Late in life, Victor Hugo witnessed the construction of the Statue of Liberty from his Paris apartment. Though frail and near death, he insisted on visiting the site. Regarding the hundreds of sculptors he said, "To the sculptor form is everything and it is nothing. It is nothing without the spirit - with the idea it is everything." The idea was that an independent theater company on Maui could put on a Broadway caliber show. If that was once a question, the answer is yes.
Broadway quality requires technical excellence, and the Maui Academy of Performing Arts "Les Miserables" team delivers. Designers Dan Hays and Mark Astrella; production manager and technical director; Christina Sutrov (who doubles in the ensemble); stage manager Lina Krueger; and assistant stage managers Tina Kaliponi and Andrea Finkelstein, have set a new Maui standard for design and execution. To say "Les Mis" is technically flawless is an overstatement, but I'm sure the handful of opening night glitches will be corrected and perfected this weekend.
A national Broadway tour hits big cities like St. Louis, San Francisco and Seattle first, usually featuring a celebrity or two. A second national tour follows, with a smaller budget and lesser-known stars visiting cities such as Louisville, Sacramento and Portland. I have seen "Les Mis" in both tour incarnations over the years, and this Maui production falls somewhere in between that level of quality. Fifteen to 20 members of this local cast are talented enough to be on tour. Most praiseworthy are the performances of James Price as Valjean and Jerry Eiting as Javert. Both could perform the exact same roles in New York or London and receive acclaim for "Bring Him Home" and "Stars."
The cast of Maui Academy of Performing Arts will continue their performance of “Les Miserables” through Sunday at Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater.
JACK GRACE photo
When Valjean violates his parole after a 19-year prison sentence, vowing to start his life anew, Maui's "Les Mis" turns the corner on a truly magnificent rendition of "At the End of the Day." With more than a dozen phenomenal female voices added to the mix, any possible notion that this production might fall short is dispelled. From that moment forward, "Les Mis" is one musically seamless highlight after another.
Leighanna Locke eloquently portrays Fantine, owning the character, and her "I Dreamed a Dream," and "Fantine's Death" are both heartrending and memorable. In contrast to Fantine's hardship, "Lovely Ladies," and "Master of the House," are lively and witty. The Thenardiers, played by Dale Button and Kristi Scott, are a joy to watch, and Pokorski's "Castle on a Cloud," is both engaging and skilled.
Nine years later, Valjean continues to elude Javert's quest to return him to prison, and Cosette (Jacqui Sherwood) is now a young woman. The epic story now revolves around the dream of a student uprising and revolution. Well-known songs like "The People's Song," "A Heart Full of Love," and "One Day More," are just as remarkable by way of the spectacular soprano and tenor vocals of Sherwood, Dylan Bode as Marius, and Kepa Cabanilla-Aricayos as Enjolras.
Making all this musical magic happen is the unparalleled accompaniment by the Maui Chamber Orchestra and chorus, conducted by Robert E. Wills. The first standing ovation on opening night was when the orchestra returned to the pit after intermission.
If I had a favorite "Les Mis" moment, it was Eponine's (Lia Krieg) "On My Own." Krieg is not only a Broadway-caliber singer, but also in character even if no one is watching her, armed with facial expressions that can touch you or make you laugh. Wyatt DeShong as Gavroche has more than one moment of show stealing, including "Little People," and an audible audience gasp of shock upon his tragic end.
When the failed uprising becomes hopeless, Valjean rescues Cosette's love, the wounded Marius, again hoping to start life anew. The sheer size and scope of "Les Mis" is too vast for an all-embracing review, but for those that have never seen it, there are many surprising plot twists and highlights that I have not revealed.
At Valjean's death bed, he is visited by the spirits of the departed, who welcome him home in the finale. The quiet, swelling reprise of "The People's Song" will surely kindle, and possibly enflame emotions, at show's end.
Hugo's life spanned from Napoleon to the dawn of 20th century. At times thought of as a dangerous radical, his "Les Miserables" was intended to affect and arouse. Of the future, he wrote, "There is nothing like a dream to create the future." Brava and bravo to all the dreamers and sculptors that made this production a reality.
* "Les Miserables," features music by Claude-Michael Schonberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boulil and Jean-Marc Natel, with English-language libretto by Herbert Kretzmer, and based on the novel by Victor Hugo. It continues through Sunday. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. Tickets are $15 to $65 through the MACC box office. To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org. For more information about the production visit www.mauiacademy.org.
Also this week
Catch the cast members from TBS' "Sullivan & Son" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's McCoy Studio Theater. The Sullivan & Son Comedy Tour" features Steve Byrne ("The Tonight Show," "Conan," "The Byrne Identity: Comedy Central Special"), Owen Benjamin ("The Tonight Show," "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," "Comedy Central Presents"), Roy Wood Jr. ("The Late Show with David Letterman," "The Late Late Show," "The Funny Spot with Tony Rock") and Ahmed Ahmed ("The Tonight Show," "Axis Of Evil: Comedy Central," "Iron Man"). Tickets are $29 and $39, available at the MACC box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.
Talking Stories will be performing monologues from Lee Cataluna's "Folks You Meet In Longs" at the Maui Mall stage at 1 p.m. Saturday. The performance is free. Founded in 2003, Talking Stories' mission is to promote the perpetuation and preservation of Hawaii's local language, culture, and ideals by growing local actors, local audiences, and local writers. "Folks You Meet In Longs" is directed by Lana Queddeng, and stars Shakey Boteilho, Jackie Perry, Manasseh Robidoux and Cheri Nashiwa.
Celebrate with Maui Academy of Performing Arts at the Garden Party's Silver Anniversary on the beautiful shady lawn of the Yokouchi Family Estate in Wailuku, from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8. Enjoy Broadway-caliber entertainment, a chef's festival with gourmet cuisine from Maui restaurants, fine wines, locally brewed beer, live jazz, a silent auction, and Fresh Art - artwork created on-site to be auctioned off in the live auction. Proceeds benefit MAPA's educational performing arts programs. Tickets are $75 in advance, or $85 the day of the event. The Garden Party is a 21 and older event. For tickets, call MAPA at 244-8760.
The Maui Academy of Performing Arts' fall semester has begun. Choose from more than 100 weekly classes for ages 3 to adult in all levels of dance, drama and singing including ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, Broadway dance, contemporary, choreography, acting, comedy improv, singing and songwriting and Glee Club. Classes are held in Wailuku and Lahaina. Tuition is $275 to $325 for the semester. Download schedules and registration forms at www.mauiacademy.org or call 244-8760.