'Les Mis' draws many actors to the stage

Summer production features large cast, timeless themes and unmasked performers

Caroline Hurley and Samantha Rotta have shared a lot since meeting at a BAMtheatre rehearsal several years ago. They enjoy play dates, they dance together at Salt Creek Ballet, and now they share a role in this summer's production of "Les Miserables."

Caroline, 11, of Hinsdale, and Samantha, 10, of Downers Grove, share the role of young Eponine, the pampered daughter of innkeepers Monsieur and Madame Thénardier.

"It's a really fun part," said Caroline, whose character wears fancy clothes and misbehaves. "I get to dance on top of a table."

"I like that she's kind of a little bratty. It's a fun character," Samantha agreed.

The two are among more than 60 middle and high school students coming together to present "Les Miserables" on the Nazareth Academy stage in LaGrange Park June 23-25.

One of Broadway's longest-running musicals, "Les Miserables" is a musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel of the same name. Through songs such as "Castle On a Cloud," "On My Own" and "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," it tells the story of Jean Valjean's pursuit of a life after 19 years in prison and of police inspector Javert's continued pursuit of Valjean. Meanwhile, rebels are attempting to overthrow the French government.

"We wanted a show with a strong ensemble," Julie Sommer Peterson, managing director of the Hinsdale-based theater, said of the choice for this summer's high school production by BAMtheatre. With so many young performers eager to return to the stage, Peterson said she wanted a show that would accommodate a large cast. To extend the opportunity to even more young actors, the show's 15 main characters are double cast.

"The casting was probably the simplest step in the production," said director Dan Cassin. Despite the difficulty of the show's score, he said there was plenty of talent to choose from.

Having less than four weeks to take the show from casting to the stage proved much more challenging, Cassin said.

Unlike most musicals, "Les Miserables" has very few spoken lines.

"It's an operetta," said Cassin, who described the school edition as slightly shorter than the full Broadway show, but with all of the music and drama that those familiar with "Les Miserable" will expect.

Benet Academy senior and Hinsdale resident Jack Jarosz plays the part of Javert, the production's main antagonist who, among other things, is featured in the song "One Day More."

Despite the popularity of "Les Miserables," Jarosz said he knew little about the show before deciding to audition.

"It's really challenging. The whole show is," he said.

"You can't just learn it in rehearsal," said Jarosz, who has been practicing at home and working with his voice teacher to learn and polish his role.

"Les Miserable" was the last musical that Cassin, a graduate of Hinsdale Central High School, performed as a high school actor.

"It cemented and bolstered my path into the theater arts," said Cassin, who studied drama at New York University and works as an actor in New York when he's not building new actors at BAMtheatre.

Cassin said "Les Miserable" is a show about the timeless and timely issues of morality, compassion and revolution.

"There's a reason why it's one of the longest running shows on Broadway," Cassin said.

Jarosz said every member of the cast, from the lead characters to the chorus members, is working hard to bring "Les Miserables" to the stage. Coming together to entertain an audience is the best part of theater, Jarosz said.

"I think people are going to love it," he said of the show, which will be performed with a live orchestra, professional set and customized costumes. What the show won't include is masks.

This is the first live show since 2019 to be performed without masks, Peterson said. Masks are optional for the audience. "Les Miserables" will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, June 23-24, and at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, June 25. Tickets, available through the BAMtheatre box office, http://www.bamtheatre.com, are $24 and $28. Nazareth Academy is at 1209 Ogden Ave., LaGrange Park.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean