Quad City Music Guild's Les Misérables has the look and feel of the local community theatre producing its own, specific version of the Broadway favorite, with its music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. And that delights me, given that I wanted to see the group's take on this much-loved musical, rather than an attempt to recreate one of its previous stagings.
Director Bob Williams' presentation of the story of fugitive Jean Valjean (Mark McGinn) fleeing Inspector Javert (Patrick Downing) while caring for the orphaned Cosette (Jodi McGinn) is beautifully sung across the board, from the leads to the chorus members. One could close one's eyes and enjoy the production just as much as with them open - and perhaps, in some ways, enjoy it even more.
For his part, McGinn's voice is in good form, and does justice to the demands of his weighty lead role. Yet while his vocals are textured with satisfying tones and emotional inflection, McGinn's portrayal doesn't carry through into his physicality. During Friday's performance, I got a sense of Valjean's character vocally, but not physically, perhaps because performing the lead in this nearly dialogue-free musical requires so much vocal energy. This is forgivable, but McGinn's lack of chemistry with the others in the cast is not; there's a slight disconnect in the overall production because we're given no sense of Valjean's connection to Cosette, her mother Fantine (Jenny Winn), or Cosette's suitor Marius (Dan Pepper).
This was most evident in Friday's "Bring Him Home" scene. While the song is Valjean's prayer for Marius' safety in the midst of revolution, McGinn didn't look at Pepper, or even gesture toward him, while performing the song. Not. Once. And while he sits next to the sleeping Marius at the number's start, McGinn is also equidistant from a male chorus member, making it unclear as to the intended recipient of his prayer. This problem is then amplified when McGinn walks front and center to finish the song, giving the impression that his plea to God could be for any of the young men on the barricade - an intriguing concept, but not the intent of the invocation.
This center-stage positioning, with Valjean in a singular pool of light, is an annoyingly all-too-common placement that Williams chooses for his soloists. Despite this Les Misérables boasting an impressively layered set, which Williams himself designed, the director misses many opportunities to change things up during solos by not placing his actors on the balcony that runs along the back wall, or the stairs that descend down from it, or in one of the several doorways or alcoves.
Yet while these issues diminished my enjoyment of the performance, they did not ruin it for me. Music Guild's production is still a marvel to behold, with superbly tailored outfits by costume designers Cathy Marsoun and Connie McGinn, the most exquisite of which are the varied dresses the whores wear in the "Lovely Ladies" scene, with many corsets, bodices, and skirts catching the eye. (True, the clothes worn by the story's poorer characters could look dirtier, more well-worn, and poorer-fitting, but the craftsmanship is so remarkable that this is easy to overlook.) And designer Michael Turczynski makes interesting use of pools of light and patches of shadow to highlight - or sometimes low-light - the performance. His work is strongest during Williams' staging of Javert's jump from a bridge, in which a portion of the set is pulled to the rear of the stage space in a potent rush, while Turczynski has an overhead spotlight slowly diminish in size on Javert's upwardly turned face until the light, and the inspector's life, are extinguished.
Downing is superb in the role of Javert, offering layers of sternness, anger, and self-righteous condescension in varying degrees. Kevin Pieper's Thénardier is every bit the vulgar innkeeper you want him to be, while K. C. Griesenbeck tops her vocal performance as the equally crass Mdme. Thénardier with hilarious background actions, such as squeezing the dirty water from a rag into the wine served to the couple's guests. Pepper and Jodi McGinn drip with the airy energy of infatuation and purity, while Sarah Lounsberry's Éponine elicits sympathy through her gorgeous singing and earnest longing for Marius.
Winn carries in her eyes and voice a desperate attempt to hold on to hope, even when her Fantine has none left to hold. Rob Keech's voice carries such power and beauty that he could just stand and sing and still impress as Enjolras, but the performer also inspires with a clear sense of his character's drive toward a cause he believes trumps all else. Quincy Keele's Gavroche, meanwhile, packs moxie beyond the young actor's size, while Morgan McCartney delivers a sweet "Castle on a Cloud" as the young Cosette (a part that Julia Remour will perform in the production's second weekend). All told, Quad City Music Guild's cast and crew deserve to be proud of what they've accomplished with their production of Les Misérables.
Les Misérables runs at the Prospect Park Auditorium (1584 34th Avenue, Moline) through June 22, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)762-6610 or visiting QCMusicGuild.com.