Company loves misery
Heavy subject matter and a challenging script — one that is sung from beginning to end — have not proven too much for the young actors and singers who roam the halls of Langley Secondary and H.D. Stafford Middle Schools.
Quite the contrary, says LSS musical director Patti Thorpe, who helped cast this year's musical theatre production of Les Misérables, which features no fewer than 70 young performers singing and dancing their way across the stage — and 25 more in the orchestra pit — until Saturday, March 3.
Thorpe, who is directing the play, along with LSS drama teacher Chad Hendricks and H.D.M.S.' Brian Leonard, said she has been thrilled with the response they've received from the students — both in the number that came out to audition and the quality of their performances.
The student edition of the musical which is being presented is somewhat shorter than the Broadway show, but hits all the same plot points, Thorpe explained.
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables recounts the struggle against adversity in 19th century France, including the June Rebellion of 1832.
Imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, petty thief Jean Valjean (played by Marshall Willows) is released from his 19-year term and not only becomes an honest man, but the mayor of a prosperous town and a loving adoptive father to Cosette (Makeala Rempel) — violating his parole in the process.
The relentless Inspector Javert (Sean Basso) who makes a decent life for Valjean impossible, consequently pursues him. Valjean proves his mettle during a bloody student uprising and saves the life of a young man who is hopelessly in love with Cosette, which drives the Inspector to take his own life.
As always, Thorpe said, more girls auditioned for the production than boys, and since it is a play heavily populated with male characters, several of the young women were cast as men or boys.
"We have some girls cross-dressing . . . which is a challenge," said Thorpe. They're having to get their voices a bit lower."
After last year's light-hearted original production — For Old Times Sake, a revue of Rodgers and Hammerstein — which featured 50 student performers, the trio of teachers decided to return this spring to a favourite classic.
"We love this show. Every one of the adults working on it — this is the one show you want to do," said Thorpe.
But because it is such a popular drama, that means added pressure for the students, who were shown a concert version of the play during an early rehearsal and have been encouraged to seek out other performances to watch.
"There's so much material out there to study, it's daunting," Thorpe said.
One of the nice aspects of the script is that it gives pretty well every student a chance to shine, for at least a moment, with a line to sing solo.
A local actress who has performed the role of Fantine on Broadway, worked with the students, helping them to gain a better understanding of their character and how to remain true to that character when they're not the focus of the action — which, with 70 performers, is quite a lot of the time, Thorpe noted.
"She was a marvelous resource," said Thorpe. "She spent the day with the kids and gave them lots of guidance."
Les Misérables runs at Langley Secondary School, at 21405 56 Ave., tonight and tomorrow (Feb. 24 and 25) and March 1-3. Evening performances begin at 7 p.m. Saturday matinees on Feb. 25 and March 3 begin at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $12/adult and $10/student or senior.
They are available through the box office at 604-534-4171 ext. 743. Due to its mature content, this production is not recommended for children under 11 years old.