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Guild's 'Les MisÚrables' an epic local production

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Les Misérables" is no light piece of theater. A challenge for even the most seasoned professional troupe, it seemed a longshot for a community production but, Friday night, the Charleston Light Opera Guild delivered on the promised show of epic proportions.

With a cast of almost 60, flying props, soaring operatic ensemble pieces, a live orchestra and a three-hour run time, the musical is not taken on by the faint of heart. But "blessed are those who believe," in this case the pay off was phenomenal.

Make no mistake, although peppered with bits of humor, "Les Misérables" is three hours of unending struggle, death, sickness and heartache, interspersed with unforgettably haunting melodies.

And that is really the key isn't it? Those songs that worm into the soul are what keep the audience glued in their seats. The Guild's stable of talented singers used those songs to transport the audience to the streets of Paris and hold them there. I hated to leave my seat at intermission and break the spell.

Ryan Hardiman (Jean Valjean) and Chris Terpening (Javet) do a fantastic job of portraying antagonists whose lives continually intersect. They each struggle to live opposing definitions of justice, which brings them into constant conflict.

Emily Capece, as the pitifully abused Fantine, is absolutely gut-wrenching. Her short life is one unending series of tragedy, and her duet of "Come to Me," with Hardiman, held the audience spellbound.

Brief interludes of dark comic relief were provided by Alan and Laurie Pennington, as the innkeeper Thénardier and his wife, the two are fantastically unlikable. However, the musical definitely needs those few numbers of lightheartedness to lift the oppressive aura of tragedy.

Although the entire cast was excellent and far too numerous to mention by name, there were two spectacular standouts among the supporting characters.

The first was Bria White. Playing the young version of Cosette, Fantine's orphan, White almost stole the entire show with her angelic presence. Her voice resonated with a crystal-clear purity that almost brought the audience to tears.

The second scene thief was Beth Winkler Bowden. Playing the loyal, although thwarted, Eponine, it was impossible not to empathize with her as her unrequited love and loyalty to the man she adored led to her death.

Taken as a whole, this is a fantastic production, although there were a few microphone glitches that stole some of the thunder from the larger-than-life ensemble numbers. Hopefully, these distracting mishaps will not plague the rest of the run.

The subject matter is dark, the moments of joy are few and far between and there is a bit of off-color language and innuendo, so be aware if you plan to make this a family outing. I would not let those things deter me. If you miss this production, you will have missed a rare gem.

"Les Misérables" shows Nov. 2, 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 3 and 10 at 2 p.m. at the Clay Center.

Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at autumn.hopkins@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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