Les Misérables

Author: Laura Irish

Published: July 7th 2017

Les Misérables was the first show I ever saw on Broadway. I was seventeen years old and I knew right then that Theatre was what I wanted to do with my life. I love the music, the characters, the story and the feeling I get everytime I hear the lyrics: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Here’s the thing, when you produce a musical of such proportion and popularity, you run the risk of the audience knowing it well, having seen it before and having strong memories and opinions about it. Not to mention a Hollywood hit to compare it to. This is even more so when a company chooses to repeat a production of a show with a different cast five years on from the last time they produced it (I saw it then too). Stakes are high with the production of this show currently performed by the two ambitious Nelson Youth Theatre casts at the magnificent Theatre Royal Nelson.

I had the pleasure of seeing Opening Night #2: Team Saul. This cast was full of talented singers of all ages, child and adult. The voice of nine year old Joelle Noar as Little Cosette was beautifully clear and heartbreaking in Castle on a Cloud. Bri Weir (Fantineshone when she sang the famous, I Dreamed a Dream. Annie Davies as Cosette wowed me with her sparkling high notes. Carter Stormann sang from his soul in his role as the Bishop. And Vaughn Birss stole my heart with his sweet singing voice and enthusiastic portrayal of the cheeky and brave Gavroche.

But there were two absolute stand out singers for me in this production: MacKenzie Gardner as Eponine and Saul Gibney as Jean Valjean. Gardner is a Broadway star in the making. At only 14 years old, she sang with precision, clarity and confidence. It seemed as if that role was written for her voice. She smashed it.

And as far as singing goes, if you haven’t heard Saul Gibney sing, do yourself a favour and go find him and make him sing for you. His control, range and tone gave me goosebumps from his very first note. He is a treasure in Nelson and the youth of this cast should count themselves lucky to be able to learn from such a seasoned singer. At one point, he was carrying an unconscious Marius (played maturely by the talented Jack Munro) on his back and still hit every note.

The clever minimalism and mobility of the set made scene changes fast and it also meant that more responsibility was put on the actors to hold the attention of the audience. Matthew Edgar (Enjolras) commanded the stage completely with every line he uttered. His focus was unwavering. Jamie Morgan as Thenardier was also impressive with his dedication to his character, comedic timing and playful connection with the audience. And the mark of a true professional is when you are so committed to staying in character that the audience is drawn to your performance even when you’re playing the chorus. Yitzin Ruiz Lopez (Marius in Team Daniel) was in tonight’s chorus and made the crowd scenes come to life with his focus, believability and complete support of other cast members.

I also commend the costuming department for the absolutely mammoth job of clothing so many actors and doing it with style and consistency. In addition to costumes, all the tech crew, makeup artists, musicians, and directors should be acknowledged for a job well done.  

While I enjoyed this production, I do have a few bits of constructive feedback for this cast. I would challenge the cast to pay a little more attention to some basic theatrical conventions. A few times the actor’s faces were blocked or turned away upstage during crucial plot points or lines. Also, I’m aware that this next point is partially due to the script but I think it’s fair to note that I felt slightly uncomfortable during one adult themed scene which had some actors of varying age ranges playing opposite each other.

On a more artistic note, I would encourage the singers to try to believe every word that they are singing. Occasional off notes, tech problems or missed lyrics are immediately forgiven if you are completely enthralled in your character. If you don’t believe what you’re singing, we know. And if you do, we’re all the way there with you.

I would also encourage the directors to use the music as a guide to find even more ideas for movement. Some moments of importance in the score of Les Misérables are marked by such clear crescendo that they are clues to the action which could be occurring. 

But regardless of the suggestions above, the real test is whether this massive undertaking of a production made me feel something even after the tenth time seeing the show onstage and the hundredth time listening to its music. Because that’s the point of what we do, right? 
When I saw the red flag raise tonight and a collective of young local actors were singing “When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes”…  tears came to my eyes and I felt proud of these performers, proud of the path this play set me on when I was seventeen years old and proud of the many opportunities to celebrate the art of theatre in our city… one of them being this heartfelt production of Les Misérables.

Youth Theatre’s take on Les Miserables a “tour de force”

Author: Adrienne Matthews

Published: July 7th 2017

Les Miserables, one of the longest ever running Broadway shows, is an epic undertaking for any organisation but for an amateur one such as the Nelson Youth Theatre Company it is akin to David facing Goliath.

Complex musically, with a large cast on which big demands are placed; it also requires a substantial support team backstage. Making it an even bigger challenge in this case, are two complete casts who alternate performances.

I attended the first night performed by Team Daniel, named after leading man Daniel de Clerq who, as reforming ex-convict Jean Valjean, copes admirably with the vocal and theatrical demands of the role.

The very young cast, most between eight and seventeen years old, seem to have taken the big adult themes of poverty, war, social injustice, death, love and redemption in their stride. Simply breath-taking are the big cast numbers such as “At the End of the Day” and “One Day More” where an innate professionalism in sound and stage management triumphs.

Simon Wynne-Jones plays police inspector Javert magnificently, his excellent singing voice complimenting fine acting ability. Yitzin Ruis Lopez as Marius is another stand out. His duet, “A Little Fall of Rain”, with Éponine, played by Caitlin Brennan, had the audience in raptures.

Brother and sister Oliver Morton (11) playing street urchin Gavroche, and Bronte Morton (9) as the young Cosette were outstanding, showing that it is never too young to work a stage.

Accolades must go the orchestra. What a joy to hear such professionalism in a local production. All credit to conductor Chris Lawton for a superb job.

Costuming, requiring 600 garments for the combined casts, was excellent and the stage set well thought out.

Director Richard Carruthers and his team should be extremely proud of what is a tour de force.

Playing every night at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 15 July 2017

Youth performers to deliver Les Mis

Author: Kate Russell

Published: July 5th 2017

It’s all love, revolution and redemption for the Nelson Youth Theatre Company, who is ready to kick off a ten performance run of one of the most challenging musicals ever written.

Les Miserables will be opening this Thursday night at the Theatre Royal, running until July 15.

It’s the third time they have performed the iconic show in ten years, after shows in 2007 and 2012.

Director Richard Carruthers says it’s a “firm favourite” with the company.

“It’s the sort of show that has everything, and the performers always want to do it.

“They all say ‘oh my god, it’s Les Mis – we’ve got to put everything into this’, so they are really ready for it now.”

With a double cast of 66, supported by a mixed adult and youth crew of about 70, audiences can expect a powerful three and a half hours of the full West End musical version of the show.

Les Miserables is a musical that is totally sung-through and set against the backdrop of 19th-century France in the years following Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo – a time of intense poverty, turmoil and revolution.

And according to Richard, it is one of the longest and most difficult musicals available for amateurs to stage.

“It’s got a number of challenges. It’s long, so it’s challenging to rehearse, the singing is challenging, and some scenes, such as the barricade scene, are difficult.

“But, for many it’s their sixth to tenth musical and we also have a few older actors playing some of the roles.”

The Nelson Youth Theatre Company was founded in January 2000, and to date has produced over 160 shows and run over 50 professionally-taught theatre courses for young people in Nelson.

Later this year they will be performing The Little Mermaid and Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Les Miserables is on at the Theatre Royal from 6 – 15 July. Tickets are available from the Theatre box office or www.ticketdirect.co.nz