Months of preparation, hundreds of hours spent after school and a few bottles of throat spray produced the display of talent before a live audience during Thursday’s opening night. Unlike traditional theater performances, Les Mis is done entirely through song, which provided an extra challenge for director Giana DeGeiso, who returned to Nevada from New York where she is immersed in the theater scene.
DeGeiso, a McQueen High graduate, flew cross country to join Reed’s choir director Malary Engstrom, her long-time friend and another McQueen grad, in producing the theatrical number. The two directors, prior to Thursday’s opening night, said the cast and crew showed true dedication in preparing for the show.
“I think this group really understood that every single person is important,” Engstrom said. “Whether you are a backstage person, or an ensemble member, or you’re the lead role, it really takes the whole village. If one person is not doing their job, then everyone is not looking professional. These kids really took that seriously.”
In the couple months DeGeiso has spent working with her cast and crew, she said their work behind the scenes helped produce the show that comes to the front of the stage. She said hours spent painting scenery, hanging lights and building the show's “enormous barricade” would not have been possible without parental donations and student commitment.
“Every school in every district has experienced cuts and cuts and more cuts,” DeGeiso said. “It’s an old story and everybody knows the story of the arts not doing well. And that was a challenge for us because this school doesn’t have much of a theater program, and we have two part-time theater teachers who are working really hard. But they also have English classes to teach and papers they need to grade.
“I think for the parents especially, they know how many hours their kids have put into this. I think they are ready to see the kids expressing themselves, singing, enjoying what they do and being in character while performing.”
Reed senior Cole Mason, the actor behind the leading role of Jean Valjean, said becoming his character during countless practice sessions has heightened the anticipation for him to get on stage. He said his character posed quite a challenge to him and he has worked to bring out the emotions of his character.
“He goes through the struggle of his life, trying to pick which is right and wrong because he learns that if you do good things, good things will happen to you in return,” Mason said Wednesday. “Jean Valjean’s role is very hard because he is always very conflicted. One of the hardest parts about Jean Valjean is trying to portray that onstage so the audience understands what he is going through and not just me in my head. I take a lot of personal emotions outside of the stage and I try to think about how they would make me feel if I were in his situation.”
Valjean’s onstage counterpart Javert, played by Reed senior Adam Armolea, spends the majority of the show attempting to capture Valjean. Armolea said he worked through similar techniques to manage his character’s performance.
“There are some difficult parts to portray to the audience because a lot of the emotion is in my head,” Armolea said, “And a lot of that has to do with I’m always abiding by the law and following the law, and towards the end, I realize that Jean Valjean is not that bad of a person.”
Mason said some of the challenges facing students preparing for the show were not always onstage.
“We spend almost every day here for about an extra four hours outside of school so that takes up a lot of your time. It is hard to balance that with all your other school work,” Mason said.
Armolea said finding time to finish homework while at rehearsal is key, but he said flu season always throws a wrench into the mix.
“Another thing is it is hard to keep your health well because you are so stressed. We're trying to eat healthy and drink lots of water and stuff like that to make sure we don't get sick,” Armolea said.
But preparation time is over and only a string of eight performances (including Thursday) remain. DeGeiso said the anticipation has built long enough and that the time has come to see what the students are made of.
“What I am looking forward to most is finally being able to say ‘fly, we have done everything and it’s yours now,’” DeGeiso said. “I am really happy that I am able to stay for the entire run and watch them fly, and that I can finally say I have done what I can do and now it is time to see what they can do.”
Cast, crew and directors said they are hoping to see a packed audience during the play’s showing to help build funds for the school’s theater department. The funds coming in from ticket sales will aid in bringing more vibrant shows to Reed High in the future.
“I am excited to see when the show actually happens how people actually become the characters,” Mason said. “That’s when everything comes together and you can actually see the plot line and it is an actual experience. I am excited to watch it all come together.
“It is going to be a great show and we hope everyone comes because we need the money so we can keep this program going for years to come; and so everyone else can enjoy it just as much as we have.”
Showtimes for Reed’s production of Les Misérables include Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m., and March 7-9 at 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. show March 9. All shows will be held in the Reed High School theater.