Hunting Hills High School students are gearing up for their production of the classic tale of Les Miserables, set to open March 7th at the Memorial Centre.
Shows run through to March 15 with curtain at 7:30 p.m. although there are some dates that include dinner prior to the show.
Instructor and artistic director Bill Jacobsen is excited for opening night, and is also extremely proud of his cast and crew – there are a staggering 95 actors and 30 technicians involved in Les Miserables which has also been double cast.
“We’re in a good place. The scale of it is at times a little overwhelming – there are a lot of actors and the music is massive – and it’s a ‘sung-through’ musical. It’s also an epic kind of story,” he explains. “But the kids are so committed to it. And we’ve got a huge production team that’s doing great work with it – the design is terrific.
“It’s such a stunningly beautiful musical.”
Les Misérables is a French historical novel by Victor Hugo which was first published in 1862. It follows the mesmerizing story of Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after breaking parole and later agrees to care for a factory worker’s daughter. The decision changes their lives forever.
There have been several film and stage renditions produced over the years, with the latest film/musical adaptation of the beloved story released in late 2012.
Typically the story is framed within tumultuous years of early 19th century France, but Jacobsen said he’s opted to set the story in an ‘undefined, urban context’.
“There are several versions of the script, but of the musical version of it there are really two adaptations. One is the touring professional production and then there is the school edition which we are doing. It’s the same script word for word with a few edits and reductions, including one less battle scene and a verse taken out of three or four of the songs.
“It’s reduced by about 20 minutes. But it’s still the musical people have seen onstage.”
Meanwhile, as the rehearsal process unfolded, Jacobsen said he, the creative team and the students had many discussions as to the range of meanings and messages intrinsic to the story’s plot.
“We’re doing a very different artistic design for this – ours is not going to look anything like the touring show,” he said. “That was a very conscious decision. We decided that, in our interpretation of it, the show would have a different look and that it would emphasize certain messages more than others. We spent a lot of time going over that with the students.
“The biggest thing that we did, that we have chosen to look at that is different than most interpretation of Les Miserables that I’ve seen, is that traditionally the story is set in France in the 1800s. But the messages of this play are not restricted to France or to that time period.
“It’s about a parent’s love for their child, and about the idealism of young people that want the world to be one that is fair and equitable and open to everyone. It’s about young love and sacrificing for that love. And maybe more than anything, it’s about redemption – about coming back to an understanding of what it means to be human.”
Again, this has lent itself to a different kind of set. “There are no old French buildings and period costumes at all. And yet it’s not exactly modern day either.” Jacobsen said the overall look has been described as ‘old world/modern.’
“It’s undefined. The set is an urban landscape of graffiti and posters; there are messages there from revolutions throughout the past 150 years. It’s a different look. What time is it? What world are we in? Part of the message is that it could be any world.
“The line that we have spoken to the students over and over again is one from Jean Valjean’s journey at the start of the play where he says he could never “Forgive them for what they’ve done to me.” And at the very end of the play, almost his last line is “To love another person is to see the face of God.
“So it’s about looking at that idea that we need to forgive, and to be forgiven. And we need to love others as opposed to denigrating them and putting them down. That’s such a vital message. The other message that goes with that is from the very last song of the play, where the ensemble asks ‘Will you join in our crusade?’
“It really is up to us as individuals whether we are going to create division or whether we are going to encourage, support and love other people. That’s the message of Les Miserables.”
For information about tickets, dinner theatres and performance times, check out www.huntinghills.rdpsd.ab.ca or call the school at 403-342-6655.