March 2, 2004 > Universal Performers Present: Les Misérables
Universal Performers Present: Les Misérables
by Praveena and Venkat Raman
The award winning musical Les Misérables, which has been proclaimed as the one and only musical all over the world, will soon be taking the Tri-City area by storm. This musical, based on the story by Victor Hugo, has a talented cast of 56 students from three of the five high schools in Fremont, Mission, Irvington and Washington. The cast also includes students from Gomes, Chadbourne and Mission San Jose Elementary schools in supporting and lead roles.
This is the story of an escaped convict named Jean Valjean (Jeff Oliveira) who is being pursued by police inspector Javert (James Huang). Jean Valjean opens a factory and saves the daughter of one of his workers, Fantine (Laura Sa), from the innkeepers, The Thenardiers (Nate Maggio and Sabrina Habel). They have mistreated Fantine's daughter Cosette (Emily Sutedja) and Valjean takes her to Paris to raise as his own daughter. Javert follows.
Ten years pass and Cosette (Margaret Manning) falls in love with Marius (Andrew Sa), a student working for the revolution. Another girl named Eponine (Shaiya Rahman; Little Eponine is played by Erika Cherk) is secretly in love with Marius. She is Thenardier's daughter and lives in the slums of Paris with her brother Gavroche (Karthik Raman). The students, led by Marius' friend Enjolras (Lewei Tsai), revolt against the government because of the poor conditions the people of Paris are forced to live in. During the ensuing battle, Javert mingles among the students, disguised as a revolutionary.
Will Javert catch up with Jean Valjean? Will he thwart the uprising against the government? Will Cosette unite with Marius? What is Eponine's future? You know where to find the answers!
This production differs from the norm in that all the behind-the scenes aspects of a theatre from directing to set building, lighting, sound, publicity, and other production work is done by students under the direction of the teachers. All cast members volunteer to do some of the tech work. Even though director Ann Riley and vocal director Lee Glover applied for the rights to the show two years back they are glad that the show is being performed this year. "Musically, this is one of the most challenging shows I have done," says Mrs. Glover, "and this year in particular is an unusually good year for male singers who are essential for the show. We have an outstanding cast with strong singers and actors which is not that common."
Mrs. Glover, who teaches music both at Irvington and Mission High Schools and a Mission alumna, is very grateful to have the help of Dr. Nancy Godfrey and Steve Olla who graduated from Mission High a couple of years after Mrs. Glover. "In this play which is completely musical (with no spoken lines), it is hard to get any time to write down notes during rehearsals. With Nancy playing the piano and working with the orchestra and Steve helping with the cast, I actually get time to watch and take down notes for the cast." says Mrs. Glover.
James Huang and Andrew Sa, seniors at Mission San Jose High School, talk about how they got involved with theatre and their dreams. For James it was entirely accidental. As a freshman at Mission, when he got his course selections, he found that he did not get into any of his chosen electives but was put into the theatre class. He decided to try out the class and, much to his amazement, found out that he loved it. While still in his freshman year, his teacher Ann Riley, discovered that he also had a talent for singing and suggested that he also enroll in chorus. The rest, he says, is history. He has acted in several plays in the past few years both at Mission and in Star Struck Musical Theatre's productions. Playing the part of Javert, a troubled character in this play, is a chance to prove that he can act out strong emotions while singing. He would like to major in both music and theatre in college and be trained to sing in any musical form. "My dream is to succeed in Broadway as an Asian," he says, "and show that everyone and anyone can do it. People should follow their dreams and not be held back by racial barriers."
On the other hand, for Andrew Sa, being in theatre was not accidental. He loved theatre right from Junior High School and has continued his passion in High School, performing in productions at Mission and Irvington High, Stage 1, Broadway West and Star Struck Musical Theatre. During his freshman year, Andrew heard the Les Misérables CD and right away identified with the character Marius. Playing the part of Marius for him is a dream come true. "Marius is an emotional role and to finally be able to actually sing in a show that is completely musical is just wonderful," says Andrew. He plans to study theatre on the East Coast as close to Broadway as possible. Both Andrew and James are winners of Star Struck Musical Theatre's "Star Achievement" award.
This musical also has four young performers, Erica Cherk, Karthik Raman, Emily Sutedja and Sarah Thomsen (under 12 years of age). All four have performed in many Star Struck Musical Theatre productions. Director Ann Riley says, "The auditions are open to anyone in the community. However the kids from Star Struck are more experienced and mature. Lori (Lori Stokes, director of Star Struck Musical Theatre) and I have very similar directing styles, we do not over direct and that is helpful. Also Lori does an amazing job training the young performers. We have a great working relationship." For Karthik Raman, who plays Gavroche, his love for Les Misérables started with the song, Little People. "A couple of years back, Lori Stokes told me about the song Little People." says Karthik. "At that time I did not know the story of Les Misérables but enjoyed the song and loved singing and acting it out at Gomes and at the Fremont Cultural Arts Council Youth Talent Showcase. Now, a couple of years later to be given a chance to sing the song as part of the play and portray the different emotions is just awesome."
Besides a large cast, Les Misérables has a live orchestra of 80 students (46 members taking turns for the different shows" conducted by a student conductor under the direction of instrumental director Monica Krafts. According to Lee Glover, "This show is a tremendous marriage of all the performing arts, vocal, drama, orchestra, costumes and tech. All the aspects have come together to produce a strong play because we, Ann, Monica and myself, get along as teachers, value each other's gifts and respect each other."
For student technical director Lindsey Day, this production has been the first musical that she has directed. "This play has been challenging not only because it is the first musical that I have directed but also because of the large cast and the involvement of a lot of people. Also," she continues, "the revolving stage makes it more difficult. However it has also been very rewarding encompassing the challenge and working with such an influential story, getting the message out and making it an enjoyable experience for the people who come to see it."
"This is an absolutely phenomenal production," says Ann Riley, "and an amazing experience for all involved. It has also been a wonderful training in teamwork for the kids. This show is a great artistic vision that we will see."
Les Misérables opens on March 19th, 2004 and plays on March 20, 26, 27 and April 1, 2 and 3 at Mission San Jose High School Little Theatre, 41717 Palm Avenue, Fremont, CA. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 general, $8 seniors and children under 12 and can be purchased online at www.msjhs.org or by calling (510) 668-6077 or in person at the box office at 41717 Palm Avenue.