The Herald Bulletin

October 17, 2013

Beef and Boards ends 40th season with epic 'Les Mis'

Cast and crew nails performance in every way

By Emma Bowen Meyer For The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — INDIANAPOLIS – Sometimes ambition pays off in a big way. Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre has chosen to end its 40th season with the epic musical “Les Misérables” and the cast and crew has completely nailed the performance in every way.

Not only is “Les Misérables” a difficult play to stage that demands outstanding singers, but the release of the recent movie only ratchets up the expectation of audiences. The talent that fills the small Indianapolis stage, however, is second to none and delivers much more than even the toughest critic could want.

Having seen the musical performed on Broadway years ago, I was interested to see how the dinner theater would approach such a huge undertaking. Their production totally blew away the one I saw in New York.

This production is simply amazing.

Four Broadway performers join the stage with full, rich, mesmerizing voices. Not only are the main characters outstanding, but every supporting role delivers a memorable moment that transports the audience to another time and place.

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the tale follows Jean Valjean after his release from 19 years on the chain gang for stealing a loaf of bread to keep his nephew from starving. Once free he breaks parole in order to acquire a fresh start. After becoming a respectable business owner (and is even elected mayor), he rescues and raises the daughter of a dying woman.

Javert, an officer fixated on the letter of the law, pursues Valjean and discovers his true identity. Valjean flees with the girl and, as she comes of age, she becomes infatuated with a passionate revolutionary.

Ingeniously using their space on the stage, the small theater loses nothing in set design. A minimalist show even on the Broadway stage, “Les Misérables” required less of a backdrop than most shows staged by Beef and Boards. However, it did require using the stage in such a way as to allow voices of characters in different places to blend without confusing the audience as to their locations. This production achieved the perfect result.

Although the backdrop was simple in appearance, set designers went above and beyond to create the barricade in the final scenes. The theater even moved duct work to make room for the impressive piece that lowers from the ceiling.

But the success of “Les Misérables” hinges on the voices of the cast. A set can’t make up for a lack of talent. Dancing doesn’t hide mediocre voices. No sparkling costumes distract from the singing.

No worries, though, because the talent was outstanding. Even if you don’t like the story . . . even if you don’t like the time period . . . even if you don’t like France . . . you will love the stellar voices.

Gregg Goodbrod, playing Jean Valjean, was a member of the Broadway cast of “Thoroughly Modern Millie;” Stephanie Torns played in “Wicked” on Broadway; Annie Edgerton performed in “Mama Mia” on Broadway; and Scott Beck was in Broadway companies of “Grease,” “Smokey Joe’s Café” and “Saturday Night Fever.”

Not only do these performers bring the New York experience to the Indianapolis stage, but the rest of the cast – including the children – are simply amazing.

This is the first show in this location that I’ve witnessed a standing ovation from the audience – and the cast and crew certainly deserved it. This is definitely the show to see this season.