When Cameron Mackintosh decided to license "Les Miserables" for school productions only, he must have had Thomas S. Wootton High School in mind.
The school's rendition last weekend of the musical, one of the most well-regarded works of the past 20 years, was spectacular. Set in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the story -- or, rather, several intertwined stories -- is beautifully portrayed with stunning actors and a set beyond compare.
"Les Miserables" is about several main characters and how they affect one another's lives. Senior Billy Davenport, who portrays reformed convict Jean Valjean, pulls off the character with realism and a sincerity that remains until the very end.
Valjean is hunted by the authoritarian Javert, played by junior Andy Kurland, whose experience shows in his singing and interpretation of the character. Along with the rebel Enjolras (senior Zia Hassan), with his exuberant nature and passion for the character, the two carry the musical through both acts.
Although "Les Miserables" is a tragedy, it features a few rare moments of comedy, which the Wootton cast pulls off flawlessly. The innkeeper Thenardier and his wife (seniors Andrew Stiles and Ashley Houghton) are consistently hilarious as their love of money drives them eventually to rob corpses and to crash a grand ball.
Their excellent rapport creates a contrast to the dark nature of the musical. Unlike many high schools, Wootton's greatest strength is the male vocals, as can be seen in the multiple ensemble scenes, including the spectacular finale.
The set is impressive, largely because of a skilled and effective technical crew and a giant turntable designed by Wootton physics students. The director makes excellent use of the turntable in several scenes, especially during the song "On My Own," sung by senior Sarah Schmitz, as Eponine, with the city aglow behind her.
Despite the lack of an actual backdrop, the set pieces in every scene are simple yet symbolic and do not eclipse the performance.
For a play with so many excellent actors and an amazing set, not to mention songs that lift the spirit and tug at the heartstrings, a few sound glitches had little effect on this superb production. "Les Miserables" is a powerful play that Wootton has managed to make even better.
Blake High School
"Les Miserables" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. today, tomorrow and Saturday at Thomas S. Wootton High School. For more information, call 301-279-8581.