So you've heard that all the good Mexican food is in the suburbs. Apparently, all the good musical theater is, too. (After giving the matter some serious consideration, I don't think there's a connection.)
Despite the fact that Broadway Rose performs in the same auditorium that my high school theater troupe used, I hadn't seen one of their shows until last weekend. I knew about their work, of course: They've been producing musical theater at Tigard's Deb Fennell Auditorium for years now. Critics like them, their shows sell out, and they are the only reason I can think of why a Portland theater fan would venture into the 'burbs to see a show. And after seeing their treatment of Les Misérables, I'd strongly encourage fans of the show to venture outside the city limits for this one.
As impressed as I was with the ensemble (and I will say nice things about them in a moment), it's Gene Dent's set design that left the strongest impression. The set makes use of a rotating stage, a translucent projection screen, and moveable sets that take the stage from stark and empty to bursting with life in moments. It's unobtrusive and effective—unlike recent sets I could name (just, oh, for example, the set of Portland Center Stage's Cabaret), this rotating stage doesn't draw attention to itself, doesn't boast spinniness for the sake of spin: It's simply useful, a great way of maximizing space, an elegant way to present barricades and ballrooms alike.
And the barricade scene here is remarkable, powerful and gripping, in large part because the ensemble is just plain gifted. While there are weaknesses among the cast, the ensemble as a whole sounds absolutely phenomenal. Leif Norby as the persistent policeman Javert is a force of nature, equally adept at blowing in windows as eroding emotional landscapes. He's got a voice, a range, and a stage presence that render Javert no less sympathetic than Douglas Webster's Jean Valjean.
This is probably the best local production of Les Mis Portlanders will have the opportunity to see. So fill up the gas tank, Google "best Tigard taco truck," and prepare to have yourself a suburban cultural experience.