Oct. 21--Taking on any sort of production is a challenge, but taking on a 2 1/2 hour musical that is based off a classic novel and was recently turned into a box office-topping movie brings those challenges to a whole new level.
The Eau Claire Children's Theatre has been working for nearly two months to put together "Les Miserables," which opens at The State Theatre on Thursday for a four-production weekend. The iconic musical is known by many and because of that, it has already attracted a lot of attention by the community.
"It was cool when it was first announced that this show was even a possibility because so many people were so excited about it for such a long time leading up to the auditions," said Becky Santine, who plays Fantine. "It's cool to have that much interest and excitement for a show before it even begins."
"Les Miserables" is a story about redemption and love. It follows Jean Valjean (played by Joel Breed), who begins the show in prison, but has a spiritual reformation and embarks on an entirely different path once he is released and does a lot of good things for a lot of different people. Despite his good deeds, Jean Valjean is constantly dogged by his single-minded parole agent, Inspector Javert (played by Matthew Kiskunas), because Javert doesn't believe bad people can suddenly become good.
The story weaves it's way through a revolution and is also noted for several different love stories along the way.
"It's a beautiful story," Kiskunas said. "It's powerful and moving. The things that some of these characters go through and the sacrifices they make out of love or loyalty, you can't help but be touched by them."
Because "Les Miserables" is such an iconic story, it made the preparations for opening night all the more difficult.
For the actors, the most difficult part of the show was depicting characters that many people have come to know -- especially with the show being turning into a major motion picture starring Anne Hathaway last year and it's long run on Broadway. Although most casts like to make traditional shows their own in one way or another, this cast admitted their roles didn't leave much room for leeway. Instead, each actor wanted to remain as true to their well-known character as possible.
"The process has been difficult because it's such a well-known show," Breed said. "What I would say is that these are iconic characters that don't really lend themselves to be individualized. It's a very well-written play and there's not a lot of different ways you want to stray from what you're given. It's a wonderful opportunity for us as performers to portray these characters that so many people know."
Another difficulty in preparing for opening night was simply the length of the production. Director Wayne Marek said the show clocks in at 2 1/2 hours, which is nearly an hour longer than the average show put on by the children's theatre.
The actors had to alter their lifestyles to make sure they remained healthy, had the vocal stamina to sing for that extended amount of time and had the mental stamina to remain in character from start to finish.
"The hardest part, from my perspective, was building stamina for the show," said Marek. "It's really a different kind of show because it's 2 1/2 hours of solid music. There's no scene breaks and no time to rest voices. Everyone has to be on for the whole 2 1/2 hours. Once it starts we're going nonstop. There's not too many shows like that, so not a lot of people have experience with that."
Over 120 people auditioned for the show, but only 3 of those people made the cast or chorus. Because of that, there is a high level of talent in the show and Kiskunas said he is still amazed by the quality of each cast member's voice.
There are several actors making their debut with the Eau Claire Children's Theatre, such as Angela Batterman (Eponine), as well as veteran performers such as Adam Krajnikconde (Enjolras).
All in all, the cast is pleased with how their production of "Les Miserables" turned out. And because of the show's popularity, the cast hopes the excitement surrounding the play will carry on through all four productions this weekend.
"This isn't your typical musical that's light and fluffy," said Gina Cruciani, who plays Cosette. "It'se moreso an experience. It's deep and there's a lot of intense emotions. The characters are going through a lot of things that I think people can relate to. But the experience you have while watching the show is very unique. It's not your typical production."
Syrstad can be reached at 715-833-9206, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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