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SAN DIEGO
Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

Quartet and Les Misérables

Two recently-opened San Diego productions have music as a common theme—operatic music to boot. They are, however, entirely different from one another, as one is a sure-fire hit musical while the other is a play about opera singers struggling with memories of lost glory.

The musical is Claude-Michel Shönberg and Alain Boublil's setting of Victor Hugo's novel, Les Misérables, and it appears in the midst of a summer that has featured strong productions of musicals, such as the Fiasco/McCarter production of Into the Woods at the Old Globe, and Spamalot and Mary Poppins at Moonlight Stage. Lamb's Players Theatre is producing Les Misérables in its small, converted movie theatre space and in doing so makes an excellent case for using intimacy to make the familiar fresh.

The play is Quartet, and it is being produced by the Old Globe in its in-the-round space, the White Theatre. Playwright Ronald Harwood (The Dresser) turned his 1999 theatrical work into a 2013 film starring Dame Maggie Smith, and the film apparently had enough success for theatre companies to consider producing the play version: it made its U. S. premiere last month at the Berkshire Theatre Festival.


Robert Foxworth, Elizabeth Franz, Jill Tanner, and Roger Forbes
Photo by Jim Cox
To the "pretender" first: Quartet is a slight character study of four opera singers who reside in a facility that allows those associated with opera companies to retire with dignity, regardless of their ability to pay. The four share a moment of common glory, as they sang the principal roles in the same production of Verdi's Rigoletto. Their performance was recorded and has been considered to be important enough to be reissued. To make matters worse, two of the four, Reggie (Robert Foxworth) and Jean (Elizabeth Franz), were once married and Jean's arrival at the facility has set off festering resentments on both sides.

With a plot that focuses on loss (of ability to sing, of memory, of physical agility), the four performers must provide winning characterizations in order for the play to succeed. And, under Richard Seer's careful direction, they do. I always marvel at the ability of Robert Foxworth, a Globe Associate Artist who appears on its stages frequently, to build a character from the ground up. He's done so again with Reggie, a complicated tenor (is there any other kind, asserted the reviewer, who is also a tenor), he has suffered many slights in his life and he remembers most of them. Roger Forbes as the bass and Jill Tanner as the contralto are written in a less complex manner, but both manage to effect the maximum humor their parts will allow (and, Ms. Tanner gets the best humorous lines).

As the soprano, Ms. Franz exhibits more of an American sense of entitlement than I imagine was evident in Dame Maggie's British hauteur. Living in the facility is a come-down for Jean, her character, but she's so bottled up that it's hard to sympathize. Repeated attempts to encourage Jean to open up make act one drag, but by act two Ms. Franz's choices appear more justified.

The production lives up to the Globe's usual standards and if one can stick it out through intermission (and, I suspect that older audience members will have the easiest time of doing so), there are satisfactions to be had by the end.


Brandon Joel Maier and Randall Dodge
Photo by Ken Jacques
Les Misérables, on the other hand, can be staged as overblown and, as in the film version, ponderous. It requires actors who can sing—and sing in the quasi-operatic manner that the score requires. The Lamb's production features a cast with the requisite singing voices and, as staged in the intimate space, is anything but overblown or ponderous.

Credit director Robert Smyth, whose storytelling is extra fluid and who makes the intimate space work to his advantage by stressing the human relationships in the story, as opposed to emphasizing the big action scenes. Credit, too, G. Scott Lacy's musical direction, which turns up the operatic quality as needed but also makes the quiet moments (in particular, "Bring Him Home") memorable.

Credit three an ensemble cast that nevertheless allows for standout performances by several principals, particularly Brandon Joel Maier as Jean Valjean, Randall Dodge as Javert, Jesse Abeel as Marius, Allie Trimm as Eponine, and Scotty Atienza, who steals every scene he's in and dies splendidly as Gavroche.

Credit finally the Lamb's creative team, which exhibits every bit as much professionalism as its Old Globe counterparts, though on a smaller budget.

Quartet will entertain and then disappear from both sight and memory as of August 24. But, Lamb's production of Les Misérables will last in memory far longer and will be recalled with great pleasure by local audiences.

The Old Globe presents Quartet by Ronald Harwood. Directed by Richard Seer, with Ralph Funicello (scenic design), Charlotte Devaux (costume design), York Kennedy (lighting design), Christopher R. Walker (sound design), and Annette Yé (stage manager). The cast consists of Roger Forbes (Wilfred Bond), Robert Foxworth (Reginald Paget), Elizabeth Franz (Jean Horton), Jill Tanner (Cecily Robson).

Performs through August 24, 2014, in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre on the Old Globe campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets start at $29 and may be obtained by calling the box office at (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting www.oldglobe.org.

Lamb's Players Theatre presents Les Misérables, by Claude-Michel Shönberg and Alain Boublil from the novel by Victor Hugo. Directed by Robert Smyth, with musical direction by G. Scott Lacy, dance choreography by Carlos Mendoza, and fight choreography by Jordan Miller. The creative team includes Jeanne Barnes Reith, costume designer; Mike Buckley, scenic designer; Patrick J. Duffy, sound designer; Deborah Gilmour Smyth, assistant director; Nathan Peirson, lighting designer; and Jennifer Leigh Sears, stage manager.

The cast features Brandon Joel Maier, Randall Dodge, Kürt Norby, Scotty Atienza, Hourie Klijian, Jesse Abeel, Deborah Gilmour Smyth, Kelsey Venter, Neil Dale, Allie Trimm, Jordan Miller, Charlene Koepf, Christopher Lesson, Caitie Grady, Jacob Caltrider, Kyrsten Hafso-Koppman, Jessica Couto, Brandon Sherman, and Noah Fish. With musicians Patrick Marion, Rik Ogden, Diana Elledge, Chuck Elledge, Nicole Elledge, Emilie McDonald, Stefanie Schmitz, Joel Giese and Manny Castro.

Performs through September 28 at the company's Coronado facility, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado, CA 92118. Tickets are available by calling Lamb's Box Office 691.437.6000 (Tuesday – Saturday, 12 to 7) or online at www.lambsplayers.org.

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie



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