Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Les Misérables
The Municipal Theatre of St. Louis
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent reviews of Ripcord, Steel Magnolias and Woman in Mind

The Cast
Photo by Philip Hamer
When it's all over, in just a week, you'll wish there'd been an original cast recording of this Les Misérables, the 106th season-opener at the Muny Opera in St. Louis, so you could listen to these ravishing singers in song forever. In turbulent times, it will make you right in the head. John Riddle sings beautifully and shines brightly as the idealistic escaped prisoner Jean Valjean. And Jordan Donica is his reverse-image, as the implacable (and increasingly tormented) Inspector Javert, in Alain Boublil (book) and Claud-Michel Schönberg (book and music)'s stage blockbuster, which began its life as a French-language musical in 1980. The lilting English lyrics are by Herbert Kretzmer, from a London production first staged by Cameron Macintosh in 1985.

Nearly forty years later, it's all fully augmented by a great cast, supplemented with ravishing work by shimmering-voiced choristers through a partnership with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Under the dramatic and wickedly comical direction of Seth Sklar-Heyn (Cameron Macintosh Inc.'s executive producer since 2013), the show soars magnificently for three hours in Forest Park in St. Louis through June 23rd. When it first moved from London to Broadway in 1987, the English-language version won eight Tony Awards.

Here at the nation's largest outdoor theater (11,000 seats), the unstoppable music direction is by Michael Horsley and conductor James Moore. And any inconvenience caused by the run-time is fully made up for by the beautiful complexity of the story, and a brilliant portrayal of the human desire for liberty, equality and fraternity. Teal Wicks is haunting and heartbreaking as Fantine, a factory worker betrayed by all around her, save for one.

The show, based on Victor Hugo's great 1862 novel, climaxes with the fiery June Rebellion of 1832: a student uprising in Paris in the Rue St. Denis. And its sense of idealism lands on our ear like an ancient shofar, a cris de couer to rouse our logy American souls. This Les Misérables never lets up, except for the laughs we get from the execrable innkeepers, Mr. and Mme. Thénardier, unforgettably portrayed by Red Concepción and Jade Jones. The couple has enslaved a child, Cosette (12 year-old Kate Kappel), whom Valjean has sworn to protect. The unassailable cast also features Ken Page as the noble Bishop of Digne.

As a side-note (and the Hugo novel is replete with side-notes), the only time I ever caught the great critic and humorist Robert Benchley out of sorts was when he finally learned, at The New Yorker, that he actually had two days to write his Broadway reviews (among other things), though for some reason he thought he was only granted one. He seemed quite indignant about it in one of his books of collected essays. And that deadline difference still feels like life or death. Here, with the Muny Opera in St. Louis, you get only one day to write and edit a review (instead of three or four), because these astonishing, epic shows (far more ambitious than any touring musical that touches base here in our largest indoor theaters) run only for a week. So, apologies for everything a critic leaves out. And for everything he leaves in. "One day more!"

But the musical itself is very straightforward, with characters from the eight o'clock hour mystically reverberating back in to the story, three hours later, to gain iconic status. And even as we're checking our watches at 11 p.m. (the show starts at 8:15), great new scenes of hypnotic literary intensity begin to unfold. Ms. Wicks is brilliant as Cosette's mother, singing "I Dreamed a Dream." Grace Annabelle Parker is lovely as Cosette at her ingenue age. And Emily Bautista is stunning as Cosette's gracious rival in love, Éponine, singing a very powerful and uplifting "On My Own." The whole show comprises a Noah's ark of Mr. Schönberg's towering melodies.

Peter Neureuther is every inch the young romantic hero as Marius, the man caught between Cosette and Éponine, and James D. Gish is splendid as Enjolras, the leader of the student uprising. Several of the young male rebels, among them Noah Van Ess and Dan Klimko, get brief, trumpet-like voluntaries in Act Two, whilst barricaded at an inn. Outside, the army of Louis Phillip I (the second-to-last monarch in France) threatens to kill them all.

A big wedding scene near the end puts the whole chorus in colorful fancy dress, circa 1832, courtesy of costumer Gail Baldoni. Comical Mr. Concepción returns with a dramatic story that reunites Valjean with his family. And a one-of-a-kind storybook ending sends us on our way.

