And now for something completely different. On February 8, 9, and 10, 2016, at Club Café’s Napoleon Room in Boston, Heart & Dagger Productions presented its first drag musical, “Drag Miserables,” an adaptation and reinterpretation of the classic musical Les Miserables. Featuring a cast of Heart & Dagger Productions regular performers, the musical treat was a rousing sing-along for the audience. The treat was in saying many stage performers showcase their singing chops, in a gender-swapped borrowing of Victor Hugo’s epic story of one man’s journey from prison to salvation. Directed by Joey C. Pelletier (with narrations also by him) and musically directed by James Sims, the evening was a delightful mix of camp and confidence.
The borrowing would be nothing without Pelletier’s narrations, expertly delivered by Elizabeth Battey, who manages to sound both clueless and insightful in the same sentence. She proves to be an excellent and adaptive emcee for the evening’s festivities. Sarah Gazdowicz performs an earnest Jean Valjean, one of the few serious portrayals of the evening but with the talent to support it. Opposing Gazdowicz’s Valjean’s every turn is Kiki Samko’s Inspector Javert. Samko parodies Russell Crowe in menacing action, complete with raised eyebrow and steady stare, shouting most of her songs, but featuring a cool lower register. The audience is given the libretto to accompany the ensemble at key moments for an inspiring sound to fill the intimate cabaret room, including “At The End Of The Day” and “Lovely Ladies.” Pelletier also performs as the poor Fantine, choosing to perform her as more worldly than naïve, more consumed by circumstance and an active participant in her world when the world turns against her; Pelletier (and Fantine?) also serve drinks and food in surprising efficiency.
In a unique twist, Heart & Dagger Productions includes a raffle for both gift certificates and the chance to sing as Little Cosette that evening (complete with blonde wig) in “Castle On A Cloud.” I appreciated this audience participation and it was sung surprisingly well. Next, we are introduced to Madame Thenardier (played with sluggish bruteness by Mike Budwey) and Thenardier (played with buffoonish glee by Erin Rae Zalaski), who truly are the “Master[s] of the House,” which runs a little long, especially considering the confined corners for Budwey and Zalaski to raise mayhem. This number, in particular, lacked some key choreography and movement to make some of the jokes land, but we are so delighted by their enthusiasm that we rarely notice. Act I continues with Javert’s “Stars,” which Samko spits at us in Javert’s moral superiority. One of the most impressive voices comes from Melissa Barker’s Enjolras (Gesundheit), who performs well both in an upper and lower register, alternating to great effect at key moments. Lauren Foster’s Marius is a bit campier for my tastes, but her wide-eyed expressions prove comedic fodder throughout the production. Michael Underhill’s Cosette is a fun joke in a little frilly thing, and not much else, and he throws himself into the production with heels to boot. Finally, James Sims’ has an eleven-o’clock entrance as Eponine, with a heart-felt and sincere “On My Own.”
Overall, Act I runs a little long, but the cutting of Act II more than compensates, capping the night at roughly 2 hours, a faithful and succinct borrowing of the original musical. Gazdowicz showcases some impressive chops, especially in her soaring “Bring Him Home.” The ending feels a little drawn out by minimalizing the attacks and barricade, focusing instead on the remaining love story and the resolution of Javert and Valjean’s encounters. However, the finale’s stirring chorus of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” kept everyone in good spirits (aided by the spirits). Heart & Dagger Productions' first drag musical was every bit of a success, not taking itself too seriously but also not skimping on the talent or commitment by the cast. Songs were memorized, cues were clean, and the story moved forward at a great pace. The strengths in Pelletier’s narrations, along with Sims’ musical direction and Michael Amaral’s accompaniment on the piano, kept the musical at a tight two hours, perfect for dinner and a drink in the intimate venue. People were clamoring for an extended run, so hopefully they will return in the next few months with a revival or a new production. In Boston, with so many musical theatre performers and lovers, along with an appreciation for a gender-bent, sexually-fluid productions, these kinds of shows could be a big hit and fill a void in the Greater Boston theatre scene for something different. Until then, I guess I feel like I just “dreamed a dream.”