News Column

Dolter, Gaschen both shine in Lubbock's 'Les Miserables'

November 24, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 24--One's tendency is to roll one's eyes whenever the word "best" is attached to any musical theater production.

After all, everyone has a favorite, ranging from the older traditionalists' "West Side Story" and "Guys and Dolls." I can recall sitting enthralled at "Kiss of the Spider Woman" for the first time at a Broadway matinee and not wanting to leave the theater.

Today's audiences remain enraptured by "Wicked," and families find every penny in place for "The Lion King" and dangerous chandeliers in "Phantom of the Opera."

So why does theater veteran David Gaschen, a former star of the latter play, both in Europe and New York City, prefer now to lure audiences to "Les Miserables," a musical that has been no stranger to Lubbock, calling it not only the best ensemble musical written to date -- and at one point the best musical he can recall investing his time in in Lubbock, his home town?

Fine, I can understand Christian performer Gaschen's feeling so linked with the play, as the message of God's gifts for salvation is present throughout.

Yes, Gaschen is nothing short of brilliant, as we of course expect him to be as the savior of a child whom he must learn years later to release.

But this $200,000 Lubbock co-production by the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra and Lubbock Moonlight Musicals is bound to open doors for many more, young and old.

Dolter's performance as Javert, the police officer intent on chasing Gaschen's petty thief over the ends of the earth turns out to be simply one of the most intense, powerful performances I ever have witnessed.

For years, I have read raves for Dolter's work overseas, and also in Midwest summer operas; only now are we given a glimpse of the powerful work we have missed.

This remains an incredibly interesting production, more than a year devoted to casting the best in West Texas talent, trusting John Hollins to push the city's powerful musicians and Texas Tech director Bill Gelber to work out stage blocking for appropriate group sizes.

I admit to being disappointed that the play's budget left no room for what I felt to be an all-important turntable stage, used for entrances and exits -- and yet lighting director Tim Walsh and a well-rehearsed cast still moved us from a chain gang to the town of Montreuil, where decisions will be made that affect many.

And then on to the massive street scaffolding, where revolutionary dreamers are left to their fates.

Remaining space demands that contributors be applauded. Indeed, Gerber has found so many standouts, including Emmy Barron and Rebecca Saathoff Davis as young and grown Cosette, respectively; Abigail St. Clair and Ann Marie Nichols as the young and grown Eponine, respectively; and Candice Aipperspach deserving more time as the sacrificial Fantine.

I have seen the Thernardiers played in many ways, but John Davis and Rebecca Wascoe grant both characters an original reading. Their bilking of the community remains the play's only comic sequence and well done, but Davis provides chills in the sewer with "Dog Eat Dog."

Even so, in a town filled with the downtrodden and destroyed, Gelber is able to reconnect with those thought lost forever.

Of course, Gaschen, before somehow hauling his daughter's true love through the sewers after the street battle, still sings his well-known prayer to God called "Bring Him Home," and believe me, his version is as chilling as any heard.

Have your hankies ready.

That said, "Bring Him Home" never was meant to be this play's most important song.

That song remains "One Day More," and you will want to sing along as the play reminds us nothing has been lost, only delayed.

william.kerns@lubbockonline.com

-- 766-8712

Follow William on Twitter

@AJ_WilliamKerns

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(c)2013 the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas)

Visit the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas) at www.lubbockonline.com

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