Walking into Shea's Performing Arts Center to see "Les Miserables," there was a sense of excitement. The 25th anniversary tour of "Les Miserables," which rolled into town for several performances last week, promised to be a show filled with endless wonders, fantastic songs and new sets. It did not disappoint.

When I got the program, I opened it to find a small slip of paper saying that the show's lead, Jean Valjean, would be played by understudy Joe Tokarz. Usually when this happens, the audience's reaction is hesitant. What will this understudy be like? Will he bring the same magic to the stage that is needed for this demanding role? Luckily, Tokarz did not shatter the audience's idea of Jean Valjean. He masterfully performed the part. It was hard to believe that he was an understudy. There was only a single flaw during the song, "Bring Him Home," but it was emotionally apt so it went unnoticed by many of the audience members. I have never been as impressed with an understudy as I was with Tokarz.

Most of the rest of the cast also was stellar. Chasten Harmon was breathtaking as Eponine, and showed to the audience all of the pain and suffering of the character with a tear-jerking performance of "A Little Fall of Rain." Another highlight was Anthony Pierini as Gavroche. Pierini, only 9 years old, was a ball of energy onstage. He sang and acted superbly, as if he had been playing the part since he was born as opposed to it being his first national tour. Max Quinlan gave a stirring performance of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" as the star-crossed lover Marius. Julie Benko was perfect as Marius' love interest, Cosette.

The only cast member I did not enjoy was Betsy Morgan as the desolate Fantine. Morgan was all right in the role, but with the quality of the performances of her fellow cast members, she was not up to par. I disliked her version of "I Dreamed a Dream," which is such a well-known song. To me, it seemed like her singing style was more speaking than singing, which did not fit the character of Fantine.

The sets were so extravagantly wonderful. They truly transported the audience into the scene. Sketches, drawn by author Victor Hugo, were used as backdrop and were digitalized to show a change of scene or the passing of time. I think that these worked wonderfully, especially during a scene in which a character jumps off a bridge.

I was spellbound by this superb performance, which is now my favorite live performance of a musical. "Les Miserables" is truly a masterpiece.

Emily DeRoo is a junior at Williamsville North High School.


"Les Miserables"

Shea's Performing Arts Center