Over the last 17 years, it has been my privilege to review more than a dozen musicals produced by the Champaign Urbana Theatre Company. In that time, none of these merited more praise than the performance of "Les Miserables" I witnessed on Thursday.
Yes, it helps to have a terrific book, lyrics, music and all the other perks this adaptation of Victor Hugo's masterpiece has to offer. A performance, however, is about what you see and hear, not what you read on the page.
In this case, what we see is a well-designed stage within the Parkland College Theatre, a well-chosen cast, soloists who hit their high notes, actors who make their marks, an orchestra in tune and in time, and a stage crew that runs on a train clock. In all these years, I have never been treated to an opening night as flawless or as moving as this CUTC performance.
Every major role was well cast. Kyle Pollio's portrayal of Jean Valijean was earnest and powerful. Timothy Renner's rendition of Inspector Javert was proud and tormented, with a voice unmatched by any other in the performance. Marah Sotelo's vocal talents brought life to an Eponine who packed a wallop to the ear. Jim Mayer's turn at the Bishop of Digne was pious and humbling.
Meanwhile, Bethany Stiles seemingly pulled Fantine's tortured existence from the depths of her own soul. While her portrayal of Fantine was on the quiet side (Stiles's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" registering only a 6 on my proprietary [Susan] Boyle scale), she delivered an intimacy to her role and her surroundings that belied the presence of a large audience.
On the lighter side, James Dobbs and LaDonna Wilson's performances as the thieving, burlesque-type Thenardier duo was flawless, and their rendition of "Master of the House" remains the comic highlight of the work.
Never to be forgotten, the young and adult Cosette, played by Ana Almeida and Caitlin Caruso-Dobbs, captured the essence of the Victor Hugo-type urchin and Parisian damsel, respectively, with charm and grace.
Strong orchestral accompaniment, led by music director Aaron Kaplan, and expert stage control from Patty Dudley, Whitney Havice and Stage Director Stephen Fiol kept the action fluid and in regular tempo.
In truth, the thing that makes "Les Mis" work as well as it does is the company performance, and there are no less than six opportunities for the cast to get it wrong or to light up the house when they get it right. Every ensemble musical number — starting with "At the End of the Day" and continuing to the final reprise of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" — was perfectly executed and inspiring.
In short, CUTC is at a high water mark. After 22 years as a company, "Les Mis" is simply their best work yet. Go see it.
If you go
What: Champaign Urbana Theatre Company and J. Barry Howell present "Les Miserables," a sung-through opera based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, with music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, and English-language libretto by Herbert Kretzmer. Directed by Stephen Fiol.
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1-3 and 8-10 and 2:30 p.m. Aug. 4 and 11.
Where: Parkland Theatre, 2400 W. Bradley Ave., C.
Tickets: $16 for adults, $12 for senior citizens and students and $8, children.
Reservations: http://www.cutc.org, 344-3884.
Chad Beckett, a local attorney, has reviewed all manner of performances at local venues for The News-Gazette since 1995. He can be contacted at email@example.com.