Weekly Feature



2018-03-08 / Front Page

With vocal strength, East to present demanding ‘Les Misérables’

by ALAN RIZZO
Reporter


East Senior High School students preparing for next week’s presentation of the musical “Les Misérables” are shown during a rehearsal on Tuesday. From left are Jillian Smith, Chris Chudzik, Nick Dalessandro, April Wieczorek and Devin Murphy. 
Photo by Chuck Skipper East Senior High School students preparing for next week’s presentation of the musical “Les Misérables” are shown during a rehearsal on Tuesday. From left are Jillian Smith, Chris Chudzik, Nick Dalessandro, April Wieczorek and Devin Murphy. Photo by Chuck Skipper One of the world’s most popular and longest running musicals, “Les Misérables” is a complex and demanding show that’s a tall order for any cast, with challenging solos, numerous set changes, and characters who wrestle with difficult realities.

East Senior will be presenting the show next week, and after 15 years, co-director Philip Farugia said he believes he has a cast that’s dedicated and vocally talented enough to pull it off.

“Just working with the students in September and October and November, throughout the year, I just really realized that we have a pretty extraordinary bunch of kids,” he said. “So we decided to challenge ourselves this year with this show.”

Set in 19th century France, “Les Misérables” tells the story of Jean Valjean, a man who is thrown in prison for stealing a loaf of bread and serves 19 years of hard labor after attempting to escape.

Finally granted parole, he is told by Javert, the officer in charge, to be careful to obey the law, but after being cheated out of wages by his new employer, Valjean robs the bishop who grants him lodging.

Though he is caught, Valjean goes free when the bishop tells arresting officers that the silver he stole was in fact a gift, and tells Valjean to use it to start again as an honest man.

He does, and spends the rest of his life seeking redemption, becoming a successful factory owner and politician, and struggling to protect Cosette, the daughter of one of his former workers, when the girl’s mother becomes too ill to care for her.

All the while he is hunted by Javert, from the countryside to the streets of Paris, where students work to incite a rebellion in the wake of the French Revolution.

Closely based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name, “Les Misérables” features a score by Claude-Michel Schönberg, as well as songwriting and a script by Alain Boublil.

Playing Valjean, senior Devin Murphy said it’s been a dream to play the tortured ex-convict, though it’s the hardest role he’s ever had.

“You’re living almost his entire life in two and a half hours, and so it’s physically demanding, vocally demanding, emotionally exhausting,” said Murphy, who is nonetheless grateful for the chance to portray Valjean and push the boundaries of his vocal range.

“A lot of the songs, a lot of the music, I couldn’t just sing. Some of the notes I didn’t have in my range, and I had to figure out all those things like breathing.”

Playing the scheming Madame Thenardier, senior Sierra Annunziata also considered the show a vocal challenge, greater than any other performance she’s been in.

“The music is the most difficult music I’ve ever had to learn, and I’ve been singing since I’ve been able to speak,” said Annunziata, who also considers it a challenge to display Madame Thenardier’s cruelty.

Senior Salvatore Sperrazza called his role of Javert unique and different from other villains he’s played, such as Captain Hook in “Peter Pan” and Jud Fry in “Oklahoma!”

“Nothing has ever been as mentally intense, mentally taxing,” he said, considering the character’s rigid perspective — the antithesis of his own.

But like Murphy, he’s grateful to tackle a role he’s been dreaming of since childhood.

“To me, he’s one of the pinnacles,” he said. “He’s very well kept, he’s very focused.”

Playing Eponine, daughter of the unscrupulous Thenardiers, senior Jillian Smith said she’s enjoying the challenge of portraying a tragic character, after happier roles in “Annie” and “Godspell.”

“She turned out to be a really sad character, and I thought that was really fun because I’ve never really gotten to act sad in a musical,” Smith said. “Les Mis has just brought up so many new things.”

Farugia said approximately 85 students along with faculty members and other staff will collaborate to present “Les Misérables,” which will also benefit from the set design talents of parent Tim Ziemianski, who is creating a special walkway, which “gets the cast almost right out in the audience” and allows actors to perform as scenery is changed behind them.

“Les Misérables” will be presented in three evening performances, at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 15; Friday, March 16; and Saturday, March 17; and in one matinee performance at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 17. All performances will take place at the high school, 4760 Seneca St.

Tickets are $10 for evening performances and $8 for the matinee. To purchase, visit https://www.brownpapertickets.com/ or call 677-3345.

email: arizzo@beenews.com

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