BLUFFDALE — When I heard that the Bluffdale Arts Advisory Board was mounting a production of Les Misérables: School Edition, I jumped at the chance to cover the show. Les Mis is the first Broadway musical I ever loved when I was in high school and the first show I ever saw in New York. So, I knew it would be a special experience to see current young people take their crack at this special musical. I am jealous of these teens because I would have given anything to be in Les Mis when I was their age.
The school edition of Les Mis is basically the same as the full show, but made to be 30 minutes shorter. There are also changes to the lyrics in some songs like “Masters of the House” to make it more teen-friendly (nobody over the age of 19 is allowed to do the school edition). This was my first time seeing the school edition, and I was surprised how much they left in; there is still profanity and lude language, particularly in “Lovely Ladies.” If taking children parents may still want to talk to them about the more mature elements.
Les Misérables is of course based on the novel by Victor Hugo, with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. The original Broadway run lasted for 16 years and won 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. The play tells the story of Jean Valjean, a man who serves 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread. When he breaks his parole he is hunted by lawman Javert until becoming involved with a group of revolutionaries who fight for justice unsuccessfully in a barricade.
In the version at Bluffdale Arts, Valjean is played by Benjamin Tate in a very strong performance. Tate has a lovely tenor voice, and on “Bring Him Home” he hits the high notes beautifully. He is also up for the physical demands of the role, such as when he has to carry Marius (played by Liam Opheikens) over his shoulder for a long segment.
Some other highlights in the cast are Melanie Nielsen as Eponine. “On My Own” is an iconic number that practically invented the modern musical theatre belt, and Nielsen sings it with the confidence of a more seasoned singer. I also enjoyed Tyler McRae as both the Bishop and Enjolras. “Do You Hear the People Sing?” is always a peak moment, and it is in the Bluffdale production, but the song’s reprise is even more memorable as it triumphantly closes off Valjean’s story.
The child actors are another high point of the production. Enoch Allen is endearing as Gavroche. (He is performing with his brother John Allen, and his mother Kara Allen is the musical director.) Gavroche has a very emotional moment with “Little People” and its reprise, and Enoch Allen brings just enough spunk to the role. Hallie Dixon is also sweet as Young Cosette singing “Castle on a Cloud.”
Director Laura Garner manages to get the best out of her large and energetic young cast, and she uses the whole stage out into the aisles to tell the big, dramatic story. Garner also helps Elizabeth Lines with the costumes, which stand out the most in the final sequences at Cosette’s wedding. And the Thénadiers are a ton of fun with their big, over-the-top wigs.
The main area for improvement in this production is in the sound. There are a lot of problems with the microphones especially with Javert (played by Ethan Cox), which is a shame because the performance is good. Also, there are times when the music is is too loud, overpowering the singers. However, I do not fault this production too much for this because microphone and sound problems seem to be standard in youth productions. It is all part of the learning process. Finally, there could also be some improvement with the lighting. The spotlight is especially shaky and wanders around the stage, which is distracting.
But I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Bluffdale Arts Advisory Board production of Les Misérables: School Edition. Each of the teens put energy into his or her roles and did the best they could. At only $8 per ticket, this show is a great way to both support young people performing but to also introduce children and teens to this classic Broadway musical.