Sunday, August 5, 2012

LifestyleBohol * At the End of the Day: A Review of Les Misérables (in Bohol)

This review article's text is exactly as it appears on the August 5th, 2012 issue of LifestyleBohol.  Of course, since this is a webpage, I went crazy with the photos.  I hope they don't end up making this entry confusing for anyone.

Enjoy reading!

I was in Manila on a trip to see the French play, God of Carnage, when my Aunt Bing told me she was giving me a ticket to see Les Misérables at the Bohol Cultural Centre.  I leaped with joy!  “Two French stage shows on the same week?”  I said to myself, “It’s not even Christmas yet.  What did I do to deserve this awesomeness?”

Over a month before that day, I had known about it.  DreamBig Productions and Cre8tive Thespians Circle Inc, the Cebuano companies that brought the musical to Bohol, had created a lot of noise on Facebook about a supposed Les Miz production but I didn’t take them seriously.  I couldn’t help it; I hadn’t heard about them before and I wasn’t sure if they could deliver.  I was obviously wrong to have doubted them and my aunt’s enthusiasm for art proved to be an enormous blessing!

The Show

July 27th, opening night, came before I knew it.  It was to be the night of “ultimate Misery,” as West End and Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh would put it.  The ticket said the show would start at 7:00PM but we had to sit through half an hour of dead air before they actually turned the lights off and pulled the curtains up.  It wasn’t the production team’s fault, though.  The place didn’t properly fill up until 7:20.  I guess we’ve gotten used to events starting an hour behind schedule that we tend to take time for granted.

I watched the show again on the second night, where a large part of this review will be based on since I was seated nearer to the stage.  Before I go about it, however, let me make it clear that I won’t be telling the story or talking about character backstories or enumerating every single musical number in this article.  This is a review, not a summary.  If you want to know about Les Misérables, Google it or read the novel.

The show began with the familiar overture and Work Song and I was pleased when I noticed the lapel microphones sticking out of the actors’ ears, knowing the singing was live.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to endure a medley of pre-recorded tracks like I did with a few local productions in the past.  What I had to endure, though, was the very bad audio system.  While the choruses were really good, the solo lines sounded irreconcilably hollow, which was very irritating.  Add to the list of flaws the fact that some of the lapels also had problems, which rendered some songs practically inaudible to people beyond the fifth row.

Jean Valjean with the Male Ensemble in Work Song following the Overture
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot

Jean Valjean

I noticed that, Sonny Alquizola, the actor playing Jean Valjean had a vocal quality comparable to that of Colm Wilkinson, the Canadian tenor who originated the role in the West End and on Broadway.  When he ages considerably, there’s a good chance he might even achieve the same timbre.  My companions and I were certainly bowled over with his performance of Bring Him Home, a song written specifically for the Canadian Tenor.

Alquizola had a few difficulties here and there, but who didn’t?  His most notable predicament was in achieving a solid grip of the very lofty final note of the song Who Am I, a high B which is normally held for seven seconds.  He was also a good actor—his stage behavior changed as he supposedly got old throughout the musical.  He even added more huskiness to his voice in the latter part, which gave an extra tinge of realism to his characterization.

Jean Valjean with Marius and the Ensemble in Bring Him Home
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot

Inspector Javert

The main antagonist of the musical, Inspector Javert, was played by Andrew Vincent Esplanada.  His rendition of Stars was classic—punctuated with the eyes of an angry Roman god about to smite the unrighteous.  While Esplanada wasn’t quite the despicable pious prick that Javert was meant to be, he knew how to stare at Valjean and the rest of the cast with such hatred and disdain, which helped him make it perfectly clear that his character meant business.  His abuse directed towards Fantine as a prostitute made me want to throw a can of soda at him—which meant he did it right.

Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert in the duet part of Work Song
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot


Gayle Marie Sinadjan, portraying Fantine, had a smooth voice with a beautiful vibrato—a cross between Joanna Ampil and Ruthie Henshall but definitely neither.  She took my heart away during The Confrontation when she sang of the character’s daughter, Cosette, as though she had a real child to sing about.  Her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream was vocally impressive but I have to say she moved way too much.  Her voice would have been enough to reduce me to a teary pulp but her physical activity while singing proved too distracting to elicit genuine sympathy.  Overall, she was very good.  Her appearance in Valjean’s Death sent chills down my spine.  It was the same experience I had when I first saw the show several years ago.

Fantine and the Foreman with the Ensemble in At the End of the Day
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot

Valjean and Fantine in Fantine's Death
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot

The Thénardiers

Playing Monsieur and Madame Thénardier were Warren Clyde Tompong and April Anne Moncada respectively.  Oh what a comic relief those two were after a series of miserable scenes depicting death and anguish!  Tompong sang Master of the House like a pro—prancing with a naughty tiptoe all over the stage—singing about how he rips his customers off and steals from them.  He even had a faux 18th century peasant Londoner accent.

