By Joseph Pratt
May 12, 2014
I’m about to write on two topics that I said I wouldn’t when I decided to start an art column; I am going to single out a high school theatre performance and comment on their production, and I am also going to comment on individual performances of students. I don’t like the idea of reviewing or singling out any school performance, because I feel like students already have it rough enough without some self-proclaimed know-it-all behind a keyboard telling them how they did everything wrong and the work that they have been dedicated to for months amounted to nothing. However, I feel like the very mature students of West High School can stomach the review I’m about to leave them with.
Once again, I attended the opening night of a West High School musical, this time for the classic Les Misérables, and I must say that they are setting the bar not for high school theatre, not for college theatre, not for community theatre, but every theatre in any aspect. It probably doesn’t shock many people that a review of their performance can be compared to a professional production, because West shows, and director Linda Tieman, are known through the area for being grandeur and top-notch.
It’s only right to start off with what I believe to have been the best decision of the entire show, which was the casting of Aaron Blevins as leading antagonist Inspector Javert. Outside of choreographing the drumming sequence in Peter Pan last year, which was my absolute favorite part of that show, Blevins has only worked in ensemble. With him stepping up as a lead, especially one like Javert, I was a little curious to see the outcome. I wasn’t expecting terrible, because I know better with Linda Tieman, I just wasn’t expecting to be blown away by excellency. I’m not alone in this thought, either, considering I could hear everyone around me whispering to each other about Blevins’s performance during the show. Blevins never once faltered in his character and had perfect and fluent dictation in his singing that was always on key. Stepping up to a leading role is hard work, especially one in a three-hour musical like Les Mis. I have to admit that Blevins’s role of Javert has to be the best performance I’ve witnessed from a high school actor; I’d even go as far to say that it was comparable to some professional acts I have seen. Another factor that gives Blevins curtain call points, at least in my book, is that he is also one of the most humble performers I’ve ever met, which is always refreshing in the self-absorbed world of threatre.
Secondly, I’d like to comment on the performance of Halie Swords. Swords is relatively new to theatre and I’ve seen less of her than others. I felt like Swords was the strongest female presence in a cast of powerful actresses. She sang with a crystal clear and beautiful voice, and acted the role of the ever tough Eponine perfectly. There wasn’t one second, even when she was in the background, that I felt like she dropped character. To have a Broadway career, it is almost required that an actor be a triple threat and have the ability to sing, dance and act. I’m curious how Swords’s dancing is, because she is a surgeon with her use of acting and singing.
I’ll wrap up with the performances of Ryan Thompson and Riley McDermot, both two of the youngest actors on stage. I mention them not out of a mandatory award for participation, but because they were both exceptional actors. Thompson played the energetic and captivating Gavroche, which is a very demanding role for a fifth grader. Thompson embodied the role of Gavroche in what is probably the best character acting I’ve seen ever. I repeat, ever. This kid deserves an award of some sort. McDermot played the role of young Cossette. She had minimal stage time, but was noteworthy. She was great, not only because of her ability to act the role, but because she had such a clear voice with excellent diction for someone her age.
Every year, the gossip of Tieman’s retirement changes, which causes me to get anxious, worrying that the reign of West’s musical department will soon end. I’ve never looked up to an artisan more than I do Linda Tieman and hope we get a few more years out of her yet, because I can’t even begin to number how many people have claimed to have had life-changing experiences because of her. Les Mis was an impressive feat for high school actors and the direction of Linda Tieman and set design of Gary Tieman is something I believe all local schools could look up to and learn from.
Joseph Pratt can be reached at the Portsmouth Daily Times 740-353-3101, EXT 287, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.