StarStruck presents Les Miserables under the stars

Gun shots and explosions were heard in the Mission Hills above Fremont tonight. A barricaded band of young revolutionaries made a stand against the French army in a desperate struggle for freedom and democracy. Yes, tonight the sights and sounds of 19th Century social unrest came to life on stage at the Ohlone College Outdoor Amphitheatre with StarStruck Theatre’s opening night performance of “Les Miserables.” And what an opening night it was! I have all but run out of superlatives to describe this extraordinary production – amazing, thrilling, sensational – Wow!

StarStruck Theatre capped off its 15th anniversary season this evening with the eight-time Tony Award-winning musical that has moved audiences the world over, affectionately dubbed “Les Miz.” The incredibly demanding musical was one of the theatre company’s most ambitious productions to date. And it looks like all the hard work paid off. Congratulations to Director Lori Stokes, her staff, and the talented young cast for a night of non-stop action and entertainment.

Featuring a cast of more than 50 students under the age of 19 from throughout the Bay Area, this School Edition of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michael Schonberg’s Les Miserables is specially adapted and licensed by Music Theatre International and Cameron Mackintosh.

Based on Victor Hugo’s powerful novel, “Le Miz” captures the very essence of life in 19th century France. This was a time of extreme hardship, disillusionment and increasing civil unrest, in particular, for the men and women who were the outcasts and underdogs of society. They are “The Miserables” in this story.

At its core is the conflict between two men – Jean Valjean, a good man at heart, but a victim of his own miserable circumstances, and Javert, an officer of the law whose unbending principles of justice eventually lead to his undoing.

The lives of these two men and those who are befriended and loved by Jean Valjean become inseparably entwined. Basically, Jean Valjean is an escaped convict is relentlessly pursued by policeman Javert over decades through the tumult of revolutionary France. Valjean assumes a new identity, becomes a mayor and agrees to raise the daughter of a dying prostitute, then joins the fight for freedom.

“Les Miz” is a little different than most musicals in that the whole of it is set to music. But it is the music, perhaps more than anything else that evokes such a myriad of emotion in this story. And under the brilliant music direction of Nancy Godfrey and the tutelage of vocal directors, Lee Glover and Jeff Oliveira, that emotion seems to touch every facet of the human senses.

Heading up the cast are the very talented Michael Landreth as Jean Valjean and Benjamin Hall as Inspector Javert. This exceptional duo set the standard for the night with their acting and incredible vocals. Mr. Landreth’s rendition of “Bring Him Home,” was especially moving.

Callie Garrett’s portrayal of the wretched Fantine, was heart-wrenching and she did a fine job with the beautiful, “I Dream a Dream.”

As the sad Eponine, Karina Simpson’s lovely voice rang true with the crowd favorite, “On My Own.”

StarStruck veteran James M. Jones was wonderful as Marius, the idealistic student who falls in love with Jean Valjean’s adopted daughter, the gentle Cossette, played skillfully by Chelsey Sue. Their hardships and deep love were aptly demonstrated with impressive duets.

Of course, the darkness of the “Les Miz” story would be too much to take if it were not for the antics of the scoundrels Thenardier, played by Connor Stokes, and Madame Thenardier, played by Kimberly Chatterjee. The amazing duo added greatly needed comedy at just the right times and both were hilariously clever. “Master of the House,” and “Beggars at the Feast,” were real crowd pleasers.

And a special mention goes to the absolutely amazing performances of the young actors, Rachel Sue as the young Cossette, and Andrew Apy as little Gavroche. Miss Sue’s rendition of “Castle on a Cloud” was stunning, and Mr. Apy’s “Little People,” first brought laughter and than tears.

Everyone involved with StarStruck’s “Les Miserables” from the directors to the musicians, to the ensemble, to the actors, should take great pride in their adaptation of the Broadway blockbuster. Though at face value, “Les Miserables” might seem a rather depressing subject for a musical, the clever mix of humor, pathos, love and grace stays with you long after the final curtain.

By her own admonition, director Lori Stokes felt it important to get this production of Les Miz right for the community’s sophisticated audience of frequent theater-goers. Well Ms. Stokes, no worries on that front. Your production quite literally, “knocks our socks off!”

In my opinion, StarStruck’s rendition of “Les Miz” lives up to its reputation. But don’t take my word for it. Come out and support the most hardworking young theatre troupe around in a unique setting under the stars. Come see the best in live theatre with StarStruck’s 15 years of giving quality entertainment to the community. Oh, and one more thing. Don’t forget to bring a lot of tissues – you’re going to need them!

Performance dates:
Friday, July 23
Saturday, July 24
Thursday, July 29
Friday, July 30
Saturday, July 31
Thursday, August 5
Friday, August 6
Saturday, August 7
Thursday, August 12
Friday, August 13
Saturday, August 14

All performances are at 8:15 p.m.

All performances at:
Ohlone College Smith Center, Outdoor Amphitheatre
43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 659-1319

Reserved seating prices range from $20-$25