NICEVILLE — What's not to love about a spectacular stage musical in which only four of the 11 main characters make it to the final curtain?
Audiences have been flocking to "Les Misérables" since it burst onto the stage at a Parisian sports stadium in 1980. The spectacular production opening tonight at Northwest Florida State College is no less grand, no less stirring — and no less heartbreaking.
See the "Les Misérables" photo gallery here>>
The overnight Paris Uprising of 1832 doesn't register in American students' world history texts, but it inspired French author Victor Hugo. He spent the nights of the June 5-6 rebellion dodging bullets and wrote an epical novel centered on the event.
Book to stage
French composers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg brought Hugo's story to the stage, and, last Christmas, to Hollywood. Their score has entered the pantheon of great stage musicals.
With beloved songs including "I Dreamed a Dream," "Master of the House," "A Heart Full of Love" and "Bring Him Home," the NWFSC production does each number full justice.
Much of that success is due to an exquisite cast of regional talent headed by Michael Dye, Niceville High School’s choral music director, as the tortured Jean Valjean.
Clint Mahle, the production's director, plays Jean’s nemesis, Police Inspector Javert, with delicious menace yet the inner struggle that comes when "just following orders" doesn't cut it anymore.
As Fantine, the noble single mother and victim of the worst hostile work environment ever portrayed on stage, Annie Melia performs a glorious "I Dreamed a Dream.”
Denis Milonas and Allison Everitt as "Master of the House" M. Thénardier and missus, provide delightful comedic relief in the often-dark tale of woe, as well as a significant plot link.
Doomed love triangle
Hannah Moore, Sivu Schlegel and Mallory Olds masterfully play the love triangle involving Cosette, Marius and Eponine, respectively, with rich, crisp vocals by each.
Schlegel stands out as the anguished sole survivor among his Republican classmates who led their neighborhood's ill-fated uprising against the Legitimists.
His performance of "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables," fraught with emotion and guilt, garnered more than a few moist eyes in the preview audience.
A young thespian I hope we see in many future productions is sixth-grader Nathan Burge, who perkily plays the eager street urchin Gavroche.
If I may level one criticism — and this is certainly not Nathan's fault — I must question the compulsion to make the French working classes speak with English Cockney accents. It was distracting to the extent I half-expected Nathan to start singing "Consider Yourself" from "Oliver!"
The production design is impressive. Mahlie's beautifully detailed, multi-level set — especially the Republicans' barricade — is used effectively.
Jennifer Boudette's nearly 200 original costumes provide period authenticity from peasant workers to aristocrats — and aristocrat wannabes.
Bob Whittaker's evocative light design punctuates each scene, spotlighting individuals at critical moments, washing the barricade in a blood-red glow, and finally, bathing the stage at last in a cheerful brilliance.
"Les Misérables" at Northwest Florida State College is certainly the best and best executed of the college's excellent summer musicals series I've seen.
Given its outstanding performances, sweeping score, beautiful design and grand spectacle, it's a must-see this summer.
Want to go?
WHAT: "Les Misérables," the Northwest Florida State College summer musical
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. July 17-20 and 25-27
WHERE: Mattie Kelly Performing Arts Center, Niceville
COST: $25 adult, $20 youth, and one free ticket for NWFSC students with valid ID.
ORDER TICKETS: 729-6000 or www.mattiekellyartscenter.org
Contact News Bulletin Arts & Entertainment Editor Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.