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Les Miserables (Schools) as presented by S.O.N.G. Dundalk



Adjudication Performance 15th November 2023


This was opening night for this Society as I made way to this lovely Arts Centre in Dundalk where there was a palpable air of excitement all around. This is a School Edition of Les Misérables, so every single character is under 20s years old – a very young group of people but also very talented.

Upon opening my programme to get myself acquainted with the various characters, I see a personal message from Mr Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg and I will quote that message here because it’s of its huge importance and sentimental to everyone involved in the show and massive support to this Company in this production. In fact, the Resident Director of Les Misérables in London, Jo Parsons, travelled to Dundalk to work with the Cast on Sunday 5th November and involved Jo working with the Chorus and leads and hosting a Q & A session also. What an experience for all.

Front of House was the responsibility of Anne Flynn, Ciara O’Shea, Sunnibhna Corcoran, Valerie Ward and Phil Flynn, with PR and Programme Design by Andrew Browne and Terese Dunne. Well done team. I was made to feel very welcome and there was indeed a buzz of excitement all around the front of house on opening night. As it should be.

Mr Nik Parks played the part of Valjean in this Company’s 2007 Production of this show, and having been involved in this society for the past 16 Mr Parks was the Director and Acting Coach for this production. Also, as Director and Choreographer is Ms Teresa Dunne, with Assistant Director Ms Rosemary Winkless and Assistant Choreographers Aoife Kerley & Tara Gill. Musical Director and Chorus was Mr Patrick Dunne, And Vocal Coach was Ms Irene Dunne. Individually and collectively a huge team with huge talent amongst them. This was an extremely strong unit and it showed in the Production from start to finish.

Mr Parks Direction was simple and effective showing great empathy and emotion. Each character moved and acted beautifully. I had to keep reminding myself that this cast were less than 20 years old and yet – obviously under close and very clever Direction this show and every part of it just shone. Firstly, I personally wish to draw the reader’s attention to the wonderfully directed scenes in this show – Javerts Suicide was a visual treat to the discerning eye- simple yet dramatic. The anger of the choppy river which were we could see so clearly with magnificent lighting here, the spotlight on Jean Valjean, played by Mr Jack Clare when singing “ Bring Him Home” so effective and dramatic in its simplicity to the wonderful direction to the Barricade and also the End of Act 1 – “One More Day”. The levels constructed to create a vision for the whole company to shine – it was as if each cast member was directed individually by Mr Parks with many hours spent on perfecting each scene and the actions of each character. Immense attention to detail here on all fronts which had a huge impact on the success of this full show. It was so specific and so professional that you really could a) have been watching the West End Production and b) an adult performance. This was not the case obviously but considering the level of professionalism this show reached it could have been so.

Choreographer Teresa Dunne and Assistant Choreographers Aoife Kerley & Tara Gill hugely contributed to the overall success of this show in that firstly the full stage was utilised in every number. This really enhanced the singing in this Musical by the fluid movement and clever use of the set in both height and depth. Making the choreographed movement precise and spectacular. Examples include The Barricade but also in the quieter more emotional moments and there are many. E.g. in the opening number ‘look down’ the prisoners had synchronised slow moments creating a lovely opening of song, set and movement which was very accurately done. Other numbers which I must mention were the ensemble numbers ‘At the End of The Day’, lovely soft movements here with some subtle choreo, creating lovely pictures and visuals. “Lovely ladies” showed rawness and emotion through the cast’s movements on stage. “Master Of the House” was so very well done. Every single person in this Company to me excelled in choreography and it was a joy to watch.

