“The colors of the world are changing every day,” sings Enjorlas (a robust Liam Hahn), the leader of young revolutionaries. It’s Paris, 1832. Students have gone to the barricades, fighting for a better world.
Two battle scenes complete with gunfire, smoke and casualties are among the many challenges facing Durango High School as Thespian Troupe 1096 mounts the musical “Les Misérables.”
Add a cast of what looks like the whole of Paris, a spectacular through-sung score, five exquisite still-point solos, crowd scenes that deliver despair as well as hope and you have a splendid production of a musical theater classic.
Director Kristin Winchester has assembled a first-rate creative team, a remarkable cast, a spot-on crew and a sizeable orchestra. Together, they’ve garnered top state honors. Troupe 1096 holds one of two performance slots – out of a field of 20 – to perform their musical at the Colorado State Thespian Conference in December. See it now.
Among the highlights:
A high-energy, swiftly moving story that spans French history from 1815 to the mid-1830s.
A spell-binding tale of Jean Valjean (the mature, nuanced Evatt Salinger with an easy high baritone range), an angry man released from prison after 19 years for stealing bread. Valjean is transformed by one act of kindness into a courageous and successful citizen, although always a fugitive.
Music so imaginatively and tightly interwoven that themes return in new guises and always drive the story forward (performed by the DHS Orchestra, conducted by the inimitable Tom Kyser and accompanied by Ivy Walker).
Thrilling contrasts between quiet and combustible moments run throughout. There are a multitude of big-crowd scenes, from the prisoners that flood the aisles in the opening, to the factory workers, to the revolutionaries in the streets. In contrast, Winchester stages several solos with great simplicity. These beautiful still points begin with Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” (a wistful Katelyn Craig) and continue with Valjean’s “Who Am I?”, young Cosette’s “Castle on a Cloud” (an endearing Ellie Clark), Javert’s “Stars” (a forcefully clear Joe Logan) and Eponine’s “On My Own” (an almost too powerful Emma Buchanan) and Marius’ reverie for lost friends, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” (an impassioned Curtis Salinger).
Lighter moments include the sardonically jolly Thenardiers (wonderfully realized by Luke Fowler and Rebekah Hwang).
A spectacular surround set recreates a Parisian square. Kudos to Technical Director Walker White and his crew for suggesting part of an arrondissement near the Seine complete with stone bridge, apartment buildings with shuttered windows, lights within, a garden on Rue Plumet, even a bishop’s residence. During intermission, walk around the theater, and notice the back walls resplendent with doorways, arches, brick outcroppings and more windows rising high in a crumbling urban fantasy.
A cautionary word: This is a youthful production of great musical theater. The DHS players have mastered the abbreviated – but no less difficult – high-school version of the complete “Les Mis.” It’s an ensemble piece, and almost every character has a solo, short or long. Yes, there are occasional tuning problems, but there is a good deal of polish and no missteps.
One concern: Why local audiences think it necessary to applaud every time a scene ends or an orchestra stops is a mystery. Unthinking, automatic applause interrupts the flow of a work, and it’s becoming a Durango habit.
A caveat: Gavroche, the scrappy boy who sacrifices himself for his comrades, was played opening night by a clearly under-the-weather but brave Colson Parker. The performance illustrated one of the many problems arising from a big production: Everyone has to stay healthy.
The show runs 2 hours and 50 minutes with one intermission.
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.