Scotch Plains - Fanwood High School Repertory Theatre's
March 25, 2004
Presented By SP-F Repertory Theatre Troupe
By Susan M. Dougherty
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
SCOTCH PLAINS- Some critics might have called it insanity when Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School (SPFHS) Drama/ Music Department announced it would present Les MisÚrables as its spring musical. Other people might have thought it was an act of pure hubris. After seeing it on opening night this past weekend, I would call it brilliant.
An 18-piece timpani-driven orchestra sets the opening scene of misery and degradation of a chain gang in France in the 1800s that admonish each other to "Look Down" in order to survive. Jean Valjean, the lead throughout the musical that spans some 20 years, has just served 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's starving child and later attempting to escape.
Abe Hiatt, a vocally mature and proficient junior, plays the demanding lead role.
Casting students in the right role in a high school is half the battle. The team of Producer/Music Director Laurie Wellman and Director Tom Pedas has to be credited for knowing the students' voices and talents and matching them to roles in which they can shine. And these teenagers do shine.
A visual and auditory tapestry comprised of threads of various themes, musical and thematic, Les MisÚrables boasts a colorful combination of intrigue, passion, love, greed, and compassion.
A stunning lead solo voice of Matthew Capodicasa as Inspector Javert demonstrates that a high school senior's basso profundo can indeed be profound. Replete with Napoleonic hat and mutton chops, this antagonist battles with protagonist Valjean from the get go and continues throughout the musical that is technically an operetta in nature since all lines are sung.
Stephen Carroll's velvet lyrical voice of the Bishop sings sweetly and compassionately to thief Valjean. There is no overdosing on sugar here, however; in fact, a versatile singer/actor, Stephen later displays his multifaceted talent in the role of Joly, one of the revolutionaries in the show.
In the strong musical number "At the End of the Day," the ensemble gives a glimpse of the burden of weariness the poor feel daily.
A favorite audition song, "I Dreamed a Dream" is handled well by Jaclyn Tumolo playing Fantine, the mother of an illegitimate child named Cosette. When fellow factory workers steal a letter written by Cosette's caretakers, a fight ensues and Fantine loses her job. This especially wellplayed musical number in the factory showcases a variety of solo voices that could have handled leads easily themselves.
Forlorn, Fantine sells her hair for money and then is taught the harsh realities of prostitution. Garishly dressed women of the night topped off with plumed hats show their vocal flexibility with raucous sounds and tender unison blends when needed. Fantine (Jaclyn Tumolo) uses a beautiful upper register of her voice when she pleads to Inspector Javert to let her go for the sake of her child.
Later, effective strobe lighting in the runaway cart scene sparks reality. At the end of that scene, the low notes of Capodicasa's Javert are ominously evil in vibrato and intensity.
"Who Am I?" the introspective song that Valjean sings, is rushed a bit in tempo, perhaps causing first time audience members not to grasp all of the lyrics. Otherwise, Pit Orchestra Director Durand Thomas reins in a knowledgeable, talented musical ensemble.
When Paige Mankin sings, "Castle on a Cloud," as young Cosette, she steals the hearts of the audience. That role and the one of the street urchin, Gavroche, played by Daniel Pesin on March 18, got two of the biggest ovations of the night. Both have angelic voices.
Devilishly wonderful in the role of innkeeper Thenardier and Madame Thenardier are Devon Bonstein and Laura Manziano. As the innkeeper's wife, Laura is excellent. There is no other word for her performance. The disdain she dumps on young Cosette is acting at its best. And in "Master of the House," with Devon taking the lead, the audience fairly howls its delight.
No wonder the house rocks in that number; the stage is packed with crowds of SPFHS's drama and music students each doing its character's bits while still reacting to the dishonest innkeeper and his wife.
Devon spits out hilarious lyrics. He and his wife sail through the number with ribald gestures as punctuation. He and the Mrs. should be sure Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award Nominees, if not winners. In fact, there should be a fair number of n o m i n a t i o n s from this talented cast as well as the show itself.
Lauren Perrotta, playing Eponine, creates tender, plaintive musical moments one of which is "Little he knows, little he sees."
Like Captain Ahab searching for Moby Dick, Inspector Javert stays hot on the trail of Jean Valjean throughout their lives. When Javert (Matt) sings, "and if you fall as Lucifer fell," it is clear that he sees life in terms of black and white. Matt is electric when he sings "This I swear."
In the song, "Red and Black." Enjolras (Tuan Nguyen) and Marius (Ryan Aspell) are the leaders of the student-supported revolution. Tuan's art song quality voice raises support for the cause. "Do you hear the People Sing?" which starts pianissimo is the signal for the rest of the crowd to stream down the aisle and appear on stage. That in itself is quite a feat with approximately 45 in the ensemble.
This has always felt like a natural intermission spot in the show, but it isn't. The grownup Cosette, a lovely senior named Jillian Prefach, has to literally bump into Marius (Ryan) in order for them to meet and fall in love. Some of the best moments of the show happen when Jillian opens her mouth to sing. The talented trio in "A Heart Full of Love" blends powerful voices of Ryan, Jillian and Lauren.
