copyright the Chronicle May 6, 2015
by Nathalie Gagnon-Joseph
ORLEANS — The cast of Vermont Family Theatre’s Les Misérables nailed the opening night of their show on Friday, remembering every line and singing every note.
Friday was the first of a three-day run of the show, put together by Artistic Director Karen Perry.
It was obvious that all the actors loved the show and gave it their all. The choruses were excellent and very effective, moving the story forward and making hearts race.
Fantine, played by Danielle Carrier, and Jean Valjean, played by Dan Johnstone, shone particularly bright, showing off vocal chops that would have been at home on Broadway.
It was Mr. Johnstone’s first time performing in a show but he’s a music teacher at North Country Union Junior High School. He demonstrated great focus and vocal flexibility, reaching the high and low notes in his part easily.
Ms. Carrier’s singing was natural and clear, which fit Fantine’s character to a T. After Fantine’s death early on in the plot, Ms. Carrier played the mean Madame Thénardier, a crook, who, with her shady husband, Thénardier, takes advantage of everyone she can, including Fantine’s orphaned daughter Cosette.
Alan Franklin played Thénardier. He and Ms. Carrier provided comic relief to the essentially tragic musical. They both took on whiney and nasally voices when they sang, wearing ridiculous costumes and makeup, making the crowd laugh.
The children’s stamina was impressive. Paul Petzoldt was expressive as he played Gavroche’s cheeky interludes.
The very simple set was used cleverly to make up the different spaces where the stories take place. Without the use of too many props, the main focus was on the actors, their singing, and the story they told.
For those who don’t know, Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo, is the famous story of how Jean Valjean, a former prisoner, tries to turn his life around despite being constantly hunted by his nemesis, a policeman named Javert, who was played by the talented Todd Jones.
Jean Valjean atones for his sins by caring for an orphan, Cosette. He feels responsible for her because she is the daughter of a former employee, Fantine, who was fired, forced to turn to prostitution to make ends meet, and died.
The story is set on the backdrop of an unsuccessful rebellion against the French monarchy in 1832, led by the charismatic rebel leader, Enjolras, who was energetically portrayed by Lucas Sirois.
The original novel was long, and so is the musical adaptation. Ms. Perry agreed to tackle the huge project, which was suggested to her by high school students, after seeing the show on Broadway and crying through the entire thing.
“It’s incredible,” she said in an interview after her own production on Friday night. “You never get tired of it.”
While there wasn’t a live orchestra accompanying the vocal performances, the quality of the recording the company used was so good that it made no difference.
Ms. Perry said they spent big bucks to get the professional recording — $900. The musical accompaniment was divided into small portions that Ms. Perry was able to play depending on where the actors were in their performance.
“For this cast, it was very good,” Ms. Perry said about the quality of the show on Friday. Their biggest hurdle had been a mini flu epidemic that swept through the whole cast for several weeks before opening night.
Three days before the show started, Grace Castle, who played Cosette, lost her voice. She recovered just in time to perform along with Alex Cope, who played Marius, Cosette’s love interest, and Olivia Lemieux, who played Éponine, the Thénardiers’ daughter who is secretly in love with Marius.
The three of them did a great job of recreating the sad love triangle where Éponine helps Marius and Cosette further their relationship despite her own feelings.
The nonprofit Vermont Family Theatre puts on seven shows per year, Ms. Perry said, but this one was by far the biggest.
The cast, which was made up of parents, teachers, kids, nurses, and business owners, had been practicing for several hours, several times a week, for several months.
“It was just amazing for a small town,” Elisa Lemieux, Olivia’s mother, said.
They will perform an encore on May 9 at 7 p.m., according to the program.
contact Nathalie Gagnon-Joseph at [email protected]
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