It’s one of the most celebrated and uplifting musicals in theatrical history – and producing the show is no small undertaking – but Places! Productions has assembled exactly the right cast and directing team to pull it off.
The Mesa-based theater company and its cast of 50 youth actors will stage “Les Misérables School Edition” Dec. 17-20 at East Valley High School, 7420 E. Main St. in Mesa, with a second run planned Jan. 20-22, 2023, at Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St.
The production, which includes 20 Mesa performers, focuses on the tumultuous world of Jean Valjean, a former convict who spends a lifetime seeking redemption. Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France and the aftermath of the French Revolution, this timeless story of intertwined destinies reveals the power of compassion and the quiet evil of indifference to human suffering.
All the passion and drama of the original Broadway production is replicated in the student version — especially with a cast like this one. Indeed, despite its deep storyline and weighty themes, the performers, most of whom are in high school, are pulling it off with a maturity and talent that bely their youth.
“I think audiences will be amazed by the emotion and voices of these young performers,” said Allison Houston, the director and music director of “Les Mis” and founding artistic director for Places! “I hope they will be moved by the message of this powerful piece.”
Tim Mills, the show’s assistant director, is quick to agree.
“This is probably the most talented cast we’ve ever assembled, and we’ve had some very talented casts in the past,” he said. “I think audiences will be deeply moved by our production of ‘Les Mis.’”
Added 16-year-old Hudson Sullivan, a sophomore at East Valley High School, “I believe the audience will love the level of complexity in the story and the emotion our cast is bringing to make this the best show we can.”
Winner of over 100 international awards and seen by more than 70 million people, “Les Mis” has been performed in more than 40 countries and in 22 languages.
Fourteen-year-old Allie Weid is a long-time fan. The Desert Ridge High School freshman plays the role of Eponine’s sister, Azelma.
“I wanted to participate in this show because ever since I saw the movie, I’ve been obsessed with it,” she said. “I got super excited when I heard Places! was doing it.”
With music by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, “Les Mis” is famous the world over for its score, which includes beloved ballads like “On My Own” and “Bring Him Home” as well as high-impact ensemble numbers including “At the End of the Day” and “Do You Hear the People Sing.” Nearly every word in the two-hour show is sung, every scene is carefully staged and every performer plays an important role in bringing the story together.
Gabi Etheridge, 16, is part of the ensemble.
“The hardest part for me is remembering where I need to be and when,” said the Mountain View High School junior.
But she is up for the challenge.
“The audience will love the attention to detail, the work that the cast and our amazing directors have put into this production and the heart that is behind this beautiful show,” said Gabi.
That attention to detail is evident in every aspect of the production, from the set design and costuming to the character development and carefully designed choreography.
“This was such a fun project,” said the show’s choreographer, Lily Saba. “We really wanted it to look natural so the dances blend in rather than everyone just breaking out in a dance.”
Added Houston, “We have spent a lot of time going back to the source material, the masterpiece that is Victor Hugo’s novel. We’ve discussed the characters in depth, including their stories not in the musical, and have a wonderful dramaturg, Kasey Ray. Many of the details you see in the costumes, props, set and staging are from the book.”
Davin Williams, 15, is doing his part to bring his characters to life. The Desert Ridge sophomore plays two roles: the Bishop of Digne, whose kindness and grace gives Valjean a second chance at life, and Courfeyrac, a student revolutionary.
“The hardest part for me right now is trying to make sure Courfeyrac stands out a bit, to give him character and make him special and not some ordinary student or person,” he said.
Beyond their careful study and diligent practice, the performers are having a great time building relationships with their cast mates.
“What I’m enjoying the most about this process is getting to share an experience I’ve been dreaming of with a lot of the people I love,” said Allie.
The performers and directors alike are eager to open the show and wow audiences.
Said Mills, “I’m hoping they will leave the show believing this was the best ‘Les Mis’ production they’ve ever seen!”
Saba, too, is excited to see their work come to fruition.
“I am extremely proud of these kids,” she said. “This show is not easy and deals with some really hard topics, and they are handling it with such grace. I end up in tears every time I hear them sing.”
“Les Misérables School Edition” is specially adapted and licensed through Music Theatre International and Cameron Mackintosh (Overseas) LTD. “Les Misérables School Edition” is presented through special arrangement with “Music Theatre International.” All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI, mtishows.com.
Tickets for “Les Mis” are $15 and can be purchased at placesproductionsaz.com. The run includes both matinee and evening performances at East Valley High School and at the Mesa Arts Center. Discounts are available for teachers, seniors, veterans, first responders and students. Group discounts are also available.