Peninsula High’s angrily tumultuous crowd of shabbily clad early 19th-century French protesters in dress rehearsal for the musical “Les Misérables” had me so worked up I could hardly resist joining them in their movement to overthrow the government.
The words from “Les Misérable”: “The time is here, the time is now,” inspired PHS drama to take on this international favorite. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, it opened in Paris in 1980. With an English-language libretto, the London production has run since October 1985 — the longest-running musical in West End and second longest-running musical on earth.
It’s a story of French peasant Jean Valjean and his quest for redemption after 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. Valjean breaks parole and starts life anew but is relentlessly being tracked down by police inspector Javert. Valjean and a mob of protesters are swept into revolutionary France when a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade.
“I’ve learned a lot about how life was for the French in the 1800s,” said senior Daisy Jane Darling, who plays a factory worker. “It’s incredible what they endured. Portraying their struggles has been an amazing experience making me appreciate how good we have it today.”
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“People have always suffered great injustice throughout history,” said sophomore Noah Brown, an ensemble member. “This show will leave you emotionally involved.”
To sound technician Zach Winter, “‘Les Mis’ is a high-quality production setting a new standard for PHS theatre. It’s full of incredible talent.”
Junior Adia Fenn, who plays Madame Thenardier, learned the struggle of life through the musical and how it transfers into the real world.
“It captures the struggle of poverty, beliefs and corruption, the sacrifices people make for whom they love and what they value,” she said. “Characters die for the right to live.”
Also playing Madame Thenardier, classmate Anna Marshall has learned about teamwork, of course, but “I’ve also learned about the lives of miserable people. It has broadened my sense of compassion. We have a message to convey to our audience.”
“There is so much more to theatre than meets the eye,” said senior Garret Kingman, who plays Fuelle. “The pace is fast! People should see this show; there is so much passion behind it — it’s very moving.”
Saxophonist Isaac Stebbe learned that focus and working together is extremely important. “We make lots of friends and have fun working to make the pieces fit in this, the biggest production PHS has ever done. It’s full of excitement.”
Junior Michaela Tyler, the lead dancer playing Lovely Lady, said, “It has taught me so much about history. The faith the characters have in this show is so strong, it touches you. The set, songs, costumes bring it together for a beautiful story.”
“Theatre should provoke thoughtful courageous conversations about important matters warranting our attention: oppression, injustice and inequality that afflict marginalized people, not only in times past, but today,” PHS drama teacher Kara Beloate said. “We hope this connects students not only with this moment in French history but with their own world and the plight of those with little hope or opportunity.”
This school edition of “Les Misérables” is rated PG-13; it includes violence, sexuality, suicide and religious themes.
It opens at Peninsula High at 7 p.m. May 5 and plays May 6, 7, 13 and 14 at 7 p.m., with one Sunday matinee, 3 p.m May 15. Tickets can be purchased online at the PHS website or at the door ($10 student/military/seniors; $12 adult).
“Throughout this process, I have learned that in achieving any goal, it is important to work with intensity and purpose,” said senior Emily Frier, who plays Cosette. “This show will make you laugh, cry and everything in between.”
It really will! I did!
Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.