‘Les Miserables’ makes Erie trés jolie

As one of the most well-known Broadway musicals of all time, “Les Miserables” attracts a large audience of history buffs, theater lovers and the general public.

The Erie Playhouse is one of only four community theaters to be granted rights to the world- renowned show. It was given the opportunity to start its 96th season with honor and recognition.

Based on the novel by French author Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables,” also known as “Les Mis,” is set in post-revolutionary France. Following the tale of a convict, Jean Valjean, the musical outlines his rise out of the clutches of crime and into the hearts of the French people.

Valjean, played by the Rev. Shawn Clerkin, takes a young Cosette, orphaned daughter of Fantine, under his wing and nurtures her into a bright and sophisticated woman.

Act 2 features the uprising of a group of politically aware students. Enraged by the treatment of the lower class in France, the students build a barricade and prepare to fight to the death. Valjean, in an attempt to save Cosette’s love interest, Marius, joins the fray.

Valjean and Marius escape, wounded, from the battle and become the only survivors from the rebel group. Marius convalesces under the care of the beautiful Cosette. Meanwhile Valjean continues to run from his past and atone for his past crimes.

As a community theater, the Playhouse must use the skills of the people in Erie. This largely requires it to pull talent from the surrounding three universities, the community itself and high school students.

Few, if any, of the actors are trained in performing arts. However, this doesn’t limit the amount of talent, dedication or heart seen on the Playhouse stage. In this particular show several actors stand out.

In casting such a well-known show the Playhouse has the challenge of living up to multiple famous casts and the “ideal” cast. David Matthews, director of “Les Mis,” certainly did a fantastic job.

Clerkin, an associate professor of theatre and fine arts at Gannon University, shines as Jean Valjean. His vocal prowess could not have been more impressively utilized. His vocal ability was outshone only by his acting finesse.

The emotional connection to Valjean was clear to all, not just theater buffs. There was not a moment of the show where it seemed the audience was watching Clerkin rather than Valjean. It really became clear what a perfect fit Clerkin was for Valjean during “Bring Him Home,” Valjean’s prayer that the Lord deliver Marius to safety. Clerkin himself is reason enough to see “Les Mis” again and again.

In addition to Clerkin, several other actors made strong appearances. Almitra Clerkin, the executive producer of the playhouse, makes a riotously hilarious Madame Thernardier. Her antics onstage capture attention, laughs and the imagination of audience members.

Kate Amatuzzo reappears on the Playhouse stage with her chillingly fantastic voice and capacity to outdo herself, yet again. Rebecca Edmunds, previously seen in Gannon’s Shakespeare Summer Nights program, pulls off the sensitive and charming Cosette to a T.

And new to the Playhouse, Brendan Daugherty, an Edinboro University senior, gives a grinding depth and sense of purpose to rebel leader, Enjolras.

Many more notable performances were seen in the production of the show. The ensemble itself featured incredibly talented vocalists and actors. However, the performances that often go unnoticed are those of the technical crew.

In an attempt to bring modern technology and historical drama together the Playhouse utilized different aspects of its increasing capabilities, to varying degrees of effectiveness. For this theatergoer the mix of traditional scenery with background projection was off the mark. The lack of continuity between the traditional set and modern projection was at some points jarring and seemed unnecessary to many audience members.

However, the traditional sets were fabulously hand-painted.

With a cast as outstanding as witnessed in the show, and obvious technical talent painting and creating the sets, the playhouse could have eliminated the projections.

Despite the minor qualms with the technological crossover, this production is fantastic.

The finesse and care with which the cast handles such a famous show is phenomenal.

So many talented voices and performers under one roof and in one show is bound to create a buzz.

Erie theater-lovers should be proud of the community’s production.

And Gannon students should take the opportunity to witness one of the most historically important and awarded musicals of all time.

“Les Miserables” continues to play at the Erie Playhouse Sept. 27- 30 and Oct. 4-7, 11-14 and 18-21.

For reservations call 814-454-2852 or order tickets online at erieplayhouse.org.



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