“Les Miserables” went from spectacle to spectacular Wednesday night at the Savannah Center.
This was a bravura performance from start to finish in which a Villages theater company more than did justice to a legendary, demanding and iconic Broadway show. The show runs nightly at 7 through March 15.
Jack Kolinski, in his first stage appearance ever, was extraordinary in the lead role of Jean Valjean. The highlight in an evening filled with highlights, came when Kolinski, 64, sang “Bring Him Home” during the second act.
The song packs emotional wallop and Kolinski carried it off with élan and grace. He expressed all the yearning and hurt that scarred the soul of Jean Valjean.
Ultimately, “Les Miz” is a musical story of transformation — of a man, his family and a community. It’s about freedom from tyranny, hate and personal suffering. And it’s also about learning to love.
We see Valjean grow from an ex-convict to a mayor to a revolutionary and, finally, a father. He learns forgiveness, contrition for past sins, and the true meaning of love.
It’s a role that requires an operatic sense of music and a powerfully vulnerable acting style. Kolinski, who until this role had been known as a karaoke singer in The Villages, pulled it off.
But Kolinski was one of many of the performers who touched the hearts of the audience.
You can see a clip from opening night on the Villages-News.com Facebook page:
Alex Scopino as the dark, villainous Inspector Javert dominated the stage with his booming voice. Scopino, dressed in black with a wicked glare and nasty disposition, proved to be the perfect nemesis for Valjean.
Javert, however, gets caught in his own moral dilemma and Scopino brilliantly portrayed it in the second act showing how Javert can’t come to terms living with himself.
Sue Schuler, the director, also played the role of Fantine, a prostitute. Schuler in this role was an ideal beautiful loser, doomed in her relationship with Valjean and life in general.
She sang the classic, “I Dreamed a Dream,” number with soft elegance and palpable heartache rather than just a soaring vocal. It worked.
Schuler’s directing style was to make this big, complicated play, more personal. A set of black steps were added to the front of the center of the stage and brought the performers closer to the audience.
Two of the younger performers in the cast – Jenna Doulong as Eponine and Anthony Ciaramitaro – took advantage of the more intimate space of Savannah Center. They were the only two non-Villagers in the cast.
Doulong sang “On My Own,” with a melancholy sense of what might have been.
Ciaramitaro was just as compelling. He displayed an open emotional wound on “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”
Carolyn Hoffman had one of the most complicated roles in the musical, as Cosette. Hoffman brought surprising savvy and spark to a role of a lost child looking for a better life.
Comic relief was wonderfully supplied by Mollie McCarthy as Madame Thenardier and Sam Rosalsky as Thenardier. These two looked like Raggedy Ann and Andy on steroids. They hammed it up on stage, made faces and thoroughly wallowed with joy in their own evil ways.
Rosalsky was kind of an Artful Dodger with a cockney accent while McCarthy seemed like an evil stepsister gone wild. The audience couldn’t get enough of both of them.
Bill Davis was burning with passion as Enjolras, the revolutionary leader and Dave Olsen was kind and reverently spiritual as the Bishop. The kids in the cast – Michael Wresh, Bailey Walker and Sienna Kennedy—also displayed talent.
Credit must also be given to set designer Tom Fujawa, who accurately captured the changing moods of “Les Miz,” from death bed scenes to raging military battles. The costumes, make-up and set construction were all high quality and added to the professional feel of the production.
Maestro Pasquale Valerio, of The Villages Philharmonic Orchestra made the music come to life. And none of it would have happened without producer Joan Knapton of KC Productions.
“I was so nervous tonight, but now I’m so proud,” she said after the show.
Jack Kolinski also conquered his nerves on his first opening night. “I wasn’t nervous but I flubbed a few lines,” he said. “The audience was wonderful. The people in those seats inspired me.”
Joe Kolinski, Jack’s brother, played in the original “Les Miz” production on Broadway for nine years. He came to the show and couldn’t quite believe it.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Joe Kolinski said. “These people aren’t professionals; they’re not supposed to be this good.”
Villager Mariana Roberts agreed.
“It’s fantastic that there are this many talented people in The Villages,” she said. “I’m from New York, I’ve seen a lot of plays on Broadway. That’s what this feels like tonight.”
Villager Susan Morris shared that view.
“I never expected anything this good,” she said. “You see these people in The Villages on golf courses and pickleball courts and they seem like regular people. Then they get up on stage and something wonderful happens.”
Just like the story of “Les Miz,” it’s all about transformation.