A DUAL CRITICS SET STUDIOS THEATRE REVIEW
Atlantic Beach’s SET Studios brought Les Misérables (school edition) to their stage in Atlantic Beach for three performances during May 14 – 26, 2019. The musical is based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel and is one of the world’s longest running musicals — a modern classic which premiered in Paris in 1980. The story is filled with multiple characters and memorable songs. The world loved it; Americans loved it. The 1987 Broadway productions garnered seven Tonys.
We have seen the musical many times – on stage, in movie theatres, and on television. And while our reviews of school productions are limited, we were particularly eager to see this production which was directed and costumed by Jocelyn Geronimo, who is the founder of SET Studios. Brandon Hines was the assistant director. The musical is a major challenge for any theatre – how could they possibly successfully stage it with such a young student cast?
It was truly an amazing performance; we were spellbound. The large cast had beautiful voices, excellent timing, sang and danced well, and managed the numerous scene changes quickly. The pre-recorded music required precision timing and provided valuable training for those who may pursue professional theatre, where the use of live music is decreasing. The period costumes provided strong visual support for the story.
All those in the roles of the principal characters gave excellent performances. Joshua Lee, a Douglas Anderson School of the Arts 10th grader, portrayed protagonist Jean Valjean as he changed from a recently released prisoner without a future to a pillar of the community willing to make sacrifices to protect and help others. Johnny Warren, a SET veteran at age 14 and now a DA student, portrays Inspector Javert, the relentless policeman who wants Valjean back in jail.
Reed Marie Grubbs, a DA sophomore, appears as the fragile and destitute Fantine; Kellen Kovacs, a Ponte Vedra High student as Bamatabois; and Bella Dorsett, entering DA in the fall, as Bishop of Digne (and is double cast as Fantine). All were convincing in their roles.
Even the most serious play can use comic relief from time to time, which was provided by the antics of raucous innkeepers Thénardier and his wife, played by Sebastian Carson and Catherine Tetzlaff. Sebastian, who just graduated from Ponte Vedra High and is on his way to college in the fall, was also the show’s student director; Catherine is a DA freshman.
The story includes romance, with the mistreated Young Cosette played by Carley Barnes, a LaVilla student, and the older well-cared for Cosette, whose role was beautifully sung by DA’s Macy Crumley.
The story also includes a fierce battle with tragic consequences for some. Enjolras, the leader of the 1832 rebellion, was portrayed with passion by Henry Franklin; his death is later mourned by Marius, his friend and Cosette’s suitor, portrayed by Ned Franklin. Éponine, who is hopelessly in love with Marius and dies while protecting him, is portrayed by Gabby Parker, an Episcopal School student. Rex Franklin appears as Gavroche, the engaging young boy who is also a casualty.
Others in the many supporting roles and ensemble of this talented cast included Abigail Fixel, Kennedy Kovacs, Riley Boone, Oliver Carson, Sarah Dickey, Katelyn Erbe, Leo Franklin (double cast as Gavroche), Abby Harrell, Juliette Hurckes, Kellen Kovacs, Kennedy Kovacs, Mackenzie Moore, Finley Rosenbaum, Halle Taylor, and Jada Williamson. Jocelyn Geronimo also served as the Musical Director with Caroline Guiler as Light/Sound Technician.
SET Studios is a children’s theatre company specializing in the education of music, dance, and theatre for students ages 6 -17. Beginning dates and themes for summer camps are: June 10 – Broadway; June 17 – Pop Songs and Rock Stars; June 24 – Duet Camp; July 1 – Disney, which includes a production of Aladdin, Jr. at the end of the program. See setstudiosjax.com for additional information.