Victor Hugo’s story of revolution and redemption has staying power. Just over 150 years old, Les Mis has seen adaptation after adaptation and even a reinvention into a musical in 1980. Its popularity reached a fever pitch in 2012 with a Tom Hooper-directed film adaptation of the musical, and it remains a mainstay on theater stages nationwide.
Lucky for us, the team at the Majestic, the 60-plus member cast, a full orchestra, and the even larger production crew, have put together an adaptation worthy of standing alongside any of its siblings.
Les Miserables follows the story of Jean Valjean (Joseph C. Battrick), a convict who has served a 19-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. Upon his release at the hands of policeman Javert (Robert Allen), Valjean finds the world untrusting of a former convict. After being taken in by a bishop, he resorts to thievery to get his comeuppance on a world that has tossed him aside. Karma reigns supreme, though, as he is caught and returned to the bishop, who then holds his fate in his hands.
In a life-changing moment, the bishop lets him go. From then on, Valjean swears to make something of his life. From there, the story picks up steam: Valjean becomes mayor of a town, tragic mother Fantine (Katie Smith) grows ill and resorts to prostitution to provide for her daughter Cosette (Aimee Valencia), Javert reunites with his old love… I mean, his old prisoner, and Valjean takes custody of Fantine’s daughter. It’s all interesting, well-sung, and incredibly moving.
From there, the story explodes outwards and tackles the June Rebellion in France, headed by love-stricken Marius (Joshua Lounsbury) and fiery Enjolras (Brad Strickler). By the end, audience members will have risen to their feet as the full cast takes the stage, joined by the choir tucked away above the audience, and belts out their song of revolution.
The indisputable quality of the ensemble in its entirety allow this show to defy all preconceived notions of the “community theater” label. When you are handling such a large group of people, there will usually be a few weak links hidden within the crowd. While arguments could be made about this particular cast, I’ll take the bold route and say that from end to end, this cast is stellar. Battrick’s Valjean is just as conflicted and powerful as you would hope and he has an excellent Javert to bounce off of in Allen. The two leaders of the revolution, Marius and Enjolras, are portrayed brilliantly by Joshua Lounsbury and Brad Strickler respectively, and they steal the stage as soon as they enter the story.
And damn, do they all sing well.
Beyond that, the physical aspects, lighting, stage design, and even the costume design are all fantastic. It all feels like something big, something important. And director Mary Jeanne Reynales names her need for professionalism as the reason why.
“I try to behave like a professional theater [director],” said Reynales. “I have this comportment, I have these rules, we have this respect for each other. That’s my style. I have a good reputation of taking care of everybody and making sure it runs like a machine which helps to give people confidence to be brave enough and to trust me enough to make them look good.”
Reynales was hesitant to take on the play, despite it being a lifelong goal of hers, but a moment orchestrated by vocal director Bonnie Kousoulakis proved to be her inspiration.
“Bonnie put on a show, last year around this time, featuring her voice students,” said Reynales. “The first half was full of selections from her voice students and the second half was all Les Mis. Several people who made it into the show, I saw that night. I got chills, I cried. All of them are looking at me like, ‘Are you going to direct this?’ After that night, I just thought we could.”
Reynales, who has directed plays at the Majestic for over 20 years, called Les Mis her “biggest, most difficult production yet.” Needing nearly 200 people to make this play run definitely makes it big, but it is even more inspiring when you consider that it is 200 Corvallisites doing it all.
“Our goal here is to keep it community theater,” said Reynales. “By definition, community theater is the people within a community putting on a show. This is our playhouse. And it’s all volunteer. Even those who want to make a living doing this. They all will work here, because they know it’s an even playing ground.”
Les Miserables will continue its run over the next two weekends, ending on May 24. Tickets are $20 for students, members, and seniors, and $25 for everyone else.
By Nathan Hermanson