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To celebrate the kickoff of Live Music Week we had some of the cast members from the ACT Theater Company’s presentation of Les Misérables come in to the WERS Studio during Standing Room Only. This production of Les Mis will be at the Collins Center for the Performing Arts in Andover from October 25th to the 27th. A cheery segmentation of the eighty person ensemble treated us to a few songs from the show and even taught us a little bit about what listener-supported public radio means to them.
The strength of voice from this community theater group was just astonishing. Even though they numbered just over twenty people, during their vocal warm up routine their collective harmony could be heard through the sound-proof glass in our production booth (something that not even the hardest of rock bands has ever done). The whole event was truly remarkable considering that the cast members all lead normal, workaday lives when not performing together. A song recital that each of members might have done solo in the shower now combined to make a whole greater than the aggregate parts. This troupe is truly a testament to the power of local Theater and hints that there is a hidden talent behind the eyes of the people you pass in the street every day.
The first song they treated us to was “I Dreamed a Dream,” which was sung by Amy Wilkins-Blanchette who plays the part of Fantine in the production. Amy did an amazing job of recreating this Broadway ballad with pathos and empowerment. The daring highs and tragic lows of the song were hit with wonderfully adept control and timing. Preparing for the role was an intellectual pursuit for Amy. She said “I try to put myself in Fantine’s shoes. What would it really be like to have to give my child to someone because I could not care for her? How would I feel if I was sick and had to leave her behind with life so uncertain? Being a mother of three girls has made it easier to feel what that would really be like. At one of the first rehearsals, I broke down crying because these were very heartbreaking thoughts. I couldn’t even get the words out I was so upset.” Luckily she found a way to transfer that specific energy into the performance while maintaining her composure on stage.
Next up was Chelsea Minton who plays the part of Éponine. She sang “On My Own