News Column

'Les Miserables' hits perfect pitch

June 15, 2014

By Rummer Bershtein, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.

June 15--A storm brewed through the open door of the old Nevada Bob's Golf location on Bloomfield Road, where sweaty actors dashed around the room rehearsing, red-faced and bellowing their songs.

Cracks of lightening sent sporadic vigor into the large room and set the shiny faces of stage managers and directors aglow. The thunderclaps wailed through the windows as varying voices filled the room with a force that seemed more powerful than the storm outside. One raindrop fell, then a downpour began, sprinkling drops of water through the still open door.

Clad in T-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes, the actors move fluidly around the large bare room with the consistency of a rushing river. Cardinal Stage Company, a theater company with the goal of advancing professional theater in Bloomington, does not close the door to outside storms at rehearsal. The strongest storm brewing was not outside the walls of that rehearsal, it was the electricity alighting within the bare walls of Nevada Bob's Golf, building up a force strong enough to define Cardinal Stage Company.

"The company has a focus unlike any other," said Jordan Goodmon, senior at IU's Jacobs School of Music and actress in upcoming "Les Miserables." "The productions are planned down to a facial expression at a specific moment. That's what really makes the characters in the performances real and Cardinal Stage really special."

As is consistent with their reputation, Cardinal Stage is known to put on performances with strong emphasis on singing and vocal talent. But it has done something new for its upcoming performance of "Les Miserables" showing from Thursday through June 29. It was referred to it in a press release by Heidi Harmon as its "most ambitious effort to date." They are bringing in an interesting mix of local and non-local actors, including Pat McRoberts, an equity actor with a history of Broadway productions.

The result of such a wide-ranging array of actors is a unique collaborative experience. Ranging from elementary school children to adults with children of their own, the learning experience and genuine fun that comes from the mixture of actors is facilitated in this specific setting.

Cardinal Stage was established in 2006 by the still present director Randy White, with the goal of being a diverse and esteemed theater company. Since its humble beginnings, it has grown to be the largest arts organization in Bloomington with ranging productions of musicals and plays.

Vocal emphasis

While Cardinal Stage has consistently taken on ambitious projects in the past, "Les Miserables," a musical with nearly no spoken lines in it, will yet again set the bar higher.

"Randy told me that one of the reasons they chose to do this specific musical was because we have such great singers here in Bloomington," Goodmon said. "They really wanted to pick a show that highlighted the singers we have."

Along with Goodmon being a Bloomington local who studies at the Jacobs School of Music, Amanda Biggs is another local with a successful music career. After being trained in opera singing at IU's school of music, Biggs went on to theater productions and recently released her first album. While she said her album is a soft-western blues album, she loves going back to musical theater.

"Our first rehearsals were focused a lot on the singing," Biggs said. "The caliber is extremely high, and the talent is pretty off the charts."

For McRoberts, who came from New York City to perform in this musical, the mixture of new voices is refreshing for him.

"People here have incredible vocals. And since the acting is just as important as the singing, the focus is how we're going to tell the story," McRoberts said. "Randy knows he has good voices, now he has to connect the two."

Collaboration and learning

At rehearsal, McRoberts, despite being in cargo shorts and a dark blue cotton T-shirt reading '10 cent beer night,' practices with earnest emotion and strides around the dusty floor in character. To his right side, Lucia Walker, a fifth-grade actress, stands at attention and sings in flawless high-pitched harmony with him.

"The older actors set a really good example for us kids because they're always very professional, and we all try to pay attention and work together to learn from them," Walker said. With still hands and large brown eyes, she uses acting to express herself and feels the ability to connect with people through the stories she acts in.

For Biggs, within the first few rehearsals she began trying new techniques.

"I started picking up things from Pat McRoberts right away. He went straight for the intense, like he really brought everything to the rehearsal," she said. "So I felt like I could probably start bringing my fuller character to these rehearsals, too."

Because McRoberts has played the role of Valjean in "Les Miserables" three times before he came to Cardinal Stage, his experience adapting to his character has been different than others. He said of playing Valjean for the fourth time, that the character doesn't really change to him. What changes is how that character is used in the telling of the overall story.

"I'm starting to learn that everyone works differently, and because I've done the show before, I need to totally embrace when other people do it differently," McRoberts said. "It's interesting to support them in any way I can but still see them make their own choices."

Finding serious fun

But luckily, it's not all work and no play for Cardinal Stage. Giggling and dancing happens equally as much as serious staging at rehearsals. Goodmon reflected on a time at rehearsal in which the director, White, and McRoberts were reminded of a song from the '80s they used to love. Suddenly, White played the song on his phone and the entire cast had a momentary lapse in professionalism and had a dance party in the rehearsal room.

"Everybody in the cast always seems happy to see each other when we come in, even if we've just met two times before," Goodmon said. "I'm excited to go back every time, which is a special thing."


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Source: Herald-Times (Bloomington, IN)

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