Review: Cowichan News Leader Pictorial on Les Misérables

Valjean (Kieran Martin Murphy, right) warns arch-enemy sheriff Javert (Jay Davis) to stop chasing him during Chemainus Theatre’s June 20 premiere of Les Miserables.

Image Credit: Andrew Leong

Les Misérables a masterpiece of moral bravery worth waiting for

Review by Peter Rusland – Cowichan News Leader Pictorial

French cooking can take time, but it’s worth waiting for.

So was Chemainus Theatre’s deliciously daring debut of Les Misérables, served to Friday’s packed house.

Set in Paris’ upheaval of the 1800s, the Mural Town theatre’s long-awaited version of the globally toasted, hit musical was simply magnificent.

For openers, director Peter Jorgensens’ Les Mis proved the sweeping, globally popular production can be done on stages of any size.

That feat was accomplished Friday, thanks to a multi-talented, 18-member cast of all ages, backed by a sensational stage quintet led by pianist Kevin Michael Cripps.

Those crew’s duties were ably modified by Amir Ofek’s effectively understated set, and Jessica Bayntun’s raggedly authentic period costumes of the lower and middle classes.

Mike Taugher’s lighting regally reflected Les Mis’ many changing moods, from terrible and tragic, to lively and romantic.

And Paul Tedeschini’s sound delivered memorable lyrics without mikes, in the drama totally dependent on sung dialogue.

Audience ears got a good workout as characters were created with textured tones and expressions, not lines.

Jorgensen’s small yet potent Les Mis allowed us to focus on the story, not effects and sets of larger-scale versions previously seen by many in Friday’s crowd.

The appeal of Les Mis was its brave David-versus-Goliath plot as escaped jailbird Valjean (Kieran Martin Murphy) is hounded for years by obsessive sheriff, Javert (Jay Davis).

Javert symbolized humanity’s inability to show mercy. He has the law on his side, and doesn’t know or care valiant Valjean served 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread.

Conversely, Valjean, once out, promised a dying waif Fantine (Lauren Bowler) he’d always take care of her new-born, illegitimate daughter.

Promise kept, as little Cosette (Lily Killam) stole our hearts while suffering neglect by her booze-soaked caretakers, the Thenardiers (Caitriona Murphy, Andrew Wheeler).

The couple’s rollicking song Master Of The House, a Les Mis trademark, would be funny if the cowardly carrion eaters wasn’t so authentically nasty.

Valjean’s stoic morals continued morphing as Cosette becomes a woman (Vanessa Croome) courted Marius (Sayer Roberts), an idealistic rebel with a cause against class domination.

Ultimately, Marius and his principled but doomed friends mounted a futile, armed revolt, using a makeshift barricade against government forces.

Selfless Valjean risked his life to help Marius and his followers during the Parisienne-style Alamo.

It was great watching Michelle Bardach’s Eponine admit her failed love for Marius, and die for his cause.

Terrific too was spunky talent from young Sebastian Tow as pint-size Gavroche, who fatally helps Marius’ band — proving little guys can fight back.

(Tow later said he was “honoured” to act in the theatre where his late father, Jeremy, served as artistic director for many years.)

Valjean’s valour proved too much for mean, jaded Javert, displaying how justice is blind, and the law may not always be right.

Les Mis’ messages about standing for beliefs, in the face of awesome odds, aren’t new but they were timely.

For instance, swap the powerful play’s French government soldiers for oil companies and Ottawa.

Some First Nations and environmentalists are preparing to battle oil firms and the feds to stop the controversially approved Enbridge pipeline.

In Cowichan, Shawnigan Lake residents have vowed to stand in front of dump trunks to stop tonnes of contaminated soil from being hauled to a permitted treatment site.

These hot current affairs perfectly exemplify how life can echo art — as apparently intended by visionary playwrights Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg.

Through Les Mis, the pair basically asked — even challenged — viewers if they would stand and fight for their principles, or hide and let others take all the risks.

Maybe that’s the infectious appeal of Chemainus Theatre’s Les Mis, Brentwood College School’s 2012 version, and many others: folks always cheer for outnumbered, scrappy underdogs.

If you haven’t enjoyed the magic of Les Mis, here is your chance.

Les Misérables runs at the Chemainus Theatre until Sept. 7.

Musical-drama rating: 10 scruples out of 10.

By |June 23rd, 2014|Categories: 2014 Season, Reviews|0 Comments

Director’s Notes for Les Misérables

photo_blog_peterWhat is it that has made Les Misérables, the musical a worldwide phenomenon? Let us start with an attempt to sum up the 1463 page novel written by Victor Hugo.

This book is a drama whose first character is the Infinite. Man is the second. … Whenever we meet the Infinite in man, whether well or poorly understood, we react with respect. There is in the synagogue, in the mosque, in the pagoda, and in the wigwam, a hideous side that we detest and a sublime side that we adore. What a subject of meditation, and what a limitless source of reverie is this reflection of God upon the human wall!

This quote from the novel gives us a sense of what this story is truly about. It’s not about a minor uprising in the history of France. It’s not even about the salvation of Jean Valjean. It’s about that which is infinite and that which is hideous in us all.

