Haunting music performed to perfection. Comic relief delivered with verve. A good man rising above injustices done to him. Motherly and fatherly as well as romantic love. And throw in young men fighting for freedom in early 19th-century France.
The Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre's excellent performance of "Les Miserables" last week kept the audience mesmerized -- until they jumped up to applaud after the finale, which apparently is happening at every performance.
Each voice delivered the complex rhythms truly, accompanied by the orchestra led by Amador Valley High music teacher Mark Aubel, reinforcing the fact that TVRT always finds the top talent in the Bay Area for its productions.
Thursday's performance and an extra matinee Jan. 30 were added after the scheduled performances quickly sold out, perhaps owing to the popularity of the enduring Broadway hit but also certainly due to Tri-Valley Rep never failing to deliver a near-professional rendition of whatever it tackles.
This show is produced by Kathleen Breedveld and directed by Kendall Tieck. The cast's bios in the program show that even the members of the ensemble have had lead roles in other musicals, which explains the strong production of this sung-through musical.
In "Les Mis," based on the tome written by Victor Hugo in 1862, we follow the travails and triumphs of Jean Valjean, played by Mischa Stephens in his debut with TVRT. The curtain rises on a dramatic prison scene, where laboring Valjean is released on parole after spending 19 years in prison after stealing bread to feed his sister's starving child.
Stephens portrays Valjean inspiringly through his difficulties as a parolee, his determination to change his life, and his rise to factory owner and mayor.
His suffering and humanity shine through, as does his voice in his solos and duets with the dying Fantine (Morgan Breedveld), and his interplay with the deliciously wicked Thenardiers as he retrieves Fantine's daughter, Cosette, from their care.
We first meet the young Cosette (Emily Joy Kessel), the inspiration for the mournful symbol of the musical, as she aces the wistful "Castle on a Cloud."
DC Scarpelli and Jennifer Stark play to perfection the scoundrel innkeepers who never miss a chance to overcharge or outright steal from their customers. They are the comic relief as they appear again and again in new guises to rip off the unwary, and quite funny they are.
The musical also presents a grim look at the darker side of life with an explicit "Lovely Ladies" of the night, highlighting their vulnerability as Fantine is forced to join their ranks.
Matthew Liebowitz is a strong Inspector Javert, who relentlessly pursues Valjean through the years until he finds himself questioning the morality of his quest when faced with Valjean's decency. His brilliant, dramatic Act One solo, "Stars," also brought a burst of applause.
The second act opens at the barricades in Paris in 1832 as students, among them Marius (Nikita Burshteyn), take a stand for freedom that ends with many fatalities, including Eponine (Katherine DelaCruz). She sings in a powerful voice of her unrequited love for Marius, and the two of them touchingly perform the beautiful "A Little Fall of Rain" as she dies in his arms.
But the love shared by Cosette (Kristen Vellinger) and Marius ends well, with a wedding feast crashed by -- you guessed it -- the irrepressible Thenardiers posing as an unlikely baron and baroness.
The masterful music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, as performed by this gifted cast kept the audience rapt for more than three hours. The remaining performances were sold out as of this writing; for more information, call 373-6800 or visit www.trivalleyrep.org.
The nonprofit Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre is in its 31st year, thanks to its many donors because ticket sales alone do not cover the cost of its productions. What a worthy cause, to sustain such excellent theater right in our own backyard.