I’ve been involved with Liverpool’s Winds of Change Theatre Company for over twenty years, either on the stage, behind the scenes or cheering from the audience. I’ve been to plays in London and New York. I can sing along to most of the soundtrack to “Chicago”. I love theatre. I love the smell of greasepaint in the morning. I love the music, the lights, the people, the thrill of an audience rising to its feet at the end of the final number. But I am also finicky and demanding, and often quite hard to impress.
The Winds of Change production of Les Misérables, staged this weekend and next at the Astor Theatre in Liverpool, NS, impressed me.
My God, did it ever!
There is a unique delight in seeing people you know do something marvelous. I have the pleasure of knowing many of the cast and crew of Les Mis, and I have to admit a bias toward the production because these are people I teach, people I share lunch with, people I greet at the post office, people I admire… but my appreciation of this show goes beyond mere loyalty to my peers. While the show was not without minor opening-night glitches, it was a spectacle of delight for the senses which will linger with me for a very long time. There is so much to say… the costumes, the set, the lighting, the characters… but what truly sold me on the entire experience that is “Les Misérables” were the voices… ohhh, the voices!
It’s a tragically beautiful story, with haunting music, but what brought tears to my eyes at the end of every major number wasn’t the content of the plot, but the vocal beauty of the ensemble. This production showcases vocal talents worthy of Broadway, of Hollywood, of a recording I can listen to over and over again as Fantine mourns her fate in my kitchen, my car, my ipod; as Jean Valjean takes Marius home, as Javert sings to the stars… will you please make a CD, Winds of Change cast? We will buy it. We will sing along. I could listen to Laura Purdue sing about the rain in Paris and her unrequited love every day, while I make supper. My Love won’t mind that I cry into the potatoes.
And it wasn’t all about the leads. The chorus was remarkable. Everyone stayed in character. Everyone entered the stage with the look and demeanor of who they were meant to be. Whores were whores. Soldiers were soldiers. Drunks were drunks. The dedication and unity of the cast was obvious. Kayla DeLong was so expressive I forgot that she is actually a lovely young woman and not a nasty factory worker. Young Kinsey, and Raya and Grace were adorable and so homeless-looking it was easy to forget that they were up way past their bedtimes. The numbers where the entire cast were on stage lifted me from my seat, their voices, timing and harmony were so magnificent. And they were delicious to look at.
The set… oh my. There’s a scene toward the end when the young men are fighting at the barricade. I have to catch my breath even recounting it here. The set turns… or is it the audience who rotate slowly from one perspective to another? With perfectly timed precision, our hearts in our throats, the set moves, and takes the audience with it and you are forced to remain in your seat until the scene is over, even though you want to leap to your feet cheering, crying and shouting. The only thing that keeps you still is that you don’t want to miss what comes next.
I won’t even talk about Javert. His final scene is… riveting. Even though you may know the play, you may know the outcome and the fates of the characters, you are torn by his final moments on stage.
When we go to the theatre it is to suspend our disbelief. To throw ourselves into the lives of the brave players on the stage and be swept away. Les Mis accomplishes this magical feat almost effortlessly. Scene shifts to scene without a blackout, tableaus paint such strong visual images it’s hard to pay attention to the ongoing dialogue one is so immersed in the background picture, costumes and props are delightful… from the bosoms of the whores, to the rifles of the rebels, to the mutton chops on the men, the picture is complete.
Except for Javert’s hats. I’m sorry, but those things are huge!
And of course there were quirks… spotlights that occasionally wandered before they found their singer, mics that crackled softly, an orchestra that sometimes seemed too loud; and I wanted to hear so much more from the young McNamara… but when the intermission came I didn’t want it. I wanted more singing. At the end of the three hour show, I would have happily sat longer. My eyes still fill with tears when I think of certain scenes… Fantine’s achingly beautiful “I dreamed a dream”; the delightfully saucy Thenardier’s; everything the chorus sang; and Gavroche… oh, don’t do it, Gavroche!
And Kris Snarby. He teaches with me at LRHS, and I am going to ask the Snarbs to sing “Bring Him Home” to us every day at noon at school. I will be bereft when he shaves off his “lambchops”. Hell, I want the whole cast to serenade us with “One Day More”, just to see us through ‘til June! And I want to live inside every one of Eponine’s solos.
And I say it looks effortless. Endless hours of rehearsal, production meetings, lighting technicals that last until the wee hours of the morning, unexpected last minute changes, people travelling from Yarmouth and Halifax, sore throats, jangled nerves, too much hairspray, not enough sleep… but it is a labour of love. And a little bit of madness.
I could go on. I would like to mention every single cast member, every single song, but that would ruin it, and you, gentle reader, must simply go. The last I heard there were less than three hundred tickets still available. They are going to be snatched up in the next few days.
Thank you. Thank you, Winds of Change. I’m going again next Saturday. I’ll be the one singing along in the balcony.