A look at why and how - ‘Les Misérables’
Griff Braley, drama teacher and director at LA and Heartwood Artistic Director, chose this piece for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s grounded in great literature, and most of this young cast of 40 students had never heard of Victor Hugo’s novel or this musical. Passing on the timeless lessons in great literature is part of Braley’s personal mission as a teacher and a director. This is a piece that both challenges students and uplifts, with themes of survival of the human spirit amid injustice and broken dreams, grace and redemption.
A secondary reason for choosing this show, Heartwood and LA combined resources to produce “Les Misérables” in Heartwood’s first season, 20 years ago. Bookending these 20 years with the same production held a certain appeal.
Lastly, there was the cast size. Despite Covid-related setbacks over the past two years, there is a large group of students committing to theater right now – very exciting and rewarding – and very challenging. Choosing the right show for the right students at the right time is part simple rubric, part intuition and all about the timing.
Enter Beth Preston, long time LA vocal instructor, who helped audition students for Les Mis, in the spring of 2022. Side by side in the Poe Theater, Braley and Preston combined 23 years of shared musical production experiences, to audition and decide whether Les Mis would be achievable, for these students, 2/3 of whom are freshman and sophomores. Despite the monumental challenge, their joint answer came up “yes.”
Principal singers began working with Beth Preston this summer, learning to manage and nuance their challenging numbers. Preston continues working with individuals and groups, to master this two-hour musical with dozens of tunes. Many of these students have not sung in public before, and the amount of skill-building and learning being achieved is, in itself, epic.
Michelle Bruckner, New York-based dance instructor / performer, has worked with Heartwood on several productions, and now for Les Mis. Rehearsal time is divided in a detailed schedule, between Bruckner (movement), Preston (vocals) and Braley (acting and directing).
Rehearsals have been in process for many weeks, now, at a slower pace than some productions. Due to the scope of vocal work required simply to do a full run through, Braley has adapted the usual rehearsal schedule, pacing students and conserving their voices. Rehearsals were often for subsets of the cast, simplifying the process and diminishing the number of students necessary for each session. This reshaped rehearsal schedule has allowed a bit more time to delve into the nitty gritty of acting, which will strengthen the overall production. It’s not just about the music. These are real characters, complete with struggles and flaws and strengths, and students are attempting to grasp the larger questions Victor Hugo addressed, in his novel.
All in all, these 40 students are engaged in an extraordinary adventure, the likes of which many Maine high school students will never know. Combining resources and professional instructors offers opportunities which far exceed typical expectations, and this heartfelt production will ring the rafters of the Poe Theater.
Seven evening performances are scheduled for Oct. 27-29 and Nov. 2-5, at 7 p.m. in the Parker Poe Theater at Lincoln Academy. Shows are selling out quickly (Oct 28 is sold out, at press time) and reservations are a must, by emailing email@example.com or phoning 207-563-1373.