A Can’t Miss Les Miz

James Mackillop reviews Cortland Repertory Theatre’s production of Les Misérables.

Director Sam Scalamoni may not have a long history with Cortland Repertory Theatre, but he is just the man to figure out how to stage the epic musical Les Misérables (running through July 26) in the up-close-and-personal space of the Little York Lake Pavilion.

One is to have the cast of 28 thundering down the stairways so that the world’s most popular musical seems to have swallowed the audience. The pit orchestra, under music director Joel Gelpe, has been enlarged to eight players, including two brasses and three woodwinds. The iconic barricades of the revolutionaries at the end of the first act do not appear. Instead Scalamoni has the mob march toward the audience in a flying wedge in “One Day More,” a breath-stopping moment.

Even though the title translates as “the poor,” Wendi R. Zea’s costumes guarantee that the three-hour performance offers continuing visual treats. Consider the first act’s production number “Master of the House” at the filthy innkeeper Thenadier’s place. With Eric Behnke’s dappled lighting design, the waltzing vulgarians look like a Pieter Brueghel painting come to life.

In the year’s first, fully staged professional local production of Les Miserables, CRT has packed the program with muscular voices for all the top roles. Baritone Timothy John Smith takes on many colors as Jean Valjean, the most moving in the upper ranges of the tender lullaby, “Bring Him Home.” Antoine L. Smith’s Javert reaches Mephistophelean depths. Delicate Kailey Prior breaks hearts with “I Dreamed a Dream.” And two contrasting sopranos, Michaela Vine as the angelic grown Cosette and Kelsey Thompson as the streetwise Eponine, divide the second act. It’s one of Cortland Rep’s best productions ever.

PHOTO: Cast members of Cortland Repertory’s Les Miserables.

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