The cast and crew behind the Bay Ridge production of “Les Misérables” set out to create an unforgettable, quality musical experience that stays true to the show’s spirit and lush sound, and they did not disappoint.
From the moment that conductor/director Jeff Samaha waved the baton once used in the original Broadway show, signaling the 22-piece orchestra to play the first, iconic notes of the “Les Mis” musical score on opening night, September 20, chills went up the spines of more than one member of the audience, many of whom were already familiar with the show’s music and story—a story of tragedy, redemption, survival, love and hope, set in 19th century France during the French Revolution.
However, the story is only half the experience, as “Les Misérables” is a tale told expressly through music, without spoken dialogue.
That is why Samaha and producer Karen Tadross made sure to have a large live orchestra to complement the cast of 60 incredibly talented performers—80 percent of whom live in Brooklyn.
“Les Misérables” is very much an ensemble show, but at its center are the characters of Jean Valjean (Bill Andrews) and Javert (Joseph Bellino), whose antagonistic relationship and respective decisions fuel much of the action for themselves and others.
The chemistry between Andrews and Bellino is palpable in every scene, but they blow you away during a face-off in a hospital room, singing with such force and conviction while engaging in stage combat that you can’t look away.
Andrews, a veteran of Bay Ridge community theater, is perfectly cast as the flawed yet noble, hardened yet loving, physically and mentally strong Valjean, who comes a long way from his spiritless years on a prison labor chain gang for stealing a loaf of bread, to his years attempting to build a respectable, productive life as businessman, community leader and father.
Andrews also makes the iconic role of Valjean his own, memorably imbuing actor Colm Wilkinson’s original Broadway interpretation of “Bring Him Home” with his own poignant, heartfelt strains.
Bellino, a Long Island native, has a commanding presence as Inspector Javert, the zealous, intimidating embodiment of the sort of self-righteous 19th century French law enforcement that the revolutionaries are rebelling against. However, he manages also to play the subtle sense of blind faith behind Javert’s actions.
Sean Kincaid and John Patrick Sabatos also deliver standout performances as the student revolutionary Enjolras and love-struck Marius, respectively. Kincaid brings Enjolras’ youthful energy and restless convictions to life, reminding viewers of the youthful idealism that survives generations.
The youngest generation doesn’t hold back, either. Aidan Lawrence and Ryan Daniels, both 11, and sisters Abigail and Amanda Summa deliver simultaneously sweet and powerful-beyond-their-years performances.
There is also humor amidst the tragedy and drama, thanks to the hilariously entertaining performances by John Panepinto and Kathy Valentine as Thenardier and Madame Thenardier, the con-artist owners of an inn that serves as one of their more successful cons.
The cast of 60 performers is as stellar as it is full of local talent. The youngest actor is five years old and the oldest is 65, and they consider one another one big family—a bond that translates into powerful performances on stage.
Kudos also goes to directors Samaha, Frank Caiati and Kathy Valentine, as well as Tadross for bringing these performances out.
The Ridge Chorale production of “Les Misérables” will run over one more three-day weekend—September 27-29—at the High School of Telecommunication Art and Technology, located at 350 67th Street in Bay Ridge.
There are a limited number of tickets available, so buy them now online at www.ridgechorale.com or by calling 718-989-9566.