Dayton, Ohio
Play changes; quality stays
‘Les Miserables’ blessed with wonderful solos
By Terry Morris
Dayton Daily News 9/25/03
Having seen Les Miserables at old Memorial Hall during its first three visits to Dayton, I was eager to see how much difference seeing it at the Schuster Performing Arts Center would make.
Not much, it turns out.  Les Miz is what it is and has always been: a great, corny, contrived, satisfying and inspiring musical.  Seeing it in a glossy and comfortable new hall actually works against it, to a certain extent.
It’s more difficult to suspend disbelief and allow those projected titles to hurtle us back in time and station to the lowly environs of Digne, where we encounter hero Jean Valjean toiling on a prison gang during the prologue, or Montfermeil, where bruised, tattered and underfed Cosette is dispatched by the heartless Thenardiers to fetch water with a bucket heavier than she is.
The mechanized scenic barricades that ramp out from the wings like the extendable jaws of the space monsters in the Aliern films might be extensions fo the Schuster Center's deployable acoustical systems instead of what they were in the mid-1980s -- the very latest in showbiz technology.
Why not light up the fiber-optic twinklers in the Schuster Center dome when Inspector Javert delivers the final phrase in his Act 1 showstopper Stars? They remained dark when performer James Clow sang his heart out on opening night Tuesday.
What this Les Miz would have in a church basement, a park or Memorial Hall, is dynamic performances, singers and songs that seize the story and carry it, and an overall larger-than-life experience.
Randal Keith, who projected his distinguished baritone to less-forgiving rafters in a 1995 Dayton Philharmonic pops concert at the Dayton Convention Center, is the prototypical wide-bodied Valjean, capable of booming resonance in low notes and a delicate near-falsetto. He put both to use in Act 2’s Bring Him Home, the single most excellent solo on a night blessed with them.
Keith is a marvelous and experienced Valjean who anchors this production, but also sets a high standard. Ma-Anne Dionisio was up to it as Eponine, whose On My Own was sad, beautiful and wonderful.
Tonya Dixon seemed at first too large a presence as the “little,” besieged Fantine, but all doubts disappeared when she delivered her character’s heartfelt and expressive story, I Dreamed a Dream.
Josh Young also required some warming up to as Marius.  But Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, his Act 2 solo with the ghosts of his fallen comrades behind him, was as honest as it gets.
Amanda Huddleston as the adult Cosette, child performers Branden Steinagle as Gavroche and Nadine Jacobson as tiny Cosette, John-Andrew Clark as Enjolras, with Cindy Benson and Michael Kostroff as the Thenardiers, also lived up to their featured roles.
Lyrics that were muddied by Memorial Hall’s voids and pillars were generally much clearer, although distinguishing one voice from another wasn’t easy toward the front of the auditorium during songs with layers that eventually merge in harmony.
No matter. Move this show back to First Street or keep it right here. It’s worth seeing again.
Contact Terry Morris at 225-2377 or

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