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Tour de France: "Les Misérables," at North Scott High School through July 21 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Thom White   
Monday, 08 July 2013 06:00

the Les Miserables ensembleLes Misérables is an epic musical, and Countryside Community Theatre should be commended for its noble effort in staging the multi-layered, much-loved piece by composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricist Herbert Kretzmer. Director David Turley and his cast treat the material with the respect it deserves. Friday night’s performance, however, was still riddled with problems, many of them of a technical nature.

Microphone issues were among the biggest obstacles in Countryside’s staging of this musical about ex-convict Jean Valjean (David Arnold) and his attempts to lead a compassionate life, raise the orphaned daughter of a mistreated factory worker, and evade the unforgiving police inspector Javert (Brian Peterson). Aside from the rampant sound problems on Les Misérables' opening night – from mics not working to their not being turned on until soloists were partway through their lyrics (which happened far too often to ignore) – there was the issue of who did and didn't have a body microphone. Some chorus members were wearing mics for single solo lines in numbers while others were not, and some performers with microphones still sang with less volume than those who crooned without electronic aid. The innkeeper Thénardier (Adam Nardini) didn’t even have a mic – at least, not a working one – during the entire first act, which was a significant problem during his big solo “Master of the House.” (Thankfully, Nardini was able to project his way to a pleasingly dynamic and bawdy performance, one only topped by Tracy Pelzer-Timm's turn as Madame Thénardier; her brusque vocals and lowbrow take on the innkeeper’s wife are highlights of the production, and of the performer's remarkable area repertoire of notable characters.)

For Arnold, his microphone isn't a problem so much as the tone and gentle nature of his voice, which was frequently hard to hear over Friday's oftentimes off-pitch orchestra. So many of Valjean’s lyrics were lost in the general din, in truth, that it could be hard for anyone unfamiliar with the story to follow its plot. Arnold also could have used a boost of confidence, it seemed. His vocals (when you could hear them) were beautiful and his post-redemption Valjean possessed a sincere amiability and compassion. Unfortunately, Arnold's performance read as though he were uncertain of his qualifications to fill the role, which diminished his greatness. Were Arnold to fully believe in himself, I have little doubt his Valjean would be outstanding.

Brian Peterson, Christina Myatt, and David Arnold in Les MiserablesAs it is, it's Peterson's Javert who steals the spotlight, with his pitch-perfect vocals and flawless tone contributing to the coldness of his merciless character. Peterson also displays beautiful emotional layering, most notably as Javert approaches Valjean hesitantly early in the first act, wondering if the man is indeed the convict number 24601 he has long been chasing; there’s genuine uncertainty in his voice that reflects an internal wrestling match between Javert's recognition of the former prisoner and his recognition of Valjean's seemingly impossible goodness. It's Javert's ultimate demise, however, that's especially staggering, as Peterson’s anguish is palpable in the moments before his Javert throws himself from the bridge (a scene for which Turley employs director Trevor Nunn’s effective original Broadway staging).

Keegan Harry's delightfully spunky Gavroche, however, was the victim of another of Friday’s unfortunate technical issues: a broken stage. Partway into the first act, the set's large, central revolve stopped working, with a loud ratcheting sound announcing its failing. And while the cast well handled the spontaneous staging changes required to make up for the issue, Gavroche’s death suffered for it, because the impressive barricade on the revolve was surely meant to spin so that the audience could get a view from its front, where Gavroche was killed. Instead, Harry was forced to sing (and Gavroche was forced to perish) from behind the barricade, and our inability to actually see his death diminished its emotional impact significantly.

That barricade, otherwise, was the setting for Turley’s grandest scenes, with the cast members stationed on it creating impressive layers and a sense of the stage truly being filled, as befits a production of an epic musical. And lighting designer Dale Marshall's choices for either front-lighting or back-lighting the stage (but rarely both) mostly in blue light, combined with the set's ever-present smoke effects, created an almost oppressive gloominess that fit the plight of the, well, miserable ones featured in the story. (I did, though, sometimes wish I had a clearer view of Les Misérables' actors.)

David Arnold, Sydney Crumbleholme, and Les Miserables ensemble membersTurley does, however, tend to lean a bit heavily on placing soloists on an empty stage with little to do but make occasional crosses from one side to the other, which would work better if the performers – beyond Peterson, Nardini, and Pelzer-Timm, that is – would use their full bodies to act rather than just their voices and faces, an effect that renders some scenes boring. Even the usually dynamic Christina Myatt neglects to act below the neck, though her Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” is beautifully voiced and stirring. Turley also heavily favors placing ensemble members in straight lines, configurations that seem a bit too orderly and diminish the performers' collective stage presence.

Still, there is much to commend in this production. Sydney Crumbleholme’s Cosette and Kyle DeFauw’s Marius – with their virginal, first-love excitement – are in lovely voice and are beautifully paired opposite one another. Scenic designer Tom Goodall’s set is epic in scale, particularly in the floor-to-ceiling stonework at the back and flanking the stage, and the rear double doors that Turley uses well for effectively dramatic entrances. And Turley also stages a bit of a magic trick in the transition between the songs “Who Am I?” and “Come to Me.” (The judges in the former scene are seen seated behind a French flag representing their bench, and when the flag is eventually removed, we see Fantine in a bed that seemed to appear out of thin air.) With such obvious effort made to live up to the expectations of this musical's fans, I’ve little doubt that Countryside's Les Misérables will improve over the course of its three-weekend run, especially if the cast and crew are able to correct Friday’s technical – and confidence – issues.


