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Friday, September 18, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Les Mis’ big hit at intimate Lake City Playhouse

Epic is really the best word to describe “Les Misérables.”

Its source material, the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, runs about 1,500 pages and is praised widely as one of the best novels of the 19th century. The original Broadway run of the musical went for 6,680 performances, from 1987 to 2003. The London run hit 10,000 performances back in 2010.

The themes it touches on are grand – poverty, class, justice, love and obsession. Its cast is huge, and its songs have helped turn people into stars.

That “Les Mis” is not just beloved but revered by theater fans is no surprise. It’s an award-winning classic, a story for the ages, and entertaining to boot.

So when Lake City Playhouse in Coeur d’Alene announced it was kicking off its season with “Les Mis,” many people had to wonder if a show so big could be staged in a space so small.

Short answer? Yes.

As directed by George Green, LCP’s “Les Mis” is thoughtfully scaled to fit in its small, 160-seat theater space. Green keeps his cast moving about easily during the large ensemble pieces without making things seem claustrophobic. One of the plusses of seeing “Les Mis” in an intimate space is the ability for the audience to see the expressions on the actors’ faces, and it serves this production well.

The story centers on Jean Valjean (J.R. Haynie), who serves 19 years hard labor for stealing bread to feed his hungry niece. When he is paroled, the policeman Javert (Daniel J. Bell) orders him to bear a document branding him a convict, which makes it impossible for him to find honest work. So he breaks parole and remakes himself, with Javert keeping a dogged eye out for him.

Fast forward a few years and Valjean is a successful businessman. When an employee of his, Fantine (Briane Green) is wrongly fired and becomes ill, Valjean repents by pledging to care for her daughter Cosette, played by Allyson Taylor as girl and Caitlin Duffey as a young woman. Cossette is being cared for by the innkeeper Thénardier (Kelly Hauenstein) and his wife (Whitney Huskey), who treat her badly.

This story unfolds as rebellion is fomenting in France, pitting young idealists against the aristocracy. It’s against this backdrop that Cosette finds her love, Marius, and Javert and Valjean encounter each other again.

Despite the large cast, the success of “Les Mis” falls squarely on the shoulders of Valjean. Haynie, a Coeur d’Alene oral surgeon, walked into audition for the role as an unknown and walked away with a plum assignment. He has a strong voice and he brings some skill to the acting requirements of the role. He makes a good first impression in his solo “What Have I Done?” and continues with fine work through to the end.

As Fantine, Briane Green has the task of singing The Song. “I Dreamed a Dream” is probably the best-known number from “Les Mis,” and is the kind of song that can win you an Oscar (see Anne Hathaway) or make you an international singing sensation (see Susan Boyle). Green really sells it, bringing a nice level of emotion into this powerhouse song. It’s an excellent performance.

While the cast is strong throughout, a handful of performers stand out. As Javert, Bell is imperious and rigid, with a nice singing voice. As Eponine, Amber Fielder is memorable singing “On My Own.”

And Whitney Huskey, who was in the ensemble of Civic Theatre’s production of “Les Mis” last year, is simply delightful as the scheming Madame Thénardier.

One doesn’t expect to have a cozy night of theater at “Les Misérables.” Thankfully for us, we now have the option.

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