March 5 , 2014
By Ann Needle
For the outsized 1980s, Broadway’s “Les Misérables” was perfect—big songs, bigger characters, and a rich story line. So, when Nashoba Regional High School stages this elite musical March 14 to 16, it tackles what will arguably be the most challenging production in Nashoba Drama’s history.
For the record, it will be ready.
Set in early 18th-Century France, and based on the Victor Hugo novel, Les Miz follows the story of Frenchman Jean Valjean, jailed for 18 years for stealing a loaf of bread for a hungry child. Valjean’s quest for redemption puts him in the path of the doomed Fantine and her child, Cosette, as he eludes obsessive French officer Javert, and becomes enmeshed in revolutionary activity in Paris.
Part of Les Miz’s magic is its ability to keep audiences enchanted for more than three hours. And anyone already familiar with the show can expect it to stay that way. For those who have missed the many professional stage productions through the years, do not fear losing track of the plot: Get there early, and read the program summary before the curtain goes up.
According to Director Bill Grady, Nashoba’s “Les Misérables School Edition,” based on the Broadway stage version of the show, doesn’t slice much from the original script, given, “It’s a big-budget show; you can’t cut anything out musically.” Part of the reason is the vast majority of the script is set to music, he noted. Supporting this music will be a 14-piece, symphonic orchestra, unheard of for Nashoba productions until now—and unavoidable, given Les Miz’s musical complexity, Grady stressed. The orchestra will be tucked into the floor below the stage front.
On top of that, volunteers have already built an extension to the front of the stage, to fit the elaborate scenery the show demands. The first Les Miz productions had rotating sets that rolled into several different scenes. Grady pointed out that Nashoba won’t be going the rotation route, though the “elaborate” factor will stay. The sets need to be good, given the curtain never goes down between scenes; these are marked by lighting and music changes, he said. As with past Nashoba productions, Rob Nierintz is in charge of set and costume design.
Of course, none of this comes cheaply: Grady rolled his eyes at the mention of the cost already hitting $25,000, more than twice the price of past Nashoba shows. Fortunately, audiences will not be paying extra for the bigger show. Audrey MacLean, president of Nashoba’s Friends of the Arts, the fundraising volunteers for Nashoba Drama, assured that ticket prices are not going up from last year. And, there is what she called “a healthy buffer” in the Friends’ budget that the show can tap, thanks to the group’s many fundraisers.
Yes, They Are Ready
The key to the show won’t cost anything. “The biggest thing you need for any show is talent, and these [students] are beyond talented,” Grady proclaimed. Any director has a license to brag, but Grady may just have been stating facts.
Two weeks before opening night, the actors at a Sunday rehearsal were already familiar with the show’s quasi-anthem, “One Day More.” Onlookers could close their eyes and easily believe it was being sung by costumed actors on a professional stage. Bolton students seem to dominate a cast of standout voices. Even in a cast of standout voices, listen for Ryan Bonner (Jean Valjean) and Lexi Murtha (Eponine), along with Eric Watterson (Thénardier). Grady mentioned that there even is a student (Sam Keith as Javert) who is planning a career in opera.
Much of the show’s quality is helped by Les Miz’s ability to spark its acting talent, and Nashoba students clearly are downright excited. Stow’s Lyndsey Hawks plays Madame Thénardier, foster “mother” to Cosette and wife of innkeeper Thénardier. This is a great role for any actress looking to make her inner sarcasm shine — or, in this case, “scream” may better suit. Talking about seeing Les Miz for the first time, in its movie form, Hawkes, a theater veteran, enthused, “As soon as I saw [Madame] Thénardier, I said, THAT’S the role I want if I’m ever in Les Miz.” As she described the role, “She’s very crude, very crass. I’m very much the alpha in that marriage.”
Speaking of crude, Grady cautioned audiences not to expect this school version to tone down the language; even this gets a PG rating by Les Miz licensing agent Music Theatre International, he said. In other words, Madame Thenardier’s rousing “Master of the House” still contains such choice lines as, “Master of the house? Isn’t worth my spit! ‘Comforter, philosopher,’ and life-long ____.”
Grady sighed, “This is a show I’ve avoided, because it’s so complicated musically; you can’t fake it.” But Nashoba’s actors are working to assure that Grady made the right choice.
Les Miz takes place Friday and Saturday, March 14 and 15, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 16, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for senior citizens and students, and $14 for everyone else, and will be sold at the door, if available. Purchase tickets ahead of the show by going to www.nashobadrama.com, and clicking on “order tickets.” For anyone passing by NRHS in the evening, tickets will be on sale in the auditorium lobby, 6 to 7:30 p.m., on Monday, March 10, and Wednesday, March 12.