Defiance Community Players first community theater company in Colorado to perform ‘Les Miserables’
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Who: Defiance Community Players
What: Les Miserables
When: 7 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, Nov. 13-15; 2 p.m. on Sunday
Where: Glenwood Springs High School’s Jeannie Miller Theatre
How Much: $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, students and all matinee tickets
Tom Cochran has directed the past three musicals put on by Defiance Community Players, a community theater group in Glenwood Springs. After directing last year’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Cochran decided to take a break both for himself and because he believes theater companies benefit from working with a variety of directors.
But then he learned Defiance had gotten the rights to “Les Miserables.”
“They trapped me,” Cochran said with a laugh. “I couldn’t think of any other show that I would have said yes immediately to. To get a shot at it is a director’s dream.”
Cochran has never directed “Les Mis” before, but he’s loved the music and the story for decades. Originally written as a French novel by Victor Hugo in 1862, “Les Miserables” tells the story of the struggling lower class in 1800s France, following ex-convict Jean Valjean and a variety of other characters whose lives he affects. “Les Mis” has been adapted into films, a TV mini-series and, of course, the musical.
“When the musical came out, I went and got the music, and I listened to it, and I was just in tears by the end,” Cochran said.
Although the story, which deals with the eternal themes of love, redemption and justice, continues to connect with audiences after decades, many of the cast members agree that it’s the music that has helped propel “Les Mis” into one of the most beloved musicals of all time.
“I think something that makes it really appealing is that it’s very raw, and it has a lot of emotion to it,” said Nathan Wubbena, who plays the police officer and antagonist Javert. “And the music does a good job of bringing out that emotion and getting the audience to feel what the characters are feeling.”
Something new for Defiance that will enhance the musical experience for both the actors and the audience members is the addition of a 15-piece live orchestra to the performances. “Les Mis” co-producer Chip Wells said Defiance always strives to use live musicians in its productions, but having an orchestra of this scale is unusual.
“Because of ‘Les Mis’ being the kind of musical that it is — it’s basically light opera; I think there are four lines of dialogue and everything else is sung — we really needed to have our musical act together,” Wells said.
The orchestra, conducted by Wendy Larson, consists of musicians from the valley, many of whom are professionals. Ensemble member Cassidy Willey said singing with the orchestra changes the whole mood of the performance.
“It’s pretty special,” Willey said. “It just adds so much power and excitement. The first time that we actually sang with the orchestra, we were in the band room back here, and everyone just had tears in their eyes. It was pretty emotional.”
One of the most emotional performances comes from Stacia Bolitho, who plays Fantine, a single mother who struggles to provide for her daughter, Cosette, and turns to prostitution.
“I feel people identify with being at some of their highest highs and some of their lowest lows and what looking back on those feels like,” Bolitho said. “That’s essentially her journey. She’s in the midst of her lowest lows, and she’s already had her highest highs, and she’s kind of trying to work through that.”
Fantine’s is just one story of many that illustrates what Bolitho describes as “the redemptive power of love,” which is one of the main themes of “Les Mis.” She said her favorite scene in the musical comes toward the beginning. Jean Valjean, a paroled convict, steals from a bishop and runs away. When police find him and bring him back, the bishop says he gave Valjean those items and then gives him silver candle sticks, too.
“It’s that one act that the bishop does for Jean Valjean that changes his entire life,” Bolitho said. “That’s my favorite scene because it starts this domino effect. Because the bishop redeemed Jean Valjean through that act of love, so many other characters in the play are saved.”
Jason Young plays Valjean in this production, and although it’s a dream role for him, what makes the experience extra special is being able to share the stage with his 11-year-old daughter, Lia Young, for the first time.
“I wanted her to try out for Cosette, and she said, ‘Dad, that is not the right role for me,’” Jason Young said.
“It was a bigger role, and I didn’t want to go for the bigger part instead of going for the part that I wanted,” said Lia Young, who plays Gavroche, a little boy who fights for revolution. “I really like how I’m a girl and I tried out for a boy part. It makes me feel like I’m standing out.”
Jason Young said he thinks “Les Mis” can teach a lot about hope and forgiveness.
“We live in that day and age where there’s black, there’s white, and we live in this world of gray,” he said. “Sometimes we make choices that may not be the correct choice, but it is the compassionate and the right choice. There is injustice in the world, and we can all do something about it.”
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