School Les Miz rides Oscar wave
This was the way it was supposed to happen.
Last summer, as Nicole Roberge read about the upcoming Les Miserables film based on the Victor Hugo novel, the drama teacher-director at Port Coquitlam’s Riverside secondary scanned her list of students signed up for Musical Theatre 11/12 in September and knew she could follow the marketing hype.
The Oscars were right before her school production was to open so “the timing was perfect,” she said. “It would be on the minds of a lot of people who would want to see what it’s all about.”
Fortunately on Sunday, Les Miz scored three big prizes at the Academy Awards for sound mixing and makeup, and with Hollywood golden girl Anne Hathaway clinching the best supporting actress trophy.
For her school musical that opens tomorrow (Thursday), Roberge chose Grade 12 student Danny Ghadban in the lead role of Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who turns his life around, and Broadway Bound student Savannah Maxwell as Fantine, a prostitute whose daughter Cosette is raised by Valjean after she dies.
The rest of the cast that includes factory workers, revolutionaries, “lovely ladies” and an unscrupulous family is rounded out by 28 students with the River’s Edge Theatre — “all of whom are extraordinarily talented, compassionate and directable.
“I feel so lucky,” Roberge said.
She’s also pleased to have received the support from school staff and others to have been able to stage the epic work from the 19th century, “a tale of love, redemption and that has universal themes.”
Costumes were borrowed from Deb Solberg of Theatrix, the Coquitlam youth company that put on Les Miz a decade ago (with extra tailoring by the school librarian).
Parents also helped along the way, too. Krista Wallace, the mother of Maggie Lees, a Grade 10 student who plays the medical student and revolutionary Joly, came in with vocal coaching.
Wallace, who has sung with the Vancouver Bach Choir, a rock group and the Tri-City big band FAT Jazz, started working with the students one-on-one after Christmas.
And because of her post-secondary education in theatre, “I’ve able to help them bring out their character more,” she said during an interview last week at the school.
Still, the music hasn’t been easy to learn for the sung-through musical, said Roberge who began rehearsals last October.
The school version cuts a significant amount from the original plot but no songs have been taken out in their entirety. Among the most well-known are One Day More, On My Own, Do You Hear The People Sing? and I Dreamed A Dream, of which Hathaway brought the house down in the movie.
Roberge said Hugo’s books as well as a French-language film and the new Les Miz movie were required study materials for her musical theatre class.
“For their homework over the Christmas holidays, I told them to go to THE MOVIE,” she said with a laugh.
Now, it appears Roberge was on the right track when she picked Les Miz for her students, one of the first musicals she remembers seeing as a child.
This year in Toronto, Les Miz will play at the Princess of Wales Theatre (which will include Port Coquitlam’s Ashley Wright in the ensemble) and next year the show is set to return on Broadway with Cameron Mackintosh producing.
• River’s Edge Theatre’s Les Miserables runs Feb. 28 and March 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Riverside secondary (2215 Reeve St., Port Coquitlam). Tickets at $10 are available by calling the school at 604-941-6053 or at the door on the night of the performance.