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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Oshkosh troupe dreams big in ‘Les Miserables’

In the end, Hysterical Productions touches hearts in the famed musical.

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – For the first mainstage production of a theatrical troupe, it’s best to start with an epic, correct? “Les Miserables” ought to do. It’s three hours long, has complex characters, a maze of a story, a degree of difficulty for multiple singers, requires scores of period costumes and demands a set with mobility for a couple dozen scene changes. Yes, that’s the place to start. That would be a cinch to pull off.

Hysterical Productions, which has put on smaller types of theatrical ventures in Oshkosh, is swimming in new waters by jumping in the deep end of the pool. At the end of the day Friday, March 7, it had folks standing and cheering for its premiere production (4ish stars out of 5) in the wondrous Grand Opera House.

Despite technical flaws and performances that are sometimes a bit of a reach, the troupe touches the emotions that drive the popularity of this musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil. Some people wept Friday night as the fugitive Jean Valjean finally met grace and joined the woman whose orphaned daughter he nurtured in his quest to be a worthy man.

The evening began with a special touch. Company artistic director/“Les Miserables” director Angela Ferlo O’Donnell encouraged the audience to stand for a portrait photo. The setup was akin to a photo taken in 1909 of a throng filling the theater. Maybe when Hysterical Productions hits 100 years old people will peer at folks in the crowd from 2014 like people today examine the faces and clothes in the 1909 photo that’s on view in the theater.

In the production, things happen at a gallop. Much is stuffed into the three hours, and Hysterical Productions uses a turntable to speed action along. Set parts are taken out and brought in – a prison, a church, a workshop, a house, a barricade/embattlement, an inn, sewers – like pieces of an interlocking puzzle. Much design imagination went into that effect.

As the noble Jean Valjean and the dogged “cop” Javert, Joseph Ferlo and Kyle S. Brauer, respectively, fill the stage with earnest performance. The power in their roles comes across. The effect of each was limited Friday, however, by the wireless microphone system. At moments when their voices reached full force, the amplification became blurred. In Jean Valjean/Ferlo’s big, BIG number, “Bring Him Home,” the sensitive singing was marred by what seemed to be a short in a wire – the slightest body movement bringing a skip. 

Most comfortable performing is Brady Lee, whose smooth voice suits songs of idealistic Marius, who bridges the world of the forlorn Eponine (Marie Dalzell) and sweet Cosette (Kate Sawyer) – with the three together creating a lovely “A Heart Full of Love” as a shining moment in the production.

Amanda Petersen Falls and Patrick O’Donnell are full of flint and bother as the nasty, self-serving, greedy Thenardiers. David Horak is jaunty as Gavroche, the spunky kid-hero. The Ensemble serves up big energy in the barricade scenes, with the doom scene especially animated, colorful, dynamic and bang-bang-BOOM noisy.

In “Les Miserables,” Hysterical Productions dreams big. Dreams don’t always work out, but in this case, it’s close enough.

***

Creative: Book, based on the novel by Victor Hugo – Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, Trevor Nunn, John Caird; music - Claude-Michel Schonberg; lyrics – Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel, (English-language libretto) Herbert Kretzmer. Hysterical Productions: .Director - Angela Ferlo O’Donnell; assistant director - Amanda Petersen Fails; music director - Herb Berendsen; production stage manager - Frank Tower; technical director/lighting designer – Tom Hanson; costume designer – Angela Ferlo O’Donnell; wardrobe mistress – Annie Marie Sullivan; production manager/fight master, Patrick O’Donnell; properties master – Kylie Montee.

Cast: Jean Valjean – Joseph Ferlo (also director of the Grand Opera House and executive director and CEO of the Oshkosh Opera House Foundation); Javert – Kyle Brauer; Fantine – Aubyn Vogel; Little Cosette – Austyn Vogel; Mme. Thénardier – Amanda Petersen Fails; Thénardier – Patrick O’Donnell; Gavroche – David Horak; Enjolras – Gabriel John Hyatt; Grantaire – Patrick Plashko; Marius – Brady Lee; Eponine – Marie Dalzell; Cosette – Kate Sawyer; Bishop of Digne – John Rubino; Ensemble – William Anderson, Matthew Beecher, Andrew Birchfield, Alyssa Ferlo, Orrie Kyzer, Bob Larson, Megan McWilliams, Jared Miller, Jennifer Neary, Sara Neumann, Julie Ortman, Larissa Petersen, Katrina Reigh, Sam Schmalz, Zach Thomas

Songs

Act I

Prologue: “Work Song” – Chain Gang, Javert and Valjean

Prologue: “On Parole” – Valjean, Farmer, Labourer, Innkeeper's Wife and Innkeeper

