If you happened to walk past the Erickson Theatre on Harvard Avenue between 8 pm to 11 pm from September 6 – 28, you might have caught drifts of familiar tunes. Balagan Theatre, after producing award-winning shows such as Avenue Q and Spring Awakening, returned this September with the legendary Les Misérables, based on the Victor Hugo novel about love and redemption amidst the 1832 French rebellion. A glance at the interior might unnerve some Les Mis purists because the Erickson Theatre is relatively small. The stage only housed a single set, and there were seats at both ends. However, the final product and the sold-out tickets showed what a little theatre with an extremely capable company could do.
Louis Hobson both debuted as Balagan’s Artistic Director and played the role of Jean Valjean, a saintly reformed criminal. Hobson might have been too young, but his vocal talent was unquestionable. His high notes dramatized the character’s moral struggles in the soliloquies and were beautifully sustained in the end of the prayer-like “Bring Him Home.” Michael Dunlap possessed a mighty baritone which embodied the rigidity of Javert, the policeman who pursues Valjean, but that became a problem when he had to be vulnerable. His suicide soliloquy was too firm; it lacked the passionate despair of a shaken man. Tessa Archer sang the sorrow of Fantine, the impoverished mother, with moving pathos, and the scene where she accuses Valjean of ruining her was rightly infused with anger. Brian Giebler’s Marius, the young revolutionary and lover, was ideal; his voice was heroic and angelic at the same time. Unfortunately, the love of his life, Cosette, played by Shaye Hodgins, looked more like a fairy-tale princess than a Paris maiden; however, she sweetly sang her parts. On the other hand, Danielle Barnum was a perfect Eponine, as lithe and bold as a true Paris gamine, and her hidden fragility was very believable. Heath Saunders, who played Enjolras, managed to exude charisma as the leader of the revolutionary students. Rob Scherzer and Rebecca Davis’ performances as the Thénardier husband and wife were a new standard; they managed to strike a fine balance between comedy and cunning. The child performers, Taylor Clark as Gavroche the street urchin and Anna Ostrem as young Cosette, also delivered satisfying performances.
The real genius of this production lay in the seamless pace of the storytelling. The momentum never slackened, tantalizing the audience to always ask, “What will happen next?” It was hard not to stand up in the end when the whole cast came out to gloriously burst into a reprise of “Do You the Hear People Sing?,” which was what the reviewer admittedly did.