Even before the lights went down, the audience was expecting something extraordinary. With theater companies all around the United States asking for production rights following the close of the Broadway production in 2003 (after 6,680 performances), and the end of the national tour in 2006, Music Circus was one of only 8 theaters in the country given permission to do its own production.
As if that weren’t special enough, this is the first production to ever be done in the round. How would the multi-million dollar production seen during the Broadway Series in 2003, translate to the fairly bare Wells Fargo Pavilion stage?
Under director Glenn Casale’s capable hands, it translated very well. The scenic design of Michael Schweikardt gave a sense of each scene, but not so much that it overwhelmed the stage, making sight lines difficult.
Additionally, the fact that all seats in the Wells Fargo Pavilion are close to the stage adds an intimacy that one misses in a proscenium production. It made subtle nuances easier to create and it brought a dimension to the production that I had not seen before. It made me wonder why the show is not performed in the round more often.
And it was a cast to die for. Ivan Rutherford, whom some may remember for playing Jean Valjean in the 2003 Broadway Series production, reprises the role of the man, released on parole after 19 years on the chain gang for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's dying child. Rutherford played this role 1,800 times on Broadway in addition to traveling across the country with the touring production.
In the role of Inspector Javert, the man so obsessed with the re-capture of Valjean following his disappearance from parole that he has chased him for more than 20 years, is Brad Little, whom patrons may remember as Music Circus’s "Scarlet Pimpernel." Little just finished 2,100 performances as the Phantom in "Phantom of the Opera," including appearances on Broadway, in Asia, and on tour.
The vocal richness of these two men alone was something very special indeed.
Add to that Andrea Rivette as Fantine, the single mother forced into prostitution in order to feed the child she has farmed out to others for safekeeping. Fantine is a small role with a huge song, "I Dreamed a Dream," which Rivette performs to thunderous applause.
Eight year old Isabelle Flores-Jones is an adorable young Cosette, Fantine’s daughter, whom Valjean adopts. Isabelle sings Cosette’s "Castle on a Cloud" in a perfect, clear, completely on pitch voice.
Comic relief is offered by the innkeeper Thénardier (Ron Wisniski) and his wife, Madame Thénardier (Mary Gutzi). Wisniski is a wonderful comedic talent, last seen as Lumiere in "Beauty and the Beast" and Marcus Lycus in last season’s "Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." In this role he is deliciously decadent, a guy who will pour your (watered-down) wine with one hand and steal the valuables out of your suitcase with the other.
Gutzi is the perfect complement to her husband, at her best when putting him down in her version of their duet, "Master of the House."
Michael Hunsaker is a handsome, sincere Marius, the idealistic young student who falls for Cosette (Laura Griffith).
Juliana Ashley Hansen is Eponine, hopelessly in love with Marius, but realistic about her expectations. Her "On My Own" was beautifully poignant.
Will Ray is Enjolras, the head of the rioting group. He has a strong voice and a commanding presence.
Andrew B. Wilson is a spunky Gavroche, the child who becomes a runner for the revolutionaries and is able to ferret out information that no one else can get.
The chorus for this show is outstanding, and most seem to have solo-quality voices. I was particularly impressed with the intensity of their character immersion when standing in the aisles waiting to make an entrance.
Credit is due to Lighting Designer Kyle Lemoi for creating with light what could not be created with set pieces. The design was perfect.
In fact, just about everything about this production is perfect. It could not be a better harbinger of shows to come throughout the rest of the season.