Prologue: “Valjean Arrested, Valjean Forgiven” – Constables and Bishop

Prologue: “What Have I Done?” – Valjean

“At the End of the Day” – Fantine, The Poor, Foreman, Workers, Factory Girls and Valjean

“I Dreamed a Dream” – Fantine

“Lovely Ladies” – Fantine, Sailors, Whores, Old Woman, Crone and Pimp

“Fantine’s Arrest” – Fantine, Bamatabois, Javert and Valjean

“The Runaway Cart” – Onlookers, Valjean, Fauchelevent and Javert

“Who Am I?” – Valjean

“Fantine’s Death” – Fantine and Valjean

“The Confrontation” – Javert and Valjean

“Castle on a Cloud” – Young Cosette and Madame Thénardier

“Master of the House” – Thénardier, Madame Thénardier and Chorus

“The Well Scene” – Valjean and Young Cosette

“The Bargain”/“The Thénardier Waltz of Treachery” – Thénardier, Valjean, Madame Thénardier and Young Cosette

“Look Down” – Beggars, Gavroche, Old Woman, Prostitute, Pimp, Enjolras and Marius

“The Robbery”/”Javert’s Intervention” – Thénardier, Madame Thénardier, Éponine, Marius, Valjean and Javert

“Stars” – Javert

“Éponine’s Errand” – Marius and Éponine

“The ABC Café”/“Red and Black” – Students, Enjolras, Marius, Grantaire and Gavroche

“Do You Hear the People Sing?” – Enjolras, Grantaire, Students and Beggars

“In My Life” – Cosette, Valjean, Marius and Éponine

“A Heart Full of Love” – Marius, Cosette and Éponine

“The Attack on Rue Plumet” – Thénardier, Thieves, Éponine, Marius, Valjean and Cosette

“One Day More” – Valjean, Marius, Cosette, Éponine, Enjolras, Javert, Thénardier, Madame Thénardier and Company

Act II

“At the Barricade (Upon These Stones)” – Enjolras, Javert, Marius, Éponine and Valjean

“On My Own” – Éponine

“Building the Barricade (Upon These Stones)” – Enjolras, Students and Army Officer

“Javert’s Arrival” – Javert and Enjolras

“Little People” – Gavroche, Students, Enjolras and Javert

“A Little Fall of Rain” – Éponine and Marius

“Night of Anguish” – Enjolras, Valjean, and Students

“The First Attack” – Enjolras, Grantaire, Students, Valjean and Javert

“Drink with Me” – Grantaire, Students, Women and Marius

“Bring Him Home” – Valjean

“Dawn of Anguish” – Enjolras and Students

“The Second Attack (Death of Gavroche)” – Enjolras, Marius, Valjean, Grantaire, Gavroche and Students

“The Final Battle” – Army Officer, Grantaire, Enjolras and Students

“The Sewers” – Orchestra

“Dog Eats Dog (The Sewers)” – Thénardier

“Javert’s Suicide” – Valjean and Javert

“Turning” – Women of Paris

“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables – Marius

“Every Day”/“A Heart Full of Love (Reprise)”  – Cosette, Marius and Valjean

“Valjean’s Confession” – Valjean and Marius

“Wedding Chorale” – Guests, Thénardier, Marius and Madame Thénardier

“Beggars at the Feast” – Thénardier and Madame Thénardier

Epilogue: “Valjean’s Death” – Valjean, Fantine, Cosette, Marius and Éponine

Finale: “Do You Hear the People Sing (Reprise)” – Full Company

***

AHEAD (Hysterical Productions): “The Crucible,” Nov. 14-16; “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Feb. 12-15, 2015; “Godspell,” June 4-14, 2015.

VENUE: The Grand Opera House is one of Wisconsin’s showcase surviving theaters. Built for live performance well before the arrival of movies, the theater opened Aug. 9, 1883. Designed by architect William Walters, the building reflects the opulence of the era and the strength of Oshkosh at the time. Roman influences abound in columns and support elements. Ceiling and wall artistry is elaborately detailed. See grandoperahouse.org/history for details on the theater’s rich history and ongoing challenges. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

A GRUMBLE: This has nothing to do with anything else, but the guy with the ticket Friday for Left Balcony seat C-11 offered a performance of his own. Crossing his left leg over his right and stacking his coat on his lap, he turned on his cell phone with his right hand and, hidden from his wife at his left, began texting. A few minutes later, he texted some more. This was probably something extremely important – perhaps offering advice on Ukraine/Crimea to Obama or Putin – to make his distraction worthwhile.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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