I always rush out after a show, to savor it in my head for as long as possible, uncontaminated by other voices, before setting to write. But "rushing out" is not an option at the gargantuan Muny Opera, with thousands of people leaving all at once. Though I got out much faster on the north side ramps this time. Nevertheless, a charming kind of "contamination" did manage to stalk me down, in the form of a sunnier version of Javert, when a wonderful friend ended up walking back toward our cars with me. On that little walk, he and his companion regaled me with talk of the original production, and subsequent productions, focusing on the death of Inspector Javert in particular, near the end of the play, and how this death scene didn't work for them, compared to the original staging's "Javert jumping off a revolving bridge in a swirl of smoke" moment. It was my first time seeing the show, so I thought a simple, bizarre lighting effect at the Muny, when Jordan Donica (armed with a pistol) confronts a blinding light upstage after his "Soliloquy," was perfectly effective. Artful billows of smoke become a second Romantic character in that sprawling, painterly scene. (The many lighting effects throughout are designed by Jason Lyons.)

The evening's performance was dedicated to a longtime veteran of the Muny Orchestra, Vicky Smolik, who played trumpet in the pit for 45 years. In that time, she'd had more than her share of Dollys, and Curlys, and Mames dancing overhead on the Muny stage. This time out, in the 21st century, under Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson, it is, instead, a sense of trampled human dignity, and the full force of the will to survive in love and tragedy, that brightly rises up to trip the light fantastic.

It was actually fairly pleasant the night I went, in Forest Park. But I still brought along a memory foam chairpad and a flat ice-pack wrapped in a towel on top of that. People bring their own iced drinks, though there are concession stands as well. Next week's show is Dreamgirls.

And, yes: maybe I'll never leave St. Louis. But in many ways, the world finds its way to me.

Les Misérables continues through June 23, 2024, at The Municipal Opera, #1 Theatre Drive, in Forest Park, near Kingshighway Blvd., St. Louis MO. There are some road closures to the north and east, right around the theater. For tickets and information, please visit

Cast (in order of appearance:
Jean Valjean: John Riddle
Javert: Jordan Donica
Farmer: Patrick Blindauer
Laborer: Nicholas Pattarini
Innkeeper's Wife: Sarah Pansing
Innkeeper: Tim Quartier
The Bishop of Digne: Ken Page
Constables: Daniel Brooks McRath, Chris Hunter
Factory Foreman: Matías De La Flor
Fantine: Teal Wicks
Factory Girl: Liz Shivener
Old Woman: Leah Berry
Wigmaker: Cecilia Snow
Bamatabois: Lee H. Alexander
Fauchelevent: Noah Van Ess
Champmathieu: Grant Pace
Little Cosette: Kate Kappel
Madam Thénardier: Jade Jones
Young Éponine: Grace Moore
Thénardier: Red Concepción
Petit Gervais/Gavroche: Will Schulte
Éponine: Emily Bautista
Cosette: Gracie Annabelle Parker

Thénardier's Gang:
Montparnasse: Ángel Lozada
Babet: Patrick Blindauer
Brujon: Matías De La Flor
Claquesous: Lee H. Alexander

Enjolras: James D. Gish
Marius: Peter Neureuther
Combeferre: Matías De La Flor
Feuilly: Matt Rosell
Courfeyrac: Tim Quarter
Joly: Noah Van Ess
Grantaire: Dan Klimko
Lesgles: Ángel Lozada
Jean Pouvaire: Grant Pace

Loud Hailer: Nicholas Pattarini
Major Domo: Patrick Blindauer

Kyle Timson, Annie Zigman

Understudy for Jean Valjean: Tim Quarter

Dance & Fight Captain: Kyle Timson

Ensemble: Lee H. Alexander, Leah Berry, Patrick Blindauer, Matías De La Flor, Chris Hunter, Dan Klimko, Ángel Lozada, Daniel Brooks McRath, Sydni Moon, Grant Pace, Sarah Pansing, Nicholas Pattarini, Tim Quartier, Shelby Ringdahl, Matt Rosell, Grace Marie Rusnica, Liz Shivener, Sydney Short, Cecilia Snow, Noah Van Ess

Youth Ensemble:
Langston Casey, Harrison Dunsworth, Julia Gerling, Tyler Gregg, Trixie Lu Kohlenberger, Amelie Lock, Courtney Lucas, Alex Malone, Drew Mathers, Emerson Mattia, Aspen Meyer, Brynn Meyer, Kyra Mitchem, Jack Mullen, Sherrod Murff,Gavin Nobbe, Eli Oster, Jarod Rhodes, Jack St. John, Eliana Thomas, Fiona Weber, Tatum Wilson, Julia Worley

