Music Circus kicks off its 26th season by proving yet again that performance in the round brings fresh insights. Les Misérables, Victor Hugo’s tale of personal integrity, redemption and love in the turmoil of France’s Second Republic, includes a staging puzzle: a battle at the barricades, solved ingeniously by director Glenn Casale, who places the audience right in the middle of the shots and smoke.
As Jean Valjean, Ivan Rutherford takes the audience on a journey through the underbelly of a society in economic distress. Rutherford moves from rage to quiet determination to self-sacrifice. His Valjean’s strong moral center holds the story together.
While Brad Little is also in fine voice as Javert, frankly, he comes across as a bit too nice; his dogged lawman with a baby face isn’t quite convincing as a possessed, threatening character. Andrea Rivette (Fantine) and Juliana Ashley Hansen (Eponine) show remarkable depth, while the comically amoral Thénardier duo, played by Mary Gutzi and Ron Wisniski, bring the survival skills of cockroaches to repugnant life.
The love story takes center stage in the second act as Michael Hunsaker’s handsome, upright Marius and Laura Griffith’s innocent Cosette turn love at first sight into a reason to survive. Both are certainly beautiful—and beautifully voiced—enough to support the notion of love at first sight.
But the theft-of-show award must surely go to young Andrew B. Wilson, a local actor whose performance as Gavroche, a “pup” of a street-fighting urchin, steals every scene he’s in.
In spite of a few opening-night sound glitches—and it’s a sign of just how good this production is that such nits are the only thing to pick—Les Miz still packs enough emotional punch to make it worthy of opening the season for Music Circus. Venerable play meets venerable tradition—and theater-goers reap the benefits.