(Press Democrat Photo by - Beth Schlanker)



Young actors from the North Bay came together and gave a magical performance Sunday of “Les Miserables” at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park.

The show seemed to be an experiment in bringing together more than 50 young people from at least 15 schools in Sonoma and Marin counties. All I can say is sign me up to watch the next experiment.

The show’s producers and musical conductor Dan Earl had told me beforehand that their cast had talent. But the proof was in the performance.

The goose bumps hit me when Jean Valjean (Jake Brinskele) and Fantine (Kelsey Tarantino) sang the duet “Come to me,” and again when Cosette (Alanna Weatherby), Marius (David J.S. Kim) and Eponine (Julia Cassandra Smith) performed “A Heart Full of Love.”

It’s true that my wife and I long have been awed by this haunting musical of rebellion and redemption in 19th-century France. Many years ago we happened upon the final San Francisco performance of the actor there playing Jean Valjean. As a farewell gift, the cast gave the star a pair of silver candlesticks engraved with the lyrics: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

On Sunday, the near-capacity crowd shared in our reaction to the performance and gave a rousing ovation to the cast and the accomplished 20-piece orchestra (composed mostly of adults.)

Brinskele, a junior at Sonoma Academy, proved a steady rock on which to build the story of Valjean, the ex-convict who has been hardened by 19 years in chains, only to be touched by the kindness of a bishop he has robbed. He sang powerfully throughout and was especially poignant when he reached his high notes in the prayer-like “Bring Him Home.” Nick Chuba, meanwhile, showed himself a worthy opponent and a strong vocalist as the heartless police inspector Javert.

All the principal players displayed the vocal talent required for their roles. Smith, as the love-struck Eponine, dazzled with her rendition of “On My Own.” Kim sang with tender earnestness as Marius, the student revolutionary who falls in love with Cosette, Valjean’s ward. And Derrick Snyder and Dene Harvey were delightfully hilarious as the Thenardiers, married scoundrels always on the lookout for someone to rob or fleece.

UPDATE: Snyder goes to Windsor High while Kim, Harvey, Tarantino and Chuba all go to Santa Rosa High. Smith goes to The Branson School in Ross in Marin County.

The show’s producers, Scott van der Horst and Gene Abravaya, took a chance that such a show could draw both a cast and a crowd. They were right on both counts, and the smiles on the faces of both groups Sunday suggested it was all worthwhile. (Let me add that their instincts also were right in drawing in Earl, the retired Santa Rosa High vocal instructor and a name widely known on county’s music scene.)

Abravaya, the Spreckels’ managing director, told me he would like to offer two opportunities a year for young adults, both a winter stage show and a summer workshop/performance. And van der Horst, the show’s director and artistic director of whatashow.com, on Sunday wore the satisfied look of someone who was ready to try this again.

Here’s hoping they do.

Click here for a link to my news story last week on the show, and to some wonderful photos by my colleague, Beth Schlanker.