Monsieur Thénardier with the Ensemble in Master of the House
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot

Moncada, on the other hand, really needs to be lauded for her amazing vocal timbre.  She would have very easily stolen the show if her part were longer.  She reminded me so much of Anne Harada, the actress who played the role on Broadway in 2006, with her amazing vocals and wily disposition.  She had the eyebrows of a typical evil villainess and she knew how to use them.  The audience cracked up in laughter when she pulled a tiny banana out while singing the line “thinks he’s quite a lover but there’s not much there.”  That’s something I haven’t seen in any other production of Les Miz.  She’s a bloody wonder!

Madame Thénardier and Young Cosette
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot

It’s such a shame the producers decided to cut Beggars at the Feast, the couple’s second big song.  It would have been nice to see them back in their own number.

Marius and Cosette

I was instantly drawn by the vocal prowess of John Michael Fulgencio, who took on the role of Marius.  The moment he first opened his mouth to sing, his voice immediately reminded me of a young Michael Ball, the English tenor who originated the role in the West End.  His notes were smooth and cool—with a stupendous quality showcased when he sang Empty Chairs at Empty Tables on the second night.  On the verge of tears, I remember my cousin, Isa, saying, “He’s way better than Nick Jonas” and she was right to say so.

Marius with the Male Ensemble in Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot

Cosette was played by Pauline Anne Rosales, a lyric soprano.  I’m glad the production brought back the song, I Saw Him Once, which hasn’t been performed in the musical’s context since the Original West End production in 1985.  It showcased Rosales’ amazing vocal range.  Let me stress, however, that although she and Marius made a cute couple on stage, the strongest chemistry was between the latter and Eponine.

Cosette in I Saw Him Once
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot


Played by Joanna Jane Ang, Eponine was a feisty female waif with a heart-rending sentiment.  Her performance of On My Own was so soul-piercing that I even heard a couple of people clearing their nostrils and throats right before the loud applause.  That could only have meant they were crying.  She portrayed her quiet pain so masterfully that it was agonizing to watch.  A Little Fall of Rain, her duet with Marius right before she dies, drove me to tears on the second night.  With everything that she did before her death, she set the right mood for the audience to weep like they lost their own friend.

Eponine in A Heart Full of Love
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot 

Marius and Eponine (centre) with the Ensemble in A Little Fall of Rain
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot


Junrey Alayacyac, the young man cast as Enjolras had a remarkable set of pipes which reminded me a lot of David Thaxton, who played the role in 2008 in the West End.  It takes a strong voice to play a leader of the June Rebellion and Alayacyac fit the description perfectly.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood when he began to sing Do You Hear the People Sing to the beat of marching drums.  It was as though he was calling on the audience to join him in battle.  He was as passionate as a real revolutionary and it was clear he was singing with heart.  Perhaps he was singing for a modern kind of revolution.

Javert (left; kneeling), Enjolras (centre) and Gavroche (extreme right) with the Ensemble in Little People
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot

Young Cosette and Gavroche

Of course, we have to give special mention to these two little people—children with such music-filled futures ahead of them.  It’s clear that it could only get brighter from there on.  Portrayed by Raven Chan, a treble, Young Cosette only appears twice in the entire show—first when she sings Castle on a Cloud and second when she is “bought” by Valjean from the Thenardiers where she is mostly silent.  Little Miss Chan had a memorable angelic voice, which, to this day, still rings in my head like I just heard it an hour ago.

Young Cosette in her iconic pose with the broom
To this day, this pose represents Les Misérables.
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot

Gavroche, the smart little urchin, was another precious character.  Actor Arjay Chan, who played the role, sang Little People bringing an adorable pause of relief for those who found the preceding events to be too heavy on the heart.  In the end, though, he dies by the guns of the enemy.  Rummaging dead bodies for bullets, Little Mister Chan made our hearts sink when he sang his final solo as his character was being shot repeatedly by the French National Guard, writhing in agony until his last note.

Gavroche in Stars
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot


I have to laud the ensemble members for their vocal abilities.  With every single number from the Work Song to the reprise of Do You Hear the People Sing, they showed how much of a formidable bunch they all were.  They must have had a very good choir master because they left me in awe every single time.  Being really close to the stage on the second night, I recognized their faces each time they assumed a different character from their last.  From singing prostitutes to mendicants in the streets of Paris to armed rebels, they took on them with all they had and nailed it with pure awesomeness.

The second night concluded with a reprise of One Day More after the curtain call—this time with members of the crew singing alongside the performers.  Everyone had genuine smiles on their faces—no longer adherent to the miserable theme of the musical—singing their hearts out, knowing they did great.  That standing ovation at the end was very well deserved, to say the least.

The Entire Cast in the Finale (Reprise of Do You Hear the People Sing)
by Karen Lara Migriño Libot

Other Matters

This show was not, in any way, sanctioned by Music Theatre International but it doesn’t matter much.  MTI is known to be very lenient with real art lovers.  What’s important is Cre8tive Thespians Circle Inc, through DreamBig Productions, came to Bohol and made us theatre junkies very happy.

For years and years, I’ve been hoping and praying for the musical theatre scene in the province to come alive and take flight again.  I hope Les Misérables’ staging would usher in more productions—even from local art groups—because having a constant urge to fly to other places just to get my fill isn’t a good feeling.  There are many who love theatre here—enough, perhaps, to give a local production company a lucrative source of income.  Who knows?

Bohol has an open door for art.  Do come in, won’t you?


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