Tuesday, August 12, 2014


By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com

Years from now people will still be talking about the time Arizona Onstage Productions staged “Les Miserables,” defying the odds for success and the Broadway scale of the music theater classic by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg.

Disdaining spectacle, AOP’s founding director Kevin Johnson wanted to go for the heart of this story based on the novel by Victor Hugo: the sacrificing virtue of Jean Valjean, the obsessive determination of Inspector Javert, the tales of vanquished hearts and unrequited love, the fever for freedom that burned inside the poor Parisians behind their barricade.

Johnson wanted it all and filled the Berger Performing Arts Center with a forceful sweep of emotions so palpable you could smell the gun powder of these desperate revolutionaries.

Assembling the most solid cast in his musical theater’s 11-year history, Johnson shaped each player with a diamond-cutter’s precision, then  balanced their performances with a watchmaker’s care.

Amy Erbe in the lynchpin role of Fantine matched the intensity of the larger figures such as Valjean (Kit Runge) and Javert (Juan Aguirre). Erin Anderson sang the tragic role of Eponine with such conviction her love for Marius (Tyler Wright) became a moment of wrenching poignancy.

The battling force of wills between Valjean and Javert receives added dimension in the beautifully supported tenor voice of Runge and the rumbling bass of Aguirre. Time after time the tall blond Runge would float airy high notes toward Heaven, only to be battered down by Aguirre conveying the ominous depth of Javert’s obsession.

The invaluable comedy roles of Thenardier (Dennis Tamblyn) and Madame Thenardier (Liz Cracchiolo-Samaniego), who must get their laughs in several different situations (even when they robbed dead revolutionaries), were always effective.

An equally capable pit orchestra conducted by Enrique “Hank” Feldman gave life to the famous musical score and added respect to the sincerity of this exceptional cast.

Word is already on the street (Tucson’s streets) about the robust quality of this production, which enjoyed a sold-out opening weekend. A few tickets are still available, says Johnson, for weekend shows at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16, and 2 p.m. matinees Saturday, Aug.16, and Sunday, Aug. 17.

An added performance has been scheduled for Friday, Aug. 15, at 7 p.m.

For details, reservations and ticket prices, visit www.arizonaonstage.org


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