03 August 2014

Les (Not) Miserables

Regional Theater at it is finest
As part of our ongoing, albeit weak, attempts to get to know this corner of New England better, we headed to the village of Rhinebeck, NY last night for a dose of regional theater. Now when you think regional theater, you may think of something along the lines of what the woefully talentless Corky St. Clair foisted upon the unsuspecting people of Blaine, MO in the awesome "Waiting for Guffman." You might think of a horrific version of "A Streetcar Named Desire" starring that guy who danced a lot in "Laverne and Shirley" being put on in a dimly lit dinner theater in Vero Beach, FL, where the $4.59 plate of brisket is a brighter star than the hapless cast.

Truth be told, my expectations were at about that level as we pulled into Rhinebeck last night to see the production of "Les Miserables." I was kind of expecting to be miserable. I can report that myths were shattered last night. Shattered may be too strong a word; perhaps adjusted would be more appropriate. First, Rhinebeck itself. What a quaint little place! And fairly close to the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Presidential Library. Um, who knew? I didn't, because once again, as a victim graduate of the Scottsdale Public School System, thanks for omitting great swaths of American history. At least I graduated knowing the now defunct Lunt Avenue Marble Club had the best fried zucchini around. Because that was going to be helpful later in life. But I digress. Back to Rhinebeck - seriously what a cool vibe in that town. It was a beautiful drive too. Had no idea there was that much farm property in northwest Connecticutistan and the Hudson Valley of New York. Beautiful.

Another myth adjusted: a regional theater in what appears to be a big red barn can stage a pretty good version of "Les Mis." With less than 150 seats (my count), and our seats being on the third row, it was an intimate experience. The actors sang with visible vigor and if you were in the front row, you got a little of the Sea World Splash Zone experience, whether you wanted it or not, during a couple of the scenes. Was every one a trained singer / actor? Nope. Was every one committed to putting a great performance? For sure. Was it a little goofy? You bet, and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Here's the thing for me - it took me 13, count 'em, 13 years to read the unabridged version of Hugo's 'Les Miserables.' That's either completely committed and totally insane and the line between the two is razor thin. The redemptive message of Jean Val Jean resonates with me, as it does with many. The musical, although bombastic at times, with its soaring score, nails that message time and again. And I have to admit, they pulled it off, regional theater-style last night. So well done. Corky St. Clair couldn't hold a candle to you.

"Life's greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved." Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

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