David Witanowski’s Wit’s End Players dominated the action during the first years of the Syracuse New Times Syracuse Area Live Theater (SALT) Awards a decade ago with groundbreaking productions such as Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. After a silence of nearly four years, Wit’s End is back, filling the stage at the Mulroy Civic Center’s Carrier Theater with Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, the world’s most popular musical of the last 30 years. By calling on old friends and making new discoveries, Les Miz is the most exhilarating show Wit’s End has ever produced.
To honor the score, Witanowski has taken the 14 players of the orchestra out of the pit and put them on stage at left, under the direction of top symphonist Bridget Moriarty. The 36 singer-performers in costume are at stage right and center, often on risers of different levels. Not being fully staged means no doors or chandeliers, but it does not disable the drama. Director Shannon Tompkins, who knows Les Miz well, assures that actors’ faces are still emotive canvases and their bodies are fully engaged in both love and war.
Having been one of Wit’s End’s favorite voices over the years, Josh Mele might have been the expected choice for the wronged Jean Valjean. Yet for breadth and depth of emotion he exceeds all previous successes, like Sweeney Todd and John Wilkes Booth, not only in the full-throated heroics but most of all in the wrenching “Bring Him Home.” Also at the pinnacle are Erin Williamson as Fantine (“I Dreamed a Dream”), Shawn Forster as the hyper-sleaze Thénardier, Jodie Baum as his vulgar wife, and Witanowski himself as the beetle-browed obsessive Javert.
Above Photo: Amiya Widger in Wit’s End Players’ Les Miserables