Tuesday, October 29, 2013


The penalty for stealing a loaf of bread, especially when it is taken to stave off starvation for a loved one's child, should not be years of imprisonment.  Said to have been inspired by a true incident, in Paris in 1862, the French playwright and author Victor Hugo saw a wealthy woman bedecked in furs, riding in a luxurious carriage, sit obliviously by as a poor man was arrested. It happened virtually at her feet and the man was hauled away to jail for a minor crime.

Victor Hugo, novelist, essayist, poet, visual artist, statesman and advocate for human rights, was so affected by that scene of injustice that he wove it into his famous story of Jean Valjean in his novel "Les Miserables" or "The Poor."  Even though it was banned by the French government, the story met with great success among the populace, so much so that people fought to buy one of the 48,000 copies sold on the first day it was published.  Set to music a century later, "Les Miserables," produced by Cameron Mackintosh, has celebrated twenty five years as a majestic and sweeping drama that puts history on parade in a dramatic march through the French Revolution.

West Hartford Community Theater has taken on the ambitious gauntlet of presenting a new production of this theatrical gem by Alan Boublil and  Claude-Michel Schonberg weekends from Friday, November 1- Sunday, November 3 and Friday. November 8 to Sunday, November 10 at the Sedgwick Theater,  at the Sedgwick Middle School,128 Sedgwick Road, West Hartford.  Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.  Tickets ($20 ) are available online at www.whtheater.org and at Pfau's Hardware, in West Hartford Center.

Seventy-six enthusiastic children and adults,from ages 6 to 75, will immerse themselves in 19th century France to capture the tale of a man wrongfully imprisoned for 19 years for the petty crime of stealing a loaf of bread.  When Jean Valjean, a stirring and stalwart Stephen Corma, escapes, he finds that Police Inspector Javert,  a devoted and determined Michael Cartwright, is doggedly on his trail, eager and obsessively dedicated to arresting him again.  Even though Valjean assumes a new identity as the respectable and wealthy factory owner and mayor Monsieur Madeleine, he cannot escape his past.

With stirring music, we learn how Valjean seeks to find redemption from his stigma, as prisoner 24601.  His interaction with the Bishop of Digne,  a forgiving and kind Keith Guinta , where silver was mysteriously stolen, sets Valjean on a path to becoming an honest man.  As a factory owner he saves one of his workers Fantine,  a loving and caring  April Larosa and Alyse Pilch, and ultimately her secret illegitimate daughter Cosette (Sophia Cote, Serena van der Hulst as young Cosette  and Katie Meagher as the adult).  Cosette has been left in the care of a pair of disreputable innkeepers (delightfully evil and mercenary Mitch Hess and Jen Jensen) who give all their money and attention to their own daughter Eponine (Victoria Boustani, Casie Pepe-Winshell and Sydney Weiser). Their voices rise in a splendid rush of emotion that swells the heart.

All this happens as idealistic students and lads like Marius (Michael Morales), Gavroche (Gavin Anderson) and Enjolras (Scott Gilbert) rally to start a revolution and Valjean is swept into the action. Director Lesley Gallagher calls "Les Miz" "my favorite show of all time."  She never put it on before and is finding it wonderful.  "It's taken months and months to put it together, with lights, sound, cast, crew, sets and music."  She believes it is only the second time it has been done in Connecticut by a community theater company.
For Michael Cartwright, he is delighted to be playing Javert, a role he has never tackled before.  "I love his character.  It is a good character, all black and white, no grey.  He believes in the letter of the law and he is out to get his man.  For Javert, there is no redemption and no conflict."

To Steve Corma who plays Jean Valjean, he is excited to play a man of such principles, who gets his parole and is eager to start a new life.  Unfortunately he has no money and no job.  Corma calls this a "dream role."  He played Marius in an earlier show and feels "it is cool to play an opposite part.  It is one of the most challenging roles I ever had."  Keith Guinta, who plays the Bishop, has always loved the show. What he most loves is that his character is not religious or pious.  He extends mercy and trusts Valjean to seek a higher plane.  As the Bishop, he lies to the police to save Valjean and then gifts him with a pair of sliver candlesticks and blesses him, saying that God has raised him out from darkness.  Corma calls his role a hinge or catalyst to give Valjean a new life.

Stirring music fills the show, songs like "I Dreamed a Dream," "Castles on a Cloud," "Who Am I?," "Master of the House," "Red and Black, "Do You Hear the People Sing" and "One Day More." Join the 65 million people, in 42 countries, who have already witnessed this spectacle, the winner of 100 international awards, and let the West Hartford Community Theater unveil this amazing musical, with director Lesley Gallagher and musical director and conductor Michael Ersevim competently at the helm. You'll be thrilled.

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