St. Louis Symphony Chorus Supernumeraries
Nicholas Bashaw, Annemarie Bethel-Pelton, Rachel Buttram, Laurel Dantas, Mary Donald, Lea Luecking Frost, Megan Glass, John Herget, Matthew Jellinek, Jei Mitchell Evans, Hannah Nelson, Brian Pezza, Valerie Reichert, Greta Rosenstock, Paul Runnion, Matthew Stansfield, Philip Touchette, Robert Valentine, Nicole Weiss, Tristan Wood

St. Louis Symphony Chorus Swings:
Carlea Halverson, Emily Mae Nelson, Megan Nguyen, Patrick Mattia

Production Credits:
Director: Seth Sklar-Heyn
Choreographer: Jesse Robb
Associate Music Director: Michael Horsley
Music Director/Conductor: James Moore
Costumer: Gail Baldoni
Scenic Designer: Ann Beyersdorfer
Lighting Design: Jason Lyons
Wig Design: Ashley Rae Callahan
Production Stage Manager: Willie Porter
Sound Designer: John Shivers & David Patridge
Video Designer: Shawn Duan
Casting: The Telsey Office, Lindsay Levine, CSA; Charlie Hano, CSA

Assistant Stage Manager: Sarah Azizo
Assistant Stage Manager: Joshua Vinik
Assistant Stage Manager: Eric Elz

President & Chief Executive Officer: Kwofe A. Coleman
Artistic Director & Executive Producer: Mike Isaacson

Muny Orchestra:
Concertmaster: Tova Braitberg
Violin: Tova Braitberg, Beth Hoffman, Isabel Tannenbaum, Nathan Banks
Principal Viola/Violin: Carolina Neves
Orchestra Manager & Viola/Violin: Wendy Lea
Principal Cello: Nathan Hsu
Acting Principal Cello 2024: Shannon Merciel
Principal Bass: Tim Weddle
Principal Woodwinds: Michael Buerk
Woodwinds: Robert Hughes, Nancy Summers
Principal Trumpet: Andy Tichenor
Principal French Horn: Corbin Castro
French Horn: Stephen Hanrahan
Principal Trombone: Tom Vincent
Trombone: Tyler Vahldick
Harp: Megan Stout
Guitar: Steve Schenkel
Principal Percussion: Erin Elstner
Drums: Matthew Henry

Additional Musicians:
Violin: Hannah Frey
Cello: Marie Brown
Keyboard: Zach Neumann, Chase Anderson

All Musicians of the Muny Orchestra are Members of Local 2-197 of the American Federation of Musicians

Additional Production Staff:
Director of Production: Tracy Utzmyers
Associate Artistic Director: Michael Baxter
Company Manager: Ryan Harris
Technical Director: Todd Moore
Costume Director: Jan Creger
Assistant Production Managers: Ariel Murray, Isabelle Scheibe
Casting Assistant: Isabelle Scheibe
Youth Ensemble Choreographer: Francine Espiritu, Jeana Smith
Stage Management Lead: Evangline Whitlock

Executive Assistant to the President & CEO: Barb Echele
Receptionist: Joy Boland
Communications & Public Relations Manager: Gabe Hartwig
Associate Choreographer: Paige Parkhill
Associate Lighting Designer: Shelby Loera
Associate Sound Designer: Kevin Kennedy
Associate Video Designer: Brian Staton
Associate Wig Designer: Brittany Hains
Casting Associate/The Telsey Office: Alex Cortinas

Head Carpenter: Dave McCarthy
Properties Head: Jim Robert
Head Stage Electrician: James Spies
Sound Head: Sean Wilhite
Sound Engineers: Joshua Hummel, Adam Smolenski
Video Head: Michael Leach

Lighting Department Lead: Rob Denton
Production Video Department Lead: Benji Arrigo
Stage Management Department Lead: Evangeline Whitlock
Assistant Choreographer: Kyle Timson
Assistant Costume Designer: Hnter Kaczarowski
Assistant Scenic Designer: Lily Tomasic
Video Content Creators: Taylor Gordon, Julian Kelley, Spencer Roe-Weaver
Rehearsal Pianists: Stephen Eros, Gail Hintz, Zach Neumann
Youth Ensemble Choreographer: Francine Espiritu
Youth Ensemble Vocal Directors: Tali Allen, Charlie Mueller
Youth Principals Coordinator: Gunnar Boucher
Youth Ensemble Coordinators: Reilly Grace, Tyler McCabe

Select Costumes Built By:
Arnold Levine, Alexander Zeek, Blackheath Park Fine Costumes