The students at The Taft School in Watertown presented the classic Les Miserables at their Bingham Auditorium. If one parks at the opposite end of the very large campus, one has a long walk through the grounds and hallways of the stately buildings that reminded my companion of Hogwarts. When we finally reached the lovely old theatre, almost every seat had been taken, but we managed to find two in the second to last row. Thankfully, the sound was well-done and orchestra loud enough to be heard even in the back.
This show had been billed on Facebook as the school edition of the musical, but the program did not indicate that fact. I didn't notice any omissions and the show ran almost three hours, so these students rose to the challenge of this heavy work. In fact, director Rick Doyle mentioned in his notes that "Of any show that I have done here at Taft, there has never been a dedication of spirit and heart like this cast has given to this labor of love. These talented artists wanted to do this show sooooo much and their enthusiasm has carried this important production beautifully to tonight." Mr. Doyle also alludes to the fact that this most popular musical in the world has almost become the cliche answer when someone asks what is your favorite show. My opinion is that it is very good, but certainly not my personal favorite; however, this is the second time I have seen the show and it was really well-done.
The large cast sported fine costumes designed by Susan Becker Aziz and worked in an even larger classically Doyle set designed by the director. The obligatory revolving floor was student-powered and worked perfectly and some of the lighting effects designed by David Kievit were impressive. The battle scenes were memorable. The large orchestra conducted by musical director T.J. Thompson must have filled the pit.
The lead roles featured some fine talent. As "Jean Valjean," Thomas Robertshaw showed his fine voice and acting skills. Baritone Sebastian LaPointe was wonderful in the important role of "Javert" and Jacob Goldstein was impressive as the "Bishop" and two other roles. The "Fantine" of Jillian Wipfler was heartbreaking, while the voice of Natasha Batten was perfect in the role of "Eponine." "Young Cosette" was played by young Lily Thompson while Christina Fattore was lovely as the older "Cosette." As the "Thenardiers," Gaines Semler and Vienna Kaylan grabbed onto the comedy and didn't need the girth usually associated with the roles. Finally, the talented community theatre veteran Carey Cannata was a natural as "Gavroche." The young ladies in the large ensemble and the young men in supporting roles all gave fine performances.
Mr. Doyle came out to open the show that he mispronounced intentionally with a magic wand and asked us to remember the ages of the performers. He writes that he spent a good deal of time in character development; he wanted his young actors to feel the songs and live the actual lives of their characters. Most of them succeeded admirably, but at times the vocal performances suffered a bit for it. I also felt that some of the musical pieces, especially the ensemble ones, were taken just a bit too fast. "At the End of the Day" is supposed to be fast and intricate, but the lyrics should still be understood. However, the music on the whole was impressive, especially when Javier was onstage.
My young companion loved the music but thought that there was "too much death" in the show. The students and the adults who worked with them should be proud of this production that got a standing ovation.