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Theater Review: "Les Miserables" dazzles on new Tacoma Musical Playhouse stage

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Tacoma Musical Playhouse opens its 20th anniversary season with the Broadway hit Les Misérables. TMP raised roughly $1.2 million to renovate the stage, orchestra location and backstage areas. The stage is larger and the orchestra is now placed above and behind the stage which helps the actors voices come through better whether they are mic'd or not. TMP's choice of opening its new stage with Les Mis practically guarantees a solid start to its season. With added space, choreography is less cramped and sets are able to be more grand. The spectacle of this production did not disappoint with the sets showcasing the talent and skill of the designers and carpenters.

While this year marks the first year that Les Mis has been licensed to amateur and community theaters, most will be familiar with the story of ex-con Jean Valjean's struggle for redemption. Tracked by Inspector Javert, Valjean attempts to redeem his life by raising the daughter of Fantine, a woman he inadvertently brought to ruin. The music and lyrics are some of the best available in a musical production and the closeness to Victor Hugo's original story adds to the excellence of the script.

Although opening night was plagued with typical mic issues, the new sound system is an improvement from past seasons. The biggest issues were the lack of mics for the entire cast and a few of the mics being turned on late or not at all which sadly caused some important harmonies and lyrics to be missed. Thankfully, none of the cast members were fazed by any unexpected lack of amplification and increased projection in an attempt to compensate.

James Walters (Jean Valjean), from the Seattle Opera, is one of the few newcomers to the TMP stage. James Walters and John Cooper (Javert) were excellent foils to each other and with John Kelleher (Thenardier) were the strongest male actors. The female leads were well cast with Alena Menefee (Fantine), April Villanueva Santa Domingo (Eponine), and Lisa Wright Thiroux (Madame Thenardier) standing out for vocal performance (Menefee and Villanueva Santa Domingo) and comedic timing (Wright Thiroux). Of the young cast, Emily Johnson (young Eponine) was remarkable as her part consisted almost exclusively of facial expression and gestures. Lacey Krueger (young Cosette), 10, had a voice larger than expected coming from her small frame and seemed as experienced as any of the adult actors. Austin Brooks (Gavroche) was impish and charming.

The audience gave a standing ovation and was clearly impressed with the production despite the audible comments during intermission questioning why a few of the actors used British accents. French accents would have made more sense given the setting. Regardless of which accents were chosen, having the cast use the same accent would have created a cohesiveness that wouldn't have drawn undue attention.

Whether you have read Hugo's book, seen the Broadway show or the Hollywood movie, TMP's production of Les Miserable is worth seeing.

LES MISERABLES, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 10, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $20-$29, 253.565.6867

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