of it might be border line uncomfortable for people to experience.  I always think we can tell redemptive stories of girl scouts or in this particular instance, prostitutes.  The show makes a powerful statement by the end of this story.

Americana Theatre Company Man of La Mancha bow

The complete cast Photo credit to Denise Maccaferri

SC:  What’s been your favorite part of putting the show together?

MK:  I love to collaborate.  We had collaborative sessions on the telephone before we ever got here, just kicking around ideas then settling upon how we are to realize the conceptualization of the piece.  Then we start working with those people on a day to day basis bouncing ideas off each other, then trying things, and then trying them on the performers.  Theatre affords you what some more isolated performing arts don’t.  Theatre is created and performed in community.  Good ideas are great, and once it is on the stage, it’s not mine.  It’s ours.

SC:  The current season includes Man of La Mancha, Sleepy Hollow, and The Gifts of the Magi.  How do Americana select each season?

JM:  We look at what would be good for the town of Plymouth based on audience feedback of what they respond to, interested in, what they love, and what they are longing for.  We chose Man of La Mancha because we love the story, thought we could tell it well, and saw that it hasn’t been told for awhile in this area.

Our selection process takes about four months of thought and steady, hard work.  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was chosen because we realize this area values holidays and traditional stories.  We thought of doing a one man version of Sleepy Hollow.  Our founding director Derek Martin is currently working on adapting the script and our Managing Director, David Friday, will be performing it.  We’re excited about performing an old, beautiful story in a simple, straight forward and creative manner.

The Gifts of the Magi is a lovely, six person musical so dear and true to the holiday season.  We wanted to tell a holiday story and keep the cast small in the wintertime because we want to perform it in the Center for the Arts, a small space.

SC:  Studio Americana youth program delves into a lot of big fantasy productions such as Peter Pan, Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland.  I understand fall registration is still open.

JM:  Yes, registration is still open.  At Studio Americana, we work with each child individually which is why we keep the shows intentionally small so each student has an equal amount of time.  A lot of students say it’s the best part of their summer.

Studio Americana

Photo courtesy of Studio Americana

SC:  What do you envision the future of Americana Theatre Company?

JM:  We still are a bit of a secret in the South Shore.  We are blessed to have consistent five star reviews from people who come.  When people finally come, they say I can’t believe I’ve missed you guys.  We’re expanding our season with a cabaret and fundraiser in March, a show through July and have offerings in October. 

We’re a 501(c)3 company and have some great community sponsors.  As we get more support, we’d love to expand to a six show season where things are constantly happening.  People who come to Plymouth get the highest level of theatre across the United States, but we want our residents and guests to feel like this is also their hometown theater company.

Americana Theatre Company proudly presents Tony award-winning musical Man of La Mancha through July 29 at Spire Center for Performing Arts, 25 ½ Court Street in Plymouth, MA.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for how to support Americana Theatre Company.  Follow Americana Theatre Company on Facebook and Twitter.

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