Musical Director, and Chorus Director was the responsibility of Mr Patrick Dunne. The Orchestra kept good pace and displayed lovely emotion throughout. Mr Dunne also played keyboard and piano and on watching this gentleman throughout this show, he conducted and played beautifully. This cast did not waver once in sound, tune or tempo. Mr Dunne was with them all the way subtly guiding this show through 31 Musical Numbers, each one a masterpiece with many tempos, many changes of emotion, through pain, love, poverty, battle, sadness and victory. And under Mr Dunne’s direction, every single number was emotionally charged to suit the scene involved. The Orchestra were just FOUR in total and the sound that emanated from the pit was stunning. Along with Mr Dunne as Conductor / Keyboard, this team also consisted of Paul Campbell also on Keyboard, Kevin Canavan on Guitar, & David Doyle on Drums and Percussion. I particularly want to draw attention here to – “ One More Day”, “ The Barricade” then the beauty of “Bring him Home”, Javert’s Suicide, with the magnificent accompaniment to this turbulent number to the sincere and glorious love between Marius and Cosette, a gorgeous number to the heart pounding Epilogue at the end of Act 2 – the Orchestra and Mr Dunne as Musical Director brought a beauty out in his Orchestra and indeed to the audience that is rare. You were part of the wall of talent that I watched unfold before my eyes on the opening night I attended –I sincerely applaud you. A joy.

The Vocal Coach was Ms Irene Dunne. Again – I had to keep reminding myself that this was a School Edition performance such was the quality of the sound produced here from both soloists and chorus. There is not one number I can single out as each was so lovely and a joy to listen to. There was tension, drama, beauty and a team here that Ms Dunne created as this is not an easy sing of a show in fact many of the numbers – “Bring Him Home”, “Stars”, A Heart Full Of Love”, “On My Own”, “One Day More” and “I Dreamed a Dream” are very tough and they can be tricky. Not here. A thunderous melodious sound throughout. Well done Ms Dunne.

Sets were provided by Set 4 Stage. There were very effective, great colour wonderful different levels so that the cast were positioned high and low and widely across the stage and were extremely effective throughout. Again, I mention the Barricade, in all its glory and height, the shambolic poverty of the houses on the streets, the grey brick walls, the way the back of the stage was a bridge – arched like a bridge meant that cast members could stand on this bridge fill the whole width of it and create another wall of characters behind those on stage. This was very effective for the big Company numbers such as the end of Act 1 “One Day More” and “Final Battle” and “The Epilogue”.

Stage Managers were Ms Moya Hodgers, and Lisa Dunbar, ably assisted by the Stage Crew of Ultan Hodgers, Clare Murphy, Tom Dunne, John Hodgers, Kathryn Dunne, Brendan Cleary, and Eoin Maguire. This team had a lot of work to do! There was great ease in each set change, particularly in the scenes like “Building the Barricade” into “On My Own” and again “The Final Battle” smoothly evolving to “The Sewers” – great work here, and then again into Javerts Suicide to mention just one section where Stage Manager and crew worked exceptionally well and quickly. Stage Management Team were slick and professional and kept the tempo of the whole show moving. Well done Stage Manager and Stage Crew Team Les Misérables!

Props Mistress was Ms Nessa Toale assisted by Kayleigh McCabe. I don’t know about the reader here but the first prop I think of when I see the word “Les Misérables” is the red flag. It must be blood red, and huge, be centre stage, and waved with great gusto and passion – the red flag in this show most certainly was all of these and more. Other mentions were the weapons, the guns, the bed where Cosette dies, so many little nuances too many to mention. I could not find fault. Well done ladies.

AV Tech was the responsibility of Mr Andrew Browne. Mr Browne set up, operated and maintained audio and video equipment used to enhance this show. It was perfect to my ear and eye. I loved the river flowing dramatically and angrily under the bridge for Javert’s suicide. Very real, very different, and very effective. Well done.

