Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 28, 2013

Les Miserables

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow, MA
through October13, 2013
by Shera Cohen

It is habit for theatre audiences to give standing ovations no matter what the show's quality. Your neighbor stands and so should you? Not necessarily. The standing ovation "rule" is to laud only the exceptional. On opening night before a full house, "Les Miserables" (Les Miz) deserved and received an instantaneous ovation.

A community theatre troupe's tackling "Les Miz" is a Herculean undertaking, requiring insight into many lead characters, directing smooth transitions, selecting top notch singers and a "cast of thousands." Exit 7 accomplishes all of this.

"Les Miz" is the epic, set in early-19th century France, of Jean Valjean -- a19-year prisoner all for the wont of stealing a loaf of bread -- and Captain Javert, his eternal nemesis. Their lives entwine to test the metal of what makes a man good. On the surface, there is the hero and the villain. The story's crux is justice and injustice.

Ben Ashley portrays the smoldering, tortured, and loving Jean Valjean. He creates an exemplary larger than life character while physically aging on stage. Ashley successfully outdoes himself with each song, especially "Who Am I?" The true test falls on the fatherly determination of "Bring Him Home." He nails it. Peter Thomsen's Javert is cold, merciless, and yet vulnerable. The play allots him two songs, "Stars" and "Soliloquy," both of which are masterful.

There are many superlatives to write about each of the featured players. In general, three types of performers populate musical theatre: singers who can act, actors who can sing, and those who can do both. Exit 7 selected an even balance of each type to compose the best of all worlds. Special bravos to talented youngsters Wynton Jarvinen and Lily Girard in demanding roles.

Still more kudos, yet this review's word count mounts: director Jeffrey Flood's skills in mounting the barricade/battle scenes, the authentic-looking period costumes, and conductor Christina Climo and her dozen musicians!

Is it the applause still ringing in this reviewer's ears or the surging power of "One Day More," the sweet "In My Life," the boisterous "Master of the House," or the sorrowful "On My Own?" All of the above.