“Les Miserables” has been performed in 42 countries and been staged countless times across the United States. But this latest production may very well be the musical’s first staging in a barn with bison grazing outside.

Hackmatack Playhouse is undertaking an ambitious endeavor with a 45-member cast, five-piece band rendition of Alain Boublil’s and Claude-Michel Schönber’s epic musical. The result is a commendable production that is full of heart and spirited performances.

The playhouse has transformed its rustic stage into 19th-century France using a cleverly scaled-down set by scenic designer Jerard-James Craven, with detachable sections that morph into additional scenery.

Veteran New York-based actor Scott Smith tackles the demanding role of Jean Valjean. He is a surprising choice for the part, but performs it with genuine feeling and delivers a high, sweet tenor vocal that’s nicely highlighted on “Bring Him Home.”

Former artistic director Steven Dascoulias (credited in the program as Steven Michaels) adds a wonderful vocal contrast as Inspector Javert. His deep, resonating vocals were strong and full of expression Friday. He delivered standout performances on several musical numbers, including “Stars” and “Javert’s Suicide.”

Costume designer Fran Bechtold has done a fine job creating a realistic look for the downtrodden Parisians in “Les Miserables.” The large cast is a formidable presence, and the production is the strongest when the members amass to perform such numbers as “At the End of the Day,” “One More Day” and “Red and Black (The ABC Cafe).”

Jacob Zentis heads up the student revolutionists as Enjolras. He delivered a fervent performance Friday, with emphatic determination and robust vocals.

Nick Moulton is well cast as the love-struck Marius. His character is likable, with a deep sense of duty and commitment.

Along with Zentis and Moulton, Hackmatack has cast nine performers to play students. Overall, they are believable as the idealistic, young revolutionists. “Drink With Me” beautifully highlights their individual vocal talents. Eric Rehm, in particular, stood out Friday, with commanding vocals and dead-on mannerisms.

Although Brianne Kennedy (Eponine) and Amara Decker (Cosette) could have benefited from individual microphones Friday, both delivered vocally pleasing, impassioned performances. Kennedy’s “On My Own” was beautifully rendered, as was Decker’s duet with Moulton, “A Heart Full of Gold.”

“Les Miserables” also stars Linette Miles as Fantine, Chad Fernald and Hackmatack favorite Tanya West as the Thenardiers, Lea Frizzell as Young Cosette and Colby White as Gavroche.

Hackmatack Playhouse delivers a feisty rendition of “Les Miserables” that’s clearly a labor of love. And Friday night’s patrons were treated to an extra-special demonstration of love when Zentis proposed to his girlfriend at the close of the performance.

Like bison roaming in the back pasture, it’s definitely not every day that theatergoers get to see a real-life declaration of love. Both are a testament to Hackmatack’s charming uniqueness.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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