The student cast of Les Misérables rehearses one of the many musical numbers in the show with accompanist Amy Leacock. The musical is almost entirely sung in English, with few lines of dialogue. Photo by Natasha Ringnalda

by davidSTREICHER, ‘13, graceMOODY, ‘14

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” These are the last words said by Jean Valjean in the famous musical Les Misérables. This Feb. pre-revolutionary France will be brought to life with the UAHS music department’s production of Les Misérables. For choral director Eric Kauffman, this line in the final scene is his favorite from the show.

“It’s kind of the motto of the entire storyline,” Kauffman said. “At the end of the show, everything comes full circle and there’s resolution, and that’s when that line comes forward. It’s probably my favorite line and my favorite moment in the show.”

Les Misérables was first performed at UAHS in 2003, during Kauffman’s second year at the high school.

“We were the first in Ohio to perform a student edition 10 years ago, which I figure would make us one of the first in the United States,” he said.

The musical occupies a unique position as one of the few shows UAHS will be performing for a second time. The positive reception of the first production encouraged Kauffman to direct the musical again.

“[The 2003 show] was wildly successful,” Kauffman said. “I think the show itself was a popular storyline that everybody wanted to see.”

As the choral department prepares for this year’s production, Kauffman looks forward to working with students to put on a theatrical experience for the entire community to enjoy.

“Making our best show is my focus,” Kauffman said. “I feel like I know [Les Misérables] so much better than knowing a show for the first time. I know what worked and what didn’t work and how to propel the students in their learning process a little deeper and a little quicker.”

Setting the Scene

The musical Les Misérables, set in 19th century France, tells the story of the convict Jean Valjean, played by senior Allan Labanowski. Valjean flees his parole after an act of kindness inspires him to start his life anew.

Eight years later, under an assumed identity, Valjean lives an honest life as mayor of a small French town. However, trouble begins once more for Valjean when he crosses paths with a young mother, Fantine, who is struggling to make ends meet for her and her daughter, Cosette.

Valjean soon hears that another man will be convicted of his crimes, and elects to reveal his true identity and go back on the run to save the innocent man’s life. Before leaving, Valjean meets with Fantine, now unable to provide for Cosette, and agrees to raise her daughter.

Although frightened at first by Valjean, Cosette is happy to be taken away from her abusive foster parents, the Thenardiers. She goes on the run with her new father Valjean, and while fleeing from policeman Javert the pair grow and face danger as a revolution plays out around them.

Kauffman sees the chemistry between the characters as an enjoyable part of directing musicals.

“It’s so interesting how all of the characters in one way or another have a love and have a yearning that they’re trying to complete in their lives,” he said.

Developing Characters

Starring as a lead role is junior Ruba Elzein, who has been a part of musicals since middle school. Elzein was cast as Eponine, a teenage girl who falls in love with her best friend, Marius, played by junior Jack Mellon.

“I think it’s really fun to become someone else,” Elzein said. “[I like] not being afraid to just let it all go. I hope I can develop the character in a really believable way.”

Other actors and actresses such as junior Lexy Weixel, who plays the villainess Madame Thenardier, have had to make more dramatic changes in order to portray their characters.

“I have to act like a drunk, bad, stuberring woman who hates her husband and who’s really poor and doesn’t care about anything other than alcohol and living the life,” Weixel said.

Junior Givi Garcia plays Enjolras, who serves as a leader of the French Revolution. Garcia, along with many others in the musical, finds character development both an enjoyable and vital aspect to the musical.

“I think [I] just have to be very robust and carry [my]self like [I’m] confident, probably overly confident, and just a really strong person and a leader,” Garcia said.

For Kauffman, the 10 years of experience he has had at UAHS directing musicals and the well-thought out cast he chose for Les Misérables excited him to see not only the overall production, but the growth of those involved.

“It’s a show that you’re going to have an objective, and we’re going to have to have exercises to get us there, and we’re going to have to work hard at every rehearsal,” Kauffman said.

As hard as Kauffman thinks the production will be, he said each student will have a positive experience.

“I feel like every student involved in the show is going to grow tremendously,” he said.

A Community Production

An aspect of the show that sets this musical apart from other UAHS productions is the involvement of the local community. As a director, overseeing much of the community come together to put this show on inspires Kauffman.

“I’m very excited that we have alumni who are involved in this production. Our set designer is an alumnus of the school and our sound designer is an alumnus of the school,” Kauffman said. “We have professors from Ohio State who are coming over to do lighting design and to do choreography, so we’ve really got our local community and alumni involved.”

Senior Audrey McMahon, who plays Cosette in the musical, said her favorite aspect of participating in the shows is working towards developing her character.

McMahon is eager to see the involvement of each and every participant create the production. Through her many years of being in theater, a favorite part of hers remains working as a team and working to make the show strong.

“You’re coming together and putting on this performance as a team, not one person puts on this show, the entire cast is part of it,” McMahon said. “The directors, the tech crew, the pit, everyone.”

Although Kauffman was satisfied with the success of the previous production, he doesn’t worry about the upcoming performance having to live up to the 2003 show.

”It’s not [the new cast’s] responsibility to try to live up to [the previous show],” Kauffman said. “Our goal is to make our best show. So I’m not nervous about the comparison, but I’m nervous about the responsibility because it’s a very complicated show, it’s a lot of work. It’s not one of those shows that just falls together, you’re going to have to really make it come together.”