Lighting Design & Operation by Eoin Hannaway. Follow Spot Operator / and LX Crew Ellen Hodgers. Sound were Derek Nangle and Triona Talbot with Mic Dresser Ms Clare Murphy. I can still see the set as even before the show started and upon taking my seat the audience could see the image of red, white and blue lighting and the silver and black figurine that the world over knows that this is indeed Les Misérables. It was practically the exact same and excellent. I loved this spotlight on soloists in this show – Javert – “Stars” - Jean Valjean “Bring Him Home” and Fantine “I Dreamed a Dream”. There was huge contrast in lighting, and what I particularly liked was that during these scenes in some cases the stage was bare only for the set and the soloist down stage front singing and each time there was this magnificent spotlight on the performers like the white spot was being beamed down from the sky or from the roof of the Tain Theatre. So simple. But SO effective. For the bigger full Company numbers as in “One More Day” finale Act 1, the front line was brightly lit up individually – however the rest of the Company were still not as brightly but as if in haze or a dry ice foggy effect and yet could be clearly seen but the different lighting sequences created lovely depth highlighting everyone but without taking the concentration away from the Front Line. Fantine solo “On My Own” was so beautiful. Again, a single figure on stage, 4 LED blue spots shining down from above, flooding the floor in blue but leaving the part where Fantine was standing just as a white spot. The Barricade scene had several spots flooding the stage in red and blue, for me the red spots symbolising blood, and the lovely soft light on the lovely young character Gavroche. So simple, yet so strong. Beautiful. There was magnificent lighting and Sound which of course is so critical for a show and here it was a huge success. When Eponine was dying in the same scene, the Chorus were faded under the blue hue of lights and went into a freeze but still lit. And one single white spot lit up the stage where Eponine lay dying held by Marius. Tears in my eyes. Very well done to all the Tech team.

Costume Hire was from Sparkes Costumes and Abbey Theatre Costume. Makeup by Hannah Murphy, and Tara Gill. Costume Mistresses were Ms Bronwyn Walsh, and Rosemary Winkless, - as mentioned above, Ms Winkless was also Assistant Director for this show and assisted by Niamh Walsh. There was a lovely uniformity in each setting with Costumes. they were of the period, looked very well from where I was seated and I want to mention the prisoners’ costumes in the opening scene was very effective. The soldiers in white red and navy were very striking in comparison in this scene. Jean Valjean’s costume as the pauper he was before his fortune changed was extremely effective and a wonderful contrast to the beautifully coated gentleman who appeared later where he was by then an extremely well to do gentleman. “At the end of the day” was such a beautiful scene for costumes where subtly the red shone through in areas, but it was the lovely blue on the factory workers that I really loved. The dank dirty and brown costumes of the cast and leads like Cosette worked well was very also visually spot on. I loved the principals’ costumes also with mention also to the stunning costume of Madame Thenadier, and Thendier, vibrant and bright. “Lovely ladies” the colours and costumes were superb. The costumes worked so well that you could easily forget that this cast was so young as the costumes particularly on the men and soldiers made them look much older. Costumes in this production were one of its many highlights and well done to Costumes Mistresses mentioned above.

Makeup was very good. Jean Valjean was magnificently aged, it was very clear from the audience and the pale deathly look on this death bed was superb. Javerts make up was very dramatic and a special note of congratulations to your gorgeous Gavroche played by Doireann McNally. Makeup on this young lady was particularly lovely as well as Eponine, Cosette, Fantine, and Marius. Congratulations to the Makeup team in this production. It is vital, important, and tells a story, and you certainly created that in bucketloads. Well done.

Jean Valjean played by Jack Clare had a lovely stage presence, fabulous vocal and a natural acting ability showing enormous empathy and care towards others in this role that he played superbly. This young gentleman is just 17 years old yet looked and acted as if he much older. Lovely movement around the stage, and he looked very comfortable in this role. “Bring Him Home” was really so beautiful it is quite extraordinary that this huge number was indeed sung by a 17 year old. The “old man” you became in your death scene with Cosette displayed a maturity well beyond your years and a truly lovely scene with your Cosette and with Marius. The music “to love another person is to see the face of God” leading into the full Company singing “Do You Hear the People Sing” was stuff of professional West End Theatre and it was truly magnificent. The character that you created and the character of Jean Valjean that we your audience were blessed to listen to, and watch created so many wonderful moments in this show and only in every way added to the show’s success. Bravo Mr Clare.

Javert was played by EJ Dunne. Again at 16 years of age what a mammoth part to both act and sing. You were a very good Javert with just enough of the dark side of your character and your quest to find Valjean, and eventually your own demise at your own hand showed wonderful acting and indeed strong emotion and passion. I love Mr Dunnes singing, particularly drawing reference to one of the huge numbers of the show “Stars” and so well known that any flaw would be noticed. None here. Wonderfully sung, with excellent tone and breath control and a magnificent vocal range this number was given thunderous rapturous applause and rightly so. Me included. You were a marvellous Javert. Congratulations and well done.

