When Bellevue Society for the Arts decided to produce "Les Miserables" to open the 2013-2014 season, its members knew the beloved musical was a major undertaking for a small community theater. In addition to a complex set and beautiful but challenging music, the musical would need a large cast of talented singers to handle the dramatic roles.
The production is to open at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Hirt Theatre, 205 Maple St., Bellevue. Additonal shows are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 18 and 19. Matinees are planned for Sunday and Oct. 20 at 2:30 p.m.
"We've never done a show quite like this before," said board member, producer and chorus member John Meyers.
Director Jimi Foreman and Marty Siegel, assistant director, did not anticipate attracting actors from as far west as Woodville and as far east as Wakeman. For many who were cast, it was the first time they had ever participated in a Bellevue production. But they were familiar with the show, which is set in France during a tumultuous period in the early 19th century.
In the role of Jean Valjean is Ben Archer of Clyde, delivering a solid performance as a former prisoner who has suffered many hardships and injustices but is determined to make a fresh start. Archer's vocal range is broad enough to perform his character's variety of music.
Playing his nemesis, Javert, is Brad Rowe of Bellevue, who has performed at the Ritz Theatre, Fremont Community Theatre and other venues. His imposing size is well suited to the part of the self-righteous police inspector who relentlessly pursues Valjean. The pair have a final confrontation that results in a jarring epiphany for Javert.
Also, Rowe is part of BSA's programming committee, which selects plays for the season. More than two years ago, Forman asked Rowe if "Les Miserables" was available from Musical Theatre International, the publisher. Rowe looked into it, learned there was a waiting list, added his email to the list and waited for notification.
"The day I got the email was during the Christmas show last year. I told him at that rehearsal," Rowe said.
Chelsea Aiello of Tiffin and Elizabeth Rhode, a Heidelberg student from Sandusky, are part of the chorus. The children with solos include Addison Foreman of Whites Landing, Katherine Jarrett of Bellevue and Samuel Merritt of Woodville. Lenny Kromer of Castalia got the part of Enjolras.
"Just to be here, working with these people - I've never been in a show like this before. ... I've only seen 'Sweeney Todd' here before. That was a really good show." Kromer said.
Meyers said Kromer also located most of the materials used to construct the barricade for the set of Act II. While driving one day, Kromer saw a group of people cleaning out a barn and piling up old shutters, beams, porch posts, barrels, wagon wheels and other rustic items. When Kromer stopped to ask about the discards, the people said it was going to be burned. Kromer persuaded them to donate the pile to BSA.
"This is the most massive set we've ever done," Meyers said.
The barricade is built on a turntable that is six inches tall. Meyers said they bought 32 piano dollies to support the platform. The front part of the stage had to be raised six inches to line up with the rotating deck. A semi-circular raised balcony with multiple stairways also was constructed across the stage, and a runway circles the orchestra pit and extends out into the house. The actors use every part of the set during the production.
Then there are the costumes. Meyers said he is only onstage about 10 minutes in all, but he has three outfits. Costumer (and chorus member) Laura Horn works at Costume Holiday House. She was able to obtain some of the period attire from her employer. Other garments came from individuals and collectors. Horn said the show requires about 200 costumes.
"I know the costumer who did St. Francis' (high school) version. They just did 'Les Mis' in Toledo," she said. "I contacted her and asked about borrowing stuff. They were very helpful."
Anthony Gardner and Jennifer Gilbert as the inkeepers, the Thenardiers, add gritty flair and comic relief to the serious tone that pervades most of the show. They are survivors who have learned a few shortcuts to get by in tough times. Samantha Trapp portrays the tragic Fantine with plenty of pathos. Emily Keener and Adam Cox came all the way from Wakeman to play the roles of Cosette and Marius, respectively. Kayla Burns of Bellevue is cast as another tragic female, Eponine.
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Company members include: John Aiello, Sarah Christophel and Sean Welch, all of Norwalk; Donielle Yates, Clyde; Marlee Carpenter, Port Clinton; Adam Beckwith, Vermilion; Lori Damschroder, Woodville; Mychael Fuller, Margaretta Township; Brandon A. Hayward, Milan; Pam Johnston, Huron; Pamela Shirtz and Ethan Mandeville of Sandusky; Brett Minor, Bowling Green; Gracie Keener, Wakeman; and Nick Bock, Robin Coffelt, Charlene Gardner, Shannon Hansen, Lisa Hildebrandt, Nick Jarrett, Melanie Mork, Mary Musser, Brian Reinhart, Keith Robinson, Mark Seymour, Luke A. Siegel-Schaefer, Monica Siesel and Joanne Smola, all of Bellevue.
As the show took shape, music director Neal and the theater's board had to make a decision about the accompaniment. Michael Shirtz of Terra State Community College had committed himself to conduct the pit orchestra, and he was given permission to contact professional musicians to fill it out. Some play with the Firelands Symphony. Others are from other Ohio cities or affiliated with Terra.
With songs such as "I Dreamed a Dream," "Master of the House," "Stars," "Do You Hear the People Sing," "Bring Him Home," "On My Own" and "One Day More," the music alone is enough to attract theater lovers. The compelling story of trial and triumphs told by an enthusiastic cast make for an enjoyable evening. Leave children at home.
Tickets are $15 and $12. Call 419-484-ARTS (2787) or reserve tickets in person at the box office Mondays and Thursdays from 11 a.m.1 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.
"Les Miserables" is sponsored by The Bellevue Hospital.
It is licensed by Music Theatre International by arrangement with Cameron Mackintosh Ltd.