Simple yet effective "walking" choreography by Gisa DiIorio at the end of Act I is accented by the waving red flag of the revolution and the stirring theme of "One Day More." With Act II, enters one the unnamed stars of the show: the barricade. Kudos to its designers and builders! The scene of gunfire and mayhem juxtaposes with the "Drink with Me" scene that precedes it. A melancholy moment in the show, it is tender and reflective.
Eponine's heartfelt solo "On My Own" is similar in approach to the original cast album. She alternates a controlled belt and head voice for the show-stopping song, probably the most well known in the musical, and wins over the hearts of the audience who have experienced similar pain of unrequited love. "Bring Him Home," a stellar song is a little overplayed in intensity and volume. It needs to be whispered at moments with emotion dripping from each note. Abe Hiatt's wonderful last few notes of falsetto are his best in that piece.
After being saved by his enemy Valjean, Javert ponders his unrelenting quest. The strobe light effect on a frazzled, disheveled Matt Capodicasa in the suicide scene is powerful and convincing.
Marius (Ryan Aspell) sells the song "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" with thoughtfulness and soul. An effective use of the "ghosts" of his friends lined up on the bridge reflects the ravages of war.
After that contemplative scene comes the levity of the wedding scene where Madame T and Thenardier crash it in the hopes of blackmailing Marius. Laura and Devon return in more outlandish costumes. The characters and their antics are pretty laughable; good direction and confidence on the part of the actors help bring it altogether. Electricity is in the air when they are on stage.
A high demand for excellence was placed on this cast and crew and they delivered. At the end of each performance when they ask the audience for a donation for the Interfaith Council for the Homeless of Union County, it is clear that through this show, these performers have been touched by the plight of the poor. Congratulations to these teens for a job well done. And to the parents and directors who have helped shape them into the stars of tomorrow: thank you also for making them concerned citizens who will make a better tomorrow for all.
JOIN IN OUR CRUSADE!...After each performance, cast members of the Scotch Plains/Fanwood's Les MisÚrables ask audience members to contribute to the Interfaith Council for the Homeless of Union County. In the last four months of rehearsals, the students have served meals in soup kitchens, and hosted a Christmas party for homeless children and their families. This show, which piqued the teens's social consciousness, continues through this weekend. The troupe raised over $1,000 in the first weekend of performances for the organization.
Union County- Freeholder Al Mirabella (C) presents the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School "Les Miserables" cast with a resolution honoring the troupe as a recipient of a 2004 Volunteer Recognition Award by the Union County Office of Volunteer Services.
Director Tom Pedas (2nd R), Music Director Laurie Wellman (R), Tuan Ngugen, president of the repertory theatre (L), Jillian Pretack, secretary of the repertory theatre (2nd L), actor Daniel Pesin (front L) and actress Jillian Gardner (front R) were on at to receive the honor.
The cast members went to soup kitchens in Plainfield, Clark and Elizabeth to serve meals, sang Christmas carols at a holiday party for the homeless, presented a special preview performance of "Les Miserables" at Ozanum, an area homeless shelter and chartered a bus to bring the residents of the shelter to one of the performances. They also held a canister drive at the end of the six performances of "Les Miserables" and raised over $5,700.00 for the Interfaith Council for the Homeless of Union County. (Photo by Jim Lowney/County of Union)
Suburban News-Prime Time December 17, 2003
December 17, 2003
SCOTCH PLAINS - The Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School Repertory Theater announced names of its 80-member cast now preparing to stage the musical show, Les Misérables, starting March 19, 2004.
The show entertained millions in countries around the world for more than a decade, closing in New York only this past spring.
This is the first season that Les Misérables has been available to amateur theater groups in northern New Jersey, said SPFY school district choral music director, Laurie Wellman, producer. Our exceptional cast includes eight singers who are 2003 all-state chorus members selected by the new Jersey State Music Educators Association, and nine in the American Choir Directors Association All-Eastern choir. Tom Pedas of the Cranford schools will direct the show. Durand Thomas of Scotch Plains Fanwood High School music department will conduct, and Gisa Di Iorio will choreograph.
Seniors in key roles include Ryan Aspell (Marius), Devon Bonstein and Laura Manziano (the innkeepers Thenardier), Adam Corbin (Grantaire), Tuan Nguyan (Enjolras), Jill Prefach (Cosette) and Jackie Tumolo (Fantine). Juniors include Matthew Capodicasa (Javert), Abraham Hiatt (Jean Valjean), and Lauren Perrotta (Eponine).
Les Misérables will open at 8 p.m. on March 19, 2004, at the Scotch Plains Fanwood High School on Westfield Road, Scotch Plains, and run for five performances. The subsequent dates are March 20 (evening), March 21 (matinee) and March 26-27 (evenings). The box office opens for ticket orders on February 1, 2004. Call (908) 889-7755.
Dozens of featured roles will be filled by members of the 64-member chorus. Vangelis Dimopoulos, Jake Forrestal and Daniel Pesin will share the role of the child Gavroche, and Jillian Gardner and Paige Mankin will alternate as young Cosette.
Tom Pedas, The Celebration Singers and Children's Chorus