REVIEW BY CARY GINELL
Les Miserables, the emotion-packed 1985 Broadway musical, received a rousing sendoff on Saturday, April 22, when Moorpark High School’s run, extended by popular demand, concluded with a sold-out performance. Audiences’ great affection for the show convinced writers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg to authorize a special, abbreviated, PG-rated “student edition,” which truncates its three-hour length and takes the edge off the show’s language and subject matter.
Producer/director Raymond Hebel is not averse to challenges like Les Miserables, and put together a remarkable production, which began rehearsals in early January. All told, one hundred and twenty-six students took part in the production, either as cast members or in crew positions, with Hebel’s son, senior Joe Hebel, playing the lead role of tortured ex-con Jean Valjean. Initially imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, Valjean spends much of the show evading capture by the relentless police inspector, Javert, played by Luke Weynand.
Hebel, who also starred in the title role of last year’s Phantom of the Opera, is a magnetic performer with a powerful voice who lights up a theater whenever he is on stage. His astonishing solo on “Bring Him Home,” the prayer-like number Valjean sings over a sleeping Marius prior to the final battle, brought down the house. The song’s range is in the upper range of a tenor’s voice and requires great restraint and sensitivity to stay on pitch while singing quietly.
The show moved from one achingly beautiful highlight to another. Nicole Fair (double-cast with Hanna Pringle) played Fantine, the ill-fated working class girl who resorts to prostitution in order to support her daughter Cosette. Fair’s solo, “I Dreamed a Dream,” was the first of many to receive rapturous applause and even shrieks of delight from the capacity audience. Weynand sang “Stars,” Javert’s plea to the heavens to sanctify his pursuit of Valjean. Rachel Fischer played Eponine, the show’s most tragic figure, the daughter of the unscrupulous innkeepers, M. and Mme. Thenardier (Brayden Sunseri and Azelina Fontenot). Fischer’s solo, “On My Own,” expresses Eponine’s unrequited love for the dashing revolutionary Marius, exquisitely played by Jon Markham, who had his own emotionally potent solo in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” sung in memory of Marius’s fallen comrades after the doomed battle at the barricades. Markham, Fischer, and Elizabeth Roth, who played the adult Cosette, shared the most ravishing group vocal in the show, the trio, “A Heart Full of Love.”
The production benefited from its superb set design and construction, led by Andrew De La Torre. The barricade in Act II is one of the most formidable we’ve seen; a motley, vertical garage sale of nailed together chairs, bureaus, and ladders that was sturdy enough to support the clambering revolutionaries during the battle scene. The costumes, designed by Emily Piper and Ray Hebel himself, were excellent and appropriate to the period.
Instrumental music director Gabriel Velasco led the magnificent 26-piece all-student orchestra, which played loudly when it needed to (without any bleating of horns) and quietly during the emotional vocal solos. The tempos, however, tended to be faster than normal during Act I, especially on “Master of the House” and “Do You Hear the People Sing.” Audiences need to luxuriate in the humor of the former and the majesty of the latter, but both tended to sound rushed. Things settled down in Act II, but in general, the orchestra was professionally and astutely directed and performed the difficult sung-through score with great skill and ability.