There’s nothing miserable about it. With a plot jumping deftly between poignant love triangles, the perils of revolution and social commentary on everything from prison systems to the patriarchy, “Les Misérables” contains a singular emotional power that has been enrapturing audiences for decades. Beginning on Friday, the Young People’s Theatre (YPT) will take the stage at the Sheridan Opera House to bring the timeless tale to life with a cast of dedicated young actors in grades 9-12. The show plays Friday, Saturday and Monday at 6 p.m., with doors at 5:30 p.m. (no show on Super Bowl Sunday). Tickets are $16 for adults, $13 for children and free for lap children; they’re $1 more at the door.
Given the work’s iconic status as one of the world’s most beloved musicals, the young cast, directed by YPT artistic director Leah Heidenreich, has poured countless hours of hard work and passion into perfecting their performance over the past six weeks. Mariposa Boyd, a junior who plays the lovelorn young street urchin Éponine, knows she and her fellow thespians have big shoes to fill.
“The hardest part of performing, especially in a show like this, is that we are high school students trying to live up to the legacies of famous characters who were played by famous actors,” Boyd said. “Everyone knows ‘Les Mis,’ and everyone loves it, and we just want to do the story justice. We want people to leave the theater feeling like they're seeing the world for the first time, and that is a lot of pressure.”
They’ve pulled off the outsized theatrical feat, according to Heidenreich, especially considering the fact that the cast is comprised of just under two dozen students.
“I can’t wait to for the community to witness what this cast has created. Prepare to have your mind blown. It is essentially a two-and-a-half hour opera,” she said, noting that professionally the musical is never undertaken without a full cast of 50 actors. “Our cast is only 23 kids, and they have completely exceeded all expectations.”
Originally penned by the popular French novelist Victor Hugo in 1862, the story of “Les Misérables” centers around ex-convict Jean Valjean, played by Thomas Hatcher, who has re-entered French society after spending 19 years imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. While initially hardened into a criminal, and he was treated as such, a kind act leads him to pursue a life of redemption. He breaks his parole to begin an anonymous life as an honorable man. However, he is unflinchingly pursued by the police inspector Javert, played by Max Gorraiz, whose own beliefs preclude the possibility of Valjean’s true moral transformation. Meanwhile, Valjean’s adopted daughter Cosette, played by Koko Waller, falls in love with an impassioned young revolutionary, Marius, played by Owen Murphy. This thwarts the love of Éponine, who is now a young woman and the daughter of the inn keeping miscreants the Thénardiers (Peter Spencer and Linnea Taylor) by whom Cosette was raised and mistreated as a child. Amid all of this, social unrest leads to the Paris student uprising of 1832, culminating in a bloody battle during which Valjean spares the life of Inspector Javert, forcing him to confront his rigid worldview. The musical is a sweeping tale of love, courage, injustice and redemption, masterfully spun to life through a score of unforgettable music and lyrics.
“The themes of the show are so relatable to everyone, every culture and every era,” Heidenreich said. “Anyone can relate to the hardships of being a single parent, of unrequited love, of that feeling of helplessness when you are wronged by your government. The show touches on so many human emotions and experiences.”
Max Gorraiz, a senior and YPT veteran, said that the raw emotional power of the show is indeed one of the aspects that makes the performance uniquely challenging.
“Bringing Javert to life on stage is extremely hard because of the amount of emotion you need to incorporate into the role,” he said. “On top of that, I’ve needed to enter Javert’s head and see the world as he saw it. Every musical number is a monologue. I have to be as emotionally attached to my character as possible.”
Boyd also affirmed the vitality and relatability of her “beautifully flawed and human character” who is led by her unrequited love to “become a brave and complex character with valuable lessons to teach.”
But beyond the joy of acting and singing, Boyd attested to the power of theater in her life.
“This is my third year acting with YPT, and with every show I have gained more confidence, made more friends, and improved myself both as an artist and a person,” she said. “The YPT community is unrelentingly supportive, and I am constantly inspired by my fellow cast members to push myself as a performer. YPT has helped me grow into myself, and for that I am eternally thankful.”
Gorraiz also expressed his deep gratitude for his “cast mates, set crew and our amazing director,” plugging blithely, “It’s too amazing of an opera-tunity to pass up!”
The cast also features Charlotte Botenhagen as Fantine, Cassidy Craige as Gavroche and Rowen Warren as Enjolras. Gizelle Winter, Chloie Plumber, Gary Bush, Kaizer Gorraiz, Kashius Ford, Olivia Hatcher, Hollis Andrew, TJ Neumann, Emmett Murphy, Jack Spencer, Maya Geiger, Virginia Wilkes and Shintiel Potterton round out the cast.