By Tom Wachunas
“… a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life; from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God…” –Victor Hugo, from Les Misérables
Considered among the greatest literary works of the 19th century, Victor Hugo’s 1862 historical novel, Les Misérables, is a philosophically and spiritually rigorous examination of a society caught in the throes of revolution that culminates in the June Rebellion of 1832 in Paris. The beloved musical adaptation is a monumentally dramatic landscape of poverty and despair, of wrecked hearts and shattered dreams, of moral turpitude and the transformative power of forgiveness, compassion, and love.
This towering sung-through narrative presented by Canton’s Players Guild Theatre was directed by Jonathan Tisevich, who has also taken on the daunting role of the central character, Jean Valjean. The production features a remarkably skilled cast and ensemble. In conjunction with the polished musicality of the live orchestra directed by Steve Parsons, the expressive lighting and sound design by Scott Sutton, and robust scenic and costume design by Joshua Erichsen, the entire evening crackles with all the panache of a Broadway encounter.
Tisevich delivers a riveting portrait of a man at first rancorous and destitute after 19 years of unjust imprisonment, but who ultimately finds purpose and redemption even as he must face the ceaseless pursuit of police inspector Javert. In that role, Matthew Horning is a scary and rigid presence, effectively conveying a vengeful self-righteousness and annoyance at Valjean’s goodness.
The caliber of vocal prowess demonstrated by the cast members is remarkably high - at times operatically nuanced - including commanding performances from Jimmy Ferko as the young revolutionary, Marius, who is in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter, Cosette (Carly Ameling); Daryl Robinson as Enjolras, the people’s leader; and young Zachary Charlick as Gavroche, a delightfully scrappy boy-provocateur. Miah Bickley plays the hapless Eponine. Her powerful rendering of the wrenching ballad, “On My Own,” is a compelling embodiment of sadness over her unrequited love for Marius.
In a particularly endearing interlude during Act I, eight year-old Corrin Smith as Little Cosette sings “Castle on a Cloud.” As she imagines a happier life and a loving mother, there seems to be an old, hurting soul resonant in her plaintive, crystalline voice. Earlier on, an even more gnawing hurt and vulnerability comes through with heart-piercing impact when Keitha Brown, as Cosette’s mother, Fantine, condemned to a cruel (and fatal) life on the streets, sings “I Dreamed a Dream.”
Fear not, there is some comic relief from all this woe. Micah Harvey and Maureen Thomas are deliciously crude, rude and conniving as the Thenardiers, thieving innkeepers from whom Valjean must purchase the abused Little Cosette. “Master of the House” is a show-stopping emsemble romp around the tavern executed with rabid glee. Who knew that such insouciant criminality could be so hilarious?
That said, the most emotionally and spiritually potent passage of the evening transpires nearly midway through the second act when Valjean sings “Bring Him Home,” a soul-searing prayer for the life of Marius. Mr. Tisevich doesn’t just rise to the occasion. He defines it. Throughout this gripping anthem that declares all of Valjean’s hope and faith and pain, his voice progressively soars as if driven by a preternatural force. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house.
And how could it be otherwise? For it was in that mesmerizing moment of bittersweet supplication that I appreciated Tisevich not only as the astonishingly gifted actor and singer that he is, but also for his indisputable strengths as a director. Clearly he’s been blessed with the ineffable capacity to channel his impassioned reading of the story into his ardent cast and ensemble. They in their turn return the favor and pour it generously into us, the audience.
Their cup runneth over, as it were. And we’re all the better for it.
Les Misérables, Players Guild Theatre (Mainstage), 1001 Market Ave. N, Canton, Ohio / Performances THROUGH MAY 31, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 2:00 PM / Single Tickets $25; 17 and younger $19; Seniors $23 / BOX OFFICE - 330.453.7617 or www.playersguildtheatre.com