Next month Broad Run High School will be overrun with beggars, revolutionaries, con artists and thieves, but no one will be complaining. Beginning May 3, Broad Run High School will present "Les Misérables School Edition." After five weeks of preparing, the 35 high-school students involved in the production gathered on the school's stage Friday, March 30, to run through the entire musical for the first time.
"This is a very challenging play," Jarrod Zbieg, a senior who plays villainous inspector Javert, said. "But it's really exciting to be a part of it."
BASED ON THE novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, "Les Misérables" follows the lives of several characters through the early 19th century. Centered around the life of Jean Valjean, prisoner 24601, the musical follows the ex-convict as he tries to redeem himself and help those around him, all while running from his past. Theater director Tim Willmot said he chose the musical, which recently celebrated 21 years of performances on London's West End, for one reason.
"It has to be interesting to me," he said, "but more importantly, it has to be interesting to the kids."
Willmot said the play's long run in London and on Broadway gave the students the foundation for their production.
"The kids love it," he said. "They know it. They come in with this music."
AS MUCH AS the students and Willmot love the music of "Les Misérables," however, the play has proved demanding for its young cast.
"There is a continuous transition," Willmot said. "It never stops. There is no setting your character down."
In addition to the pace of the show, "Les Misérables" is almost completely in song, forcing the students to explore a different dimension in their singing.
"It's a lot more difficult than regular singing," Mackenzie Kelleher, a junior who plays tragic character Fantine, a single mother who is forced to turn to prostitution for money, said. "You have to incorporate a lot more into it. You have to work hard to get all the lines down and really understand what you mean and the emotion that should go into it."
In order to prepare the students for the challenge, Jennifer Kauffmann, Broad Run's choral director and musical director of "Les Misérables," spent the first two weeks of rehearsals teaching the cast in choral form.
"She would run the music only and you really had to be on," Zbieg said. "She liked to work really fast, which made us work."
WHILE SOME STUDENTS like senior Rachel Dorsey, who plays innkeeper Madame Thénardier, and sophomore Alec Tebbenhoff, who plays Jean Valjean, have been in Broad Run's musicals before, many cast members are first timers, including Zbieg, Kelleher and freshman Kathryn Lea, who plays Valjean's daughter Cosette.
"A lot of these kids have never really been on stage before," Willmot said, "so I am really proud of them."
In addition, Willmot said he is proud of how the cast has stepped up to the challenges of "Les Misérables" and is excited about opening his students up to different aspects of theater.
"I don't have any problem doing shows that are considered traditional," he said. "Part of my job is to educate the students. I am trying to work our way up so we can go back and pull a "Sound of Music" out of the box or push forward and do "Amadeus" or something like this."
CALLED THE school edition, the production that Broad Run is doing differs from the professional production in only one way. And it's not the difference most people might suspect. "The only thing they do differently is they reduced the number of verses in the songs," Willmot said. "And there are not as many harmonies."
Kauffmann said that it was important to her and Willmot that the content of the play stay the same.
"This is very close to the original," she said. "If it was changed too much we probably wouldn't have looked at it."
Both Kauffmann and Willmot agreed that while some lines in the play might seem to adult for high school, most could not be changed without changing the heart of the play.
"We did change lines that had curse words, but there are some we just couldn't change," Willmot said.
Even with some seemingly adult content, Zbeig said the themes of "Les Misérables" are just as timely today and audiences will be able to relate to the story being told.
"It is a very powerful play," he said. "It is about social upheaval and I think everyone can relate to that in some way."