With its season-opening production of “Les Misérables,” the Manatee Players sets the bar high for the future in the new Manatee Performing Arts Center.
This stunning production is staged by Producing Artistic Director Rick Kerby who combines a strong-voiced and passionate cast, often breathtaking designs and a moving story into one glorious package.
There were moments, as the production filled the large stage in Stone Hall, when I could almost picture it in a Broadway theater. Though the show runs nearly three hours, it passes by in what seems a fraction of the time because this all-sung show, based on Victor Hugo’s novel, never slows or falters.
Well, there are a few technical issues, primarily surrounding the sound because there aren’t enough microphones for all 44 cast members, so some solo lines are lost to the music. And some of the set pieces create a racket as they are moved on and off the stage.
But they don’t detract from the storytelling or the impact of the performances, led by Kenn C. Rapczynski as Jean Valjean, who spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread and has lived a noble life ever since his release. Still he is hunted by police Inspector Javert who believes criminals can never change.
Rapczynski has a voice filled with power and emotion that can bellow as needed but soften to a tender and nicely pitched falsetto in a touching “Bring Him Home.” As Javert, Bradley Barbaro plays menacing without overreaching, and he matches Rapczynski for power and range, spitting out some songs, but also revealing a sweetness as he ponders his life in “Stars.”
Sarah Cassidy tugs at the heart strings as Fantine, the factory worker-turned-prostitute who sings “I Dreamed a Dream,” and Holly Rizzo brings a tender sass to Eponine, who loves a man she’ll never have. James Hyde captures the emotions of the lovelorn Marius, nicely paired with Anna Trinci as Fantine’s daughter, Cosette. Brian Chunn is an inspirational leader of a student revolution as Enjolras.
And then there’s the humorous vulgarity of David W. Walker and Stephanie Woodman-Costello as the Thénardiers, the con-artist tavern owners, who play up the fun without going too far in “Master of the House.”
On Thursday, Carson Rudolph displayed a lot of spunk as the street urchin Gavroche, and Giana Bisceglia sang sweetly as young Cosette.
The singers are supported and not overwhelmed by a small orchestra that sounds much larger led by musical director Aaron Cassette, who also brings out some magical choral sounds from the large cast.
These performances are set against a beautiful backdrop of scenery by Kirk Hughes, who frames the stage with lit-up apartment windows, and then brings in lots of impressive moving parts, including a barricade built of old furniture. David W. Walker’s costumes capture the flavor of the times and distinguish among the wealthy, the tarts and the destitute.
It is one of the most impressive productions I’ve seen in any area theater, and only makes me more eager to see what kind of magic Kerby can bring to the rest of the season.
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, adapted from the French by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. Directed and choreographed by Rick Kerby. Reviewed Aug. 8, Manatee Players at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 3rd Ave., West, Bradenton. Through Aug. 25. Tickets are $26-$36; $15 for teachers, $13 for students. 748-5875; manateeplayers.com