Director Renée Hewitt lets Camelot's 'Les Misérables' shine

In the pantheon of big, juicy, epic Broadway musicals, "Les Misérables" undoubtedly is among the top.

Camelot Theatre Company in Talent has demonstrated that it can produce large-scale Broadway musicals and do them well. The company has done "Sweeney Todd," "42nd Street," "1776," "Amadeus" and "The Producers" — all of them challenging.

But still, when Camelot announced it would stage "Les Misérables" this summer, more than one local fan of both the play and Camelot Theatre did a sharp intake of breath.

"Les Misérables" has all the attributes of a mega-hit — a gorgeous and demanding score; a heart-rending story of love, loss and redemption; a hero to love and a villain to hate; and a cast of seemingly thousands. The plot of "Les Misérables" makes the most of a sweeping backdrop of early 19th century France's throngs of prisoners, starving masses and fervent revolutionaries who are all — yes, we can say it — miserable.

The success of a production of "Les Misérables" depends on casting and crowd control. The cat-and-mouse game of Valjean and Javert may be the driving force of the show, but the supporting roles of the wretched Fantine, the love-struck Marius, the heart-sick Eponine, the delicate Cosette, the impish urchin Gavroche and those passionate revolutionaries all have their own terrific musical numbers that display their vocal power and range.

It takes a director with a firm hand with staging and a deft touch with musical performance to pull all this off, and Camelot Theatre discovered a hidden treasure in first-time director Renée Hewitt.

Hewitt has been a Camelot veteran as an actor and a teacher in the company's Summer Conservatory program, and her 30-plus years of experience in the theater shows. Hewitt knows how to focus attention on a particular performer without losing the audience's attention to what is actually going on around him or her.

"Les Misérables" recounts the saga of Jean Valjean, who stole a loaf of bread for his sister's starving child and spent 19 years in a hard-labor prison for the crime. He is paroled, steals silver from a church and is saved by the alibi of the bishop. Overcome, Valjean dedicates his life to God and to serving mankind. His former jailer, Javert, now a police inspector, vows to hunt Valjean down, dismissing any possibility of repentance and transformation.

Valjean prospers, raises the orphaned daughter of a woman brutally forced into prostitution and keeps one step ahead of the pursuing Javert. All the various plotlines and characters — of which there are many — intersect at the moment of the short-lived and bloody Paris uprising of 1832.

David King-Gabriel plays Valjean, taking the journey from smoldering rage to generous renunciation. King-Gabriel is a fine actor with a powerful trained voice and he does this production proud. He is well matched by Derek Rosenlund's glowering, implacable Javert.

The standout in the supporting roles is Lauren Green as the unhappy Eponine. Green has an extraordinary voice and acting talent. Camelot veteran Kendra Taylor also shines as the tragic Fantine. Ricardo Cervantes, Jr. and Amanda Gerig are charming as the young lovers, Marius and Cosette.

Presila Quinby and Nathan Monks as the Thenardiers provide comic relief from all the pious suffering, relishing their life of happily opportunistic crime with a wink and a nod and a well-timed pinch of a bottom.

Production values are fine, with a minimalist set by Dan Zastoupil, lighting design by Annette Roggenbuck and sound and video design by Brian O'Connor and costumes by Michael Leon. An 11-piece orchestra led by Musical Director Mark Reppert does a remarkable job with the show's outrageously intricate score.

"Les Misérables" was adapted from Victor Hugo's sweeping novel by French writers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, with music by Schönberg. British producer Cameron Mackintosh and the Royal Shakespeare Company were persuaded to develop an English-language version of the show, with English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. The London production opened in 1985 and moved to Broadway in 1987. The show won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Musical Score.

"Les Misérables" makes its point being bigger than life. It is musical theater on heroic scale. It is sweeping, soaring and emotionally overwhelming.

"Can you hear the people sing?" Oh, yeah.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at

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