We all experience misery in some way – we are all “les misérables.” From that place of misery we have two choices: To descend further into the shadows or to climb toward the light, the infinite! How do we climb toward the light? We love. Because, “to love another person is to see the face of God.”

This is all expressed through the characters of Les Misérables. Primarily by Jean Valjean, who is constantly being asked to navigate the hideous and sublime that lives within him; and Javert, who lacks the capacity to see the infinite in anyone. So, we can say that this story in its own way reaches to articulate nothing other than the infinite… Making it the ultimate subject for a musical.

Musical theatre, at its best, attempts to articulate that which is ineffable (because with music we can reach for what cannot be said by words alone). And what is harder to articulate than the infinite? With a score so expansive, so reaching, Les Misérables, the musical, does a miraculous job expressing Victor Hugo’s, “limitless source of reverie.” Which leaves those who see it with a renewed feeling of hope and a stronger connection to the infinite.

Perhaps that is why Les Misérables has become the most beloved musical of all time.

Biography for Peter Jorgensen


The Chemainus Theatre Festival is beginning to feel like a second home to Peter as Les Mis marks his 5th production here as director. Also for Chemainus: Oklahoma!, Guys and Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, and his own adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life that premiered here this past December. As an artistic producer with Patrick Street Productions Peter has directed Into the Woods, The Fully Monty, Bat Boy: the Musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein: Out of a Dream, Floyd Collins and The Light in the Piazza (Jessie & Ovation awards for Outstanding Production). Peter has received honours as an actor, director, choreographer, playwright, and producer. Visit Peter online at

By |June 10th, 2014|Categories: 2014 Season|0 Comments

Theatre Camp 2014!

Come join us at our “I Dreamed A Dream” Theatre Camp!

Join us for a week long celebration and exploration of what makes theatre so incredible! We will explore performing, theatre games, movement, improvisation, music and script work using costumes and props. Taught by industry professionals, as well as guest actors who are starring in both Munsch-ercise! and Les Misérables productions. If you are between the ages of 10-17 years old, you are eligible and you won’t want to miss this camp experience!

This week long camp will culminate with the children having an opportunity to perform in a final presentation on stage at the Chemainus Theatre Festival.

The Theatre Camp will run Monday- Friday, July 14-18, 2014 from 9:00-3pm. The students will gain an insider’s view into Chemainus Theatre’s production facilities as the camp will be held in our professional rehearsal hall located at 9574 Bare Point Road, Chemainus, BC. The cost is $210.00 ($200.00 + gst). The cost includes admission for each student to see both of our summer productions, Munsch-ercise! and Les Misérables.

Lifelong learning is a vital part of the Chemainus Theatre Festival. Our offerings range from post show discussions to season long activity – there’s something for everyone. Since 1993, Chemainus Theatre Festival’s educational programming has kindled the spark of creative curiosity by offering live productions, summer camps, workshops, print material, tours and an “insider’s” look at the process.

For more information and to register your child for our summer theatre camp, please contact Education Coordinator, Andrea Cross at or call 250-246-9800 ext.728 for more information.

Summer Message from the Managing Director


Randal Huber

The Chemainus Theatre Festival is a not-for-profit, registered charity, just the same as theatres across Canada including even the largest companies like Ontario’s Shaw & Stratford Festivals. In fact, the arts & cultural sector of our beautiful country is comprised of more than 14,000 organizations: theatres, opera & ballet companies, museums and galleries. Survival of this sector depends on the financial support of the public and each year more than 750,000 Canadians donate over 100 million dollars to the arts & cultural sector.

Producing live theatre is a delicate balance. Here in Chemainus, revenue from ticket sales cover about 74% of the expenses that we incur to create live theatre. We’re required to raise the balance through private donations, corporate sponsorship, grants and fundraising events. We encourage you to pick up a Membership brochure and consider making a charitable gift. It will help ensure that we can continue to produce live theatre and grand experiences such as the one that you’re about to experience.

Live theatre is one of the great things that make life on Vancouver Island so incredible. Join us and keep it alive.

Les Misérables – Message from the Artistic Director

Mark Dumez

Mark DuMez

For the Chemainus Theatre Festival, an organization dedicated to exploring and nourishing truth, hope, redemption, love and the human spirit, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is an exciting undertaking. The core of the tale goes straight to the heart. To tell the expansive story, we’ve brought in our largest team, extended technical rehearsals and pre-production planning and added other resources to the show. And yet, in this intimate theatre, we get to enjoy this sweeping epic up close and personal – in compelling closeness. It’s been a thrill.

In Hugo’s world, we are faced with opportunities to witness the embrace of another person or dismissal of them, characters who seek only their own survival and those who engage in acts of service. Everyone in this story has desperate needs – seeking justice, finding safety, reconciling their past and choosing to love as they would want to be loved. And yet, the most powerful elements of the story turn on acts of mercy, love and forgiveness. The sweeping arcs of these characters reflect to us our own realities and ask how will we respond when faced with our own sets of difficult choices? How then shall we live? Welcome to our summer musical – thank you for joining us!

By |June 5th, 2014|Categories: 2014 Season|0 Comments