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March 30, 2004 > Les Miserables: School Edition

Les Miserables: School Edition

Mission San Jose High School Performing Arts Department

The musical theatre world is basically split into two camps: those who view the production "Les Miserable" as the "holy grail" of performance, and those who feel the three-hour-plus behemoth is long-winded, too self-important, and has become hopelessly clichˇ due to its massive over-success.

I fall into the latter camp.

However, the students of Mission High School Performing Arts Department have done something no other production has done: they have made the show watchable again. This occurred because, as the program states, the students have been put in charge of "everything from directing, lighting, and stage design to props and house management."

For those unfamiliar with the famed Cameron Mackintosh production (based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name), "Les Miserable" spotlights the poor and suffering lower class in France surrounded by the storm of the French Revolution. Jean Valjean is just finishing an extended jail sentence for stealing bread. Inspector Javert, the epitome of "by-the-book," vows to keep an eye on the man, and when Valjean breaks parole, Javert makes it his life-long mission to track and recapture him. This cat-and-mouse game spans decades, and along the way Valjean encounters numerous others who help him understand the definition of goodness, forgiveness and true righteousness.

Playing the two heavies, Jeff Oliviera and James Huang handle the vocally challenge aptly. In fact, all the name roles do the show justice; and while pointing each and every one out would make this review inordinately long, it is clear that every member of the almost 60-member cast deserve recognition. It is one of the greater aspects of this show in general - "Les Mis" is a monumental group effort and clearly everyone in this production treats it as such.

As with the professional production, the highlight of the show is the battle at the barricade where young students have decided to make a stand against everything represented by the bourgeoisie. However, the sequence feels truer here than in any other because the dedicated students dying up there are played by dedicated students, not actors working for a paycheck.

Challenges typical to any production of "Les Mis" remain challenges here as well: set changes are often distracting, the complex score is too hard for even seasoned professionals, and the need to "mic" every performer with a solo causes a fair amount of feedback in the sound system.

Regardless, "Les Mis" is at its best this way; because this troupe of dedicated high-school theatre folk manage to put up and perform the over-esteemed show with an enthusiasm and freshness no jaded and exhausted professional company could ever match.

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