West Valley City • When I heard that the Hale Centre Theatre was going to stage “Les Misérables,” I had my doubts. How could the theater’s small stage capture the breadth and sweep of Boublil and Schönberg’s sprawling chronicle of France in its most tumultuous time? Where would they put the barricade?
My fears were groundless, partly because I forgot the other side of the equation. Against its backdrop of history, “Les Misérables” counterpoints the intimate personal story of Jean Valjean’s journey to redemption and the lives of those he touches and changes along the way. When the bishop tells Valjean, “I have bought your soul for God,” he sets in motion a chain reaction of compassion that encompasses Fantine, Cosette, Marius and Eponine and eventually engulfs the unbending, uncomprehending Javert.
Intimacy is something the Hale does very well, and David Tinney’s inspired direction and Kelly DeHaan’s clear and concise musical direction unerringly capitalize on that. Tinney positions characters center stage, and Brian Healy bathes them in liquid light for their soul-sharing moments: Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream,” Valjean’s “Who Am I?” and Eponine’s “On My Own.”
Tinney copes equally well with the demands of the show’s large production numbers. Although the stage seems crowded and confusing in the early scenes — it’s especially hard to see past the wooden posts in “The Red Light District” — subsequent musical high points are beautifully staged. Propelling Enjolras around the stage in a cart energizes “Do You Hear the People Sing?”; characters appear gradually on different levels of Kacey Udy’s labyrinthine wooden set as “One Day More” builds emotional power; the souls of his dead comrades touchingly surround Marius in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”; and the living and the dead merge gracefully in the finale. Tinney wisely places the barricade on the side of the stage to allow space for and focus audience attention on the important action behind it.
In the Monday-Wednesday-Friday cast, Kyle Olsen’s Jean Valjean and Preston Yates’ Javert prove worthy, well-matched adversaries. Olsen’s physically imposing presence empowers songs like “Who Am I?” but he also easily embodies the sensitivity of “Bring Him Home.” As Javert, Yates is a man obsessed with his righteous and rigid vision of human behavior. When Valjean’s forgiveness shatters his certainty, his torment is palpable.
Anna Daines Rennaker’s Eponine is a winning combination of cockiness and wistful longing. Her rendition of “On My Own” lights up the stage. Megan Heaps brings a sweet voice and motherly devotion to her portrayal of Fantine, but she lacks the character’s gritty determination and survival skills. Stephen Kerr and Camille Van Wagoner are flamboyant and funny as the Thénardiers, reveling in their opportunistic naughtiness. Bradley Lever is a fiery, impassioned Enjolras, and Tim Cooper and Jessica Sundwall create an attractive, ardent Marius and Cosette, both yearning to find their place in the world. Wally Inkley’s spirited Gavroche and Elise Anderson’s tender Young Cosette more than hold their own with the adult cast.
Peggy Willis and Suzanne Carling’s period costumes vividly differentiate characters and class distinctions in French society. The Thénardiers’ garish magenta and turquoise outfits at the wedding are especially memorable.
Staging “Les Misérables” presents a challenge to any theater, but the Hale’s production meets it head on with more than its share of memorable moments. My only criticism is that it also has more than its share of stage smoke, even in scenes when it makes no sense.
Astute direction and poignant performances master the challenge of mounting “Les Misérables” at Hale Centre Theatre.
When • Reviewed Feb. 17; nightly except Sunday at 7:30, with matinees at 4 p.m. on Fridays, except March 21, and 12:30 and 4 p.m. on Saturdays through April 19. Extra matinees at 4 p.m. on Mondays, April 7 and 14, and Thursdays, April 10 and 17.
Where • Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 South Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City
Tickets • $32 for adults and $16 for children (5 to 11). Call 984-9000 or visit www.hct.org for tickets and information.
Running time • Two hours and 45 minutes (including an intermission)