Marius was played by Barry Murphy. Again 17 years of age. This young man had a fine voice, a lovely stage presence, and a beautiful soft way about him. His love for Fantine when she dies in his arms in the Barricade scene was so touching, so sad, and so believable. There was a pause at the end of this number as Fantine was carried off and a silence hung in the Theatre that I felt you could touch it was so moving. Your love for Cosette was beautifully acted and a there was a lovely on-stage chemistry between you both. “A Heart Full of Love” was simply stunning, your voices glittered in this beautiful duet. “Drink With Me” and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” were memorable moments of the show full of grief and emotion, and love. Wonderful performance Mr Murphy and congratulations on making this role your own and creating a character that was your Marius that enhanced so much the overall success of this show. Well done.

Edward Finegan played the part of Thenardier or “The Master of The House” as he may well be known also. This character was a rogue! A likeable rogue, who bounced around the stage with his energy and cheekiness assisted ably by Mdme Thenardier played by the lovely Charlotte McLoughlin. Ms Mc Loughlin, again your stage presence and your natural ability to move around the stage so gracefully and eloquently was beautifully played. The prettiest of characters too on stage. Your costumes and your facial expression were superb. You had a lovely report with Mr Finnegan, and you looked, worked and acted so well together. To the reader here, I must mention that this cheeky duo could sing act and dance and be funny! Brilliant! Great costumes and a marvellous couple this duo made on stage. The stage lit up each time they “arrived” loudly on stage, and with a bang, I knew a “lightness” in the story for a few moments would most definitely ensue and be comedic, well done and fun! And I was right. “The Bargain” was an excellent scene. You were so bold!! Again, a very young gentleman who carried this role off to aplomb with his partner in crime and sidekick Madame Thenardier. Madame Thenardier who I also must mention is just 17 years old also. This couple acted so professionally and with beautiful stage presence was gloriously cast and I looked forward to you both coming on stage. Great couple, super duo on stage moving wonderfully and with ease together, fabulous costumes. A joy to watch and listen to you both. Super performances.

Eponine was played by Ellie Rose Ward. Again, at just 18 years of age. A wonderful part played beautifully and with again such powerful emotion and feeling by Ms Ward. From the moment you stepped on stage your raw emotion needed for this part shone. Your song “On My Own” when you took to the stage again another highlight of the show brought the house down. This was a beautiful moment as there were also many more however the other stand out moment for me was “A Little Drop of Rain” where your love for your lovely Marius was sung with such heartbreak, love and sadness. Time stood still. You’re costumes and hair made you look so vulnerable underneath the tomboy exterior not an easy combination to make that connection with your audience but for you it worked and worked seamlessly. You were a beautiful Eponine in every way. Bravo. Lovely, lovely performance. I wish you luck in your future stage roles as I am sure there will be many. Well done Ms Ward.

The part of Gavroche was played by the young and beautiful Doireann McNally. You are a little natural on stage. You moved around that stage in amongst battles and barricades as graceful as a ballerina. I get the feeling you really enjoyed playing this role and I am aware you love the stage, and you should continue to. You have a lovely stage presence, and you could see you were so very involved in each and every moment. Your costume was fantastic and so befitting of your character. Well done Ms McNally. You shone like are a star.

Finally Little Cosette / Little Eponine was played by Alice Turner, Alex Mellon and Tess Kierans in rotation, and this was a wonderful idea by the Society. These young ladies, I shall call them Princesses you are all so young, aged between 10 and 11 years old respectively. On the evening of my Adjudication, I had the pleasure of watching Ms Mellon played the part. A lovely singing voice, beautiful stage presence again and crystal-clear diction. Great props and again costumes so fitting and appropriate. I will say it again, there is no such thing as a small part. Well done.

The Bishop played by Jim Harrigan, you had a lovely aura about you in the middle of all the war and pain and there was a quietness about you when you gave Jean Valjean the candlesticks that showed great reverence and also respect in saving a man that without your help would must definitely have been thrown to the gallows. It was the quietness and reverence that you showed playing this part that made you so effective.