Les Misérables runs at the North Scott High School Fine Arts Auditorium (200 South First Street, Eldridge) through July 21, and more information and tickets are available by calling (563)285-6228 or visiting

Comments (10)Add Comment
written by JMC, July 08, 2013
Maybe this reviewer should have not based this opinion on opening night! Saturday and Sunday performances we incredible with wonderful vocals now that the mics were working. Eponine as well as Fontine brought people to tears with crystal clear vocals as well as stage presence!
Apparently gets better with age...
written by DC, July 08, 2013
From what I have heard, opening night was not without its technical problems. The sound management was rough, and what might have been a critical blow was the malfunctioning of the revolve. My sister saw the performance that night, and even with the problems, said it was still well worth the evening. So I decided to check it out for myself on the weekend, and was blown away by the production. For a local acting company, in a high school auditorium, this was beyond imagination. It is positively Broadway-lian in its scope, reach, and performances. I did not detect any problems with the sound, in fact the voices in the production (especially Eponine and Fantine) were truly gifted. The revolve worked flawlessly to create the feeling that you weren’t watching a stage, but the streets of Paris themselves, creating a feeling of panning across a lavish set. While I know by word of mouth that the first night had some technical problems, I know by my own eyes and ears that the next night was truly incredible to see. Especially in our own backyard. I highly recommend that anyone with any love of music, the stage, acting, or just a great story go see this before it’s gone.
written by Countryside Community Theatre, July 08, 2013
On behalf of CCT, I would like to thank Mr. White for coming out to see the show. In live theatre, each night can be different. There may be glitches with technology, actors, costume malfunctions, etc. in addition, theatre is an art and art touches/resonates with different people in different ways. Mr. White's comments are one man's opinions based on what he saw opening night. Others' opinions were different. CCT is glad that we are able to have an open forum and share our thoughts and opinions.
written by Nancy Dirschel, July 08, 2013
While there may have been a few glitches on opening night, a still glorious production with so much talent. The voices of Elise Castro as Eponine and Matthew Dirschel as Enjolras could not have been any more beautiful. Not only did I find their voices so pure but their stage presence and the ability to get within their characters brought me right into their time.
Conflict of interest?, Low-rated comment [Show]
written by Louis J Hare, July 14, 2013
What I notice QCTheatrefan is that Thom has the nerve to point out a couple of short-comings in a show and you immediately accuse him of bias? It's sad that a reviewer has to be 100% positive about everything they see or be accused of having an agenda. For future reference, I suggest the following template be used for ALL reviews:

"(Name of Show) was the best show I have EVER seen! (Lead Actors) were phenomenal and (Supporting Actors) stole the show every time they were on stage! (Director) should win an award for such seamless direction and (Designers) provided such a treat for the senses, you'd have to be dead not to be moved! (Theatre Group) has done it again!"

written by QC Theatre Workshop, July 15, 2013
On behalf of the QC Theatre Workshop, we're just excited that there is so much great theatre here in the Quad Cities. We are lucky to live in this community!

One of the beautiful things about theatre is that everyone gets to form their own opinion, and everyone's opinion is correct.

"Les Mis" has three shows left (Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this weekend), and "A Green River" has one show left (Tuesday night, July 16th). Not to mention all the other great theatre happening this weekend as well, at Music Guild, Genesius Guild, Playcrafters, Richmond Hill, and Circa '21!

We urge everyone to go see any of these fantastic shows (just please see at least one!) and form their own opinion. Theatre is a living art, and it can only be experienced if you get out there and see it!

written by angela elliott, July 16, 2013
COURAGE is performing in a show, directing it, writing it, and/or putting one’s self out there in a public way for art’s sake, with the knowledge the work will be judged by others. COURAGE is writing a review honestly based on one’s own perception, with the knowledge one’s words will be judged by others. COWARDICE is posting behind an anonymous moniker, regarding shows that have not been seen.
Here’s to the courage of all who participate and make this such a vibrant theatre community.
RE: JMC (first comment)
written by Dustin C Oliver, July 16, 2013
What else can a reviewer base their review on, other than the performance that the reviewer actually attended? I've been on the recieving end of reviews that mentioned one-time technical gaffes. So what? Live theatre is just that, live! The same cast and crew can perform the same show 6 different ways on 6 different days, only because the human dynamic is different every time. Maybe a tech person missed a light or sound cue, maybe an actor dropped a line, maybe the audience is really energetic, maybe the opposite of all that happens at the same time. That's what makes live theatre such an amazing experience for all of us, performers, designers, techies and audience members alike.
written by Countryside Community Theatre, July 16, 2013
I find it amazing that people are so driven by the words of a review. One person's opinion. Is it biased? Aren't all "opinions" biased? Every one has the opportunity to decide for themsleves. There is no reason for comparison- frankly how do you compare Green River and Les Miz? Both are enjoying great audiences and have been deemed a success by the staff, cast, and boards of each institution. Both are needed to create a rich, cultural landscape in the Quad Cities.

For those who disagree, it is fine to say "I saw it on such and such night and had a different experience". CCT had four reviewers, all on the same night, all with four different takes. Because theatre reaches different people in different ways.

If you disagree, be polite. If you agree, be polite. Ultimately, be glad that you live somewhere where we have a forum to express ourselves and a very passionate group of folks who strive to elevate the status of the arts in our community!

Go see a show. Work on a show. Volunteer your time. Educate younger folks about the theatre. All are so much more productive than arguing about a review.

Christina Myatt
President, CCT

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