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Review by Vince Mediaa

The Fremont hills above Ohlone college are soaring with the classic anthem “One Day More”. Starstruck Theatre summer production of LES MISERABLES must close this weekend August 6th. But you still have time to see 40 talented young performers bring Victor Hugo’s iconic story to the Smith Centers outdoor Amphitheater. I was extremely impressed with the vocals and talent I saw on stage. Director Lori Stokes is excited to continue their 27 years presenting the East Bay with up and coming talent.

Starstruck Theatre is based in Fremont Ca and is one of many Bay Area tuition based production companies, including the popular CMT in San Jose and YMT in Berkeley Ca. I am not a huge fan of these companies. If I compared this to young actors paying a college theatre arts tuition, and this scenario guarantees each actor a role in a live performance, I am still not all good with that. When I learned that all these tuition based programs offer scholarships to young actors (ranging as much as 1200.00 per show). I get a positive vibe the tuition based producers have reached out to Urban schools to scout talent that could never afford these productions.

The iconic musical - Les Misérables - was one of the first British pop operas that opened in the West End in 1985, 37 years ago to negative reviews. But the huge box office changed the course for the creative team and it is now one of the longest running musicals. Eight TONYS and a film version in 2012 - the story of this waif and her adopted dad spans 40 years in the original Victor Hugo novel. That same timeline is created in the stage version, and it's not easy to capture in under 3 hours. The school version is cut a bit, and we still see a toned down version of “Lovely Ladies”.

I saw the first national tour in 1988 - and it has remained one of my favorite musicals. My notes on the Starstruck production won’t include much about the story but it is a classic tale that most of my readers have seen a few times. The Starstruck “Les Miz” cast and production team worked hard to live up to the legacy. A very creative effort with a cast of talented Bay Area youth performers. This production is a must see with some amazing performances - including the compelling Ellie Levin show stopping performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” as Fantine. Levin has a gifted voice and created the passion of the dying Fantine providing for her lost daughter Cosette played by the young Elizabeth Surridge.

Other outstanding actors include Ethan Le’s stunning performance as the tragic Javert. Even as the villain Le’s powerhouse voice can steal your heart as he sings his first act solo “Stars”. In the second act he sings about the Barricade and “Javert's Soliloquy" his performance is superb. Our hero Jean Valjean is played by the accomplished Salvador Suarez who has an amazing future ahead of him. His voice range is ideal in his many solo’s, the sold out Wednesday night audience was in tears as he sang “Bring Him Home” and "Valjean's Confession".

The youngest cast members play key roles - Elizabeth Surridge as young Cosette, Rainbow Lin as the young Eponine, and the enthusiastic Da-Ni Lin as the brave boy Gavroche. All three talented youth have standout voices especially Lin who steals the show every time he is on stage.

The talented Aleshani Altan as the older Cosette is a perfect match for the terrific Brian Loh as Marius and his powerful “Empty Chairs And Empty Tables”. Loh brought the perfect passion to his role and he has a natural gift for musical theatre. Loh and Altan sing “A Heart Full Of Love” with depth and charm alongside the polished Lilia ten Bosh who plays the older Eponine. Bosh later brings down the house in her solo “On My Own”. Loh also shows off his perfect tenor voice in his second act showstopper with Suarez as they both sing “Valjean's Confession”.

Also memorable is Christopher Apy as the innkeeper Thenardier, and his all too vulgar wife Madame Thenardier played by the high energy Gracie Wagner. Although “Master Of The House” missed a beat - the entire cast brought it in the second act with “Beggars At The Feast”. Other roles that deserve mention are; Ahyan Zaman as the Bishop, the skilled expressive Russell Lym as Feuilly who also has a memorable solo. Katherine Lamont and Ella Lym as Lovely Ladies and the keen Subhon Ghosh as the Foreman. Congratulations to the Stokes very important POC casting. It reflects the many communities in the Fremont area and around the Bay Area. I also commend the producers for reaching out to make sure their grants and scholarships are easily access-ible to all young actors.

Director Stokes keeps the cast moving and assistant Director Courtney Stokes made sure this cast was in 100% covid protocol. They both created the musical staging for the big numbers including the Innkeeper scene “Master Of The House '', “Red and Black” and the iconic first act ending number “One Day More”. The magnificent chorus is heard through out the Fremont hills that surround the Ohlone grounds. The sound is crafted by Andretti Duvenhage with a nice mix of the full force live orchestra, and Ryan Willer lighting design was dramatic during the battles and Javert final scene.

The excellent orchestration is under the music direction of Nancy Godfrey, her pit included 27 professional musicians who gave this production its sympathetic undertow and emotional feel. The smart set designed by Stephen C Wathen moved well from scene to century as the musical rolls through the 40 years the story covers. The multi levels provide plenty of space for the cast to move through. Costume Designer Diane Scherbarbarth kept the lead male's earth tones. But the women in many of the cast scenes overdid their 19th century aprons. The “Wedding Chorale / Beggars at the Feast" was colorful and well crafted. Fight Director Stephan Muterspaugh staged the battle and the many death scenes with the perfect drama, and all of Javert and Valjean fight numbers are sharp and thrilling.

The vocal performances are surprisingly strong. In youth theater productions you depend on the leads to be the key vocalist, but in this company the chorus and the featured players are fantastic across the board, with a dazzling ONE DAY MORE and DAYS GONE BY that will make you stand and cheer.

Every evening the sold out crowds award Starstrucks production with a well deserved standing ovation. It is very well directed and staged and the perfect way to spend a summer evening. I would suggest you grab your tickets this weekend. This Le Miz is a CASTLE ON A CLOUD.



School Edition

By Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer

Directed by Lori and Courtney Stokes

Music Director Nancy Godfrey

Through: August 6th


Outdoor Amphitheater

43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont, CA 94539

Running time 2 hours 40 min one intermission

Tickets at the Gate - Bring your Covid credentials and dress warm


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