The part of Babet was played by Charles Kirwan, Claquesous played by Darragh Leonard, and Brujon played by Deaghlan McGovern. These three young gentlemen played with a maturity beyond their years each only being 16 years old also. Three lovely roles played beautifully, with great direction and wonderful use of the stage. Older beyond your years I can say. And in a show, such as Les Miserables a huge compliment. Well done lads!

The part of Enjolras was played by Max Valentine. What a great name which I already knew this season! Mr Valentine played a strong character who created a revolutionary vision in getting others on board and bringing the people together to fight for “the cause” with passion and emotion. “Do You Hear the People Sing” and “Red and Black” were simply inspiring, pleading and calling the people to fight to overcome adversity. Mr Valentine played this role eloquently and with great emotion “Do You Hear the People Sing” the Finale of Act 1 was a powerhouse performance led by Mr Valentine and joined by the full Chorus. Wonderful costume again, great diction from this young man and great strength of character on stage. This is an important role in the overall story of this Revolution calling people to arms and you did it magnificently. A lovely performance Mr Valentine. Extremely well played. Bravo.

Fantine was played by Caoimhe McBride. Again 18 years old. This young lady really is a beautiful character. You were just lovely. You had lovely expression with your eyes – your eyes told your story – even from where I was sitting. You played this role so delicately and beautifully I was immediately endeared to you, and I loved your character. One of THE highlights of the show was your singing of I Dreamed a Dream. This song is nearly an Anthem of Les Misérables worldwide but here you were given the huge stage, dressed in one huge spotlight in white above your head glistening down on to the stage with the rest of the stage in darkness and there you stood and sang.

Sheer raw and emotional singing of a life you knew you would never have, of a dream you would never see, and what remained. The silence in this audience for this magical number is because of how you sang this song, with its pain and passion and broken dreams – alone on the stage. I can still see you there. It had a massive effect on me and on the audience. You sang with your heart and in turn you had the hearts of the audience. Beautiful. A very special moment. A highlight of the show. Magnificent acting here and love. Just pure love.

Cosette was played by Carragh Mailley. A lovely actress with a lovely, sweet singing voice and again lovely stage presence. Ms Mailley you looked great and onstage chemistry between yourself and Marius, but also the bond that you are playing Cosette has with Jean Valjean of pure parental love was palpable. Again, I find it hard to believe that this talented young lady is just 15 years old. What an amazing maturity and stage presence you have so early in life. “Castle On a Cloud” and “A Heart Full of Love” were beautifully sung. You have a lovely timbre to your voice, and acting ability shone, but particularly in the scenes with Marius and Jean Valjean which I found very moving and emotional and filled with your love for them both and their love for you. You really were a lovely Cosette, and I hope to see you again on stage in the future. Well done.

This chorus. Well, it was superb. What a glorious sound – for every single number. This is a very special cast and chorus, and the Chorus had a huge part to play in the overall success of this wonderful stage performance. You are all so young and I know there were many hours of rehearsals and indeed travelling (thank you to the Mammies, Daddies, Grandparent, Guardians families!) who did travel to rehearse to make this show what it was. It was a picture with magnificent sound and already mentioned congratulations again to your Chorus Mistress and Vocal Coach Ms Irene Dunne. You were an army in yourselves! “One Day More”, “Do You Hear the People Sing”, “The Barricade” Both finales – Act 1 and Act 2 a glorious sound and vision and the harmonies were so in tune and perfect.

I wish I could name you all individually here, but you are a team, with such a gorgeous sound that had such a huge impact on the whole production every single time you sang. So, to each one of you, I won’t even call you a group I choose to call you what you all individually are - Stars.

As I sat through this whole show I simply found it so very hard to imagine that I was indeed watching a school edition of Les Miserables. One of the most moving and famous pieces of theatre of modern times brought to life in a way that would make the current West End cast sit up and admire , such was its overall quality. I have only one word left to say. BRAVO!

Caroline Daly Jones

Sullivan Adjudicator 2023/24

Some photos kindly shared by the society:

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