To the observer distracted by domestic politics and budgets, Caribbean Theatre Production’s (CTP’s) recent bold attempt at staging the “school edition” of the legendary musical Les Misérables would not have been short on poignant metaphor.
The hope and promise of the young cast flew defiantly in the face of partisan claims of a generation lost to crime and violence and Jean Valjean’s exoneration is hard in coming despite an exemplary record as town mayor, adoptive father and product of an egalitarian revolution gone wrong.
It might not have been director Helmer Hilwig’s deliberate attempt at parochial artistic commentary, though the Alain Boubil/Jean-Marc Natel classic—based on Victor Hugo’s voluminous creative treatise on the theme of social justice—has resonated with North American and European audiences for decades, all the while being widely viewed as having interpretive value over 200 years after the story was initially written.
Hilwig, we were reminded at some point, runs the Accident and Emergency Department at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex. The true value of their offering may or may not have been lost on the young Queen’s Hall cast, but when the audience got on its feet at the end of the Sunday performance there were cheers amidst some thoughtful tears. CTP founder, Nicholas Gordon need not have reminded us at the end of the great hope theatre is capable of delivering.
By that time, his own outstanding portrayal of Valjean had brought back memories of the company’s ambitious rendition of an equally challenging version of West Side Story in 2011. Jase Ackbar, playing the persistent Inspector Javert, was outstanding as a conflicted villain and the voice of Chelsea Uddenberg, playing the young Cosette and singing Castle on A Cloud’, is the kind that stays with an audience for a very long time.
Hilwig’s unscripted paean to his cast and crew needlessly referenced similarities with Broadway. Eve Hamel-Smith, as Eponine, and Rebecca Aboud, playing Fantine, had already used young, finely-tuned voices to take the packed auditorium on an unforgettable musical journey. Perhaps with thanks to Britain’s Got Talent’s Susan Boyle, Aboud’s almost flawless rendition of I Dreamed a Dream drew sustained applause, repeated at the end when the cast converged onstage.
Theatre-goers with a taste for the more popular slapstick offerings of the contemporary local stage might have come away less than satisfied that the dark moments of Les Misérables brought little solace of anything but a disturbing finale. Christian Roberts’ huge voice befits the revolutionary fervour of rebel recruiter, Enjolras, while Joshua Gouveia and Anisha Romany, play the conniving Thernadier couple. Claudia Atteih had the difficult task of rendering the hapless older Cosette’s unforgettable anthology including the sweet but vocally challenging In My Life.
Adam Smith plays a convincing Marius, Kim Lin Chin is young Eponine and Saifullah Farrag is the precious Gavroche whose death is movingly depicted in this CTP production. Musical director, Victor Prescod pulled out all stops, leading an outstanding group of musicians aided by Gregory Wong Fo Sue. Stage manager was Giselle Langton, sound engineer Treldon Thompson while Ahmad Ali managed the props, Curtis Bachan the lights, Annaliese Kelly, wardrobe and Renee Williams makeup.
Peter Craig also did an impressive job with the set. It is Hilwig’s plan to take the CTP version of Les Misérables to audiences in the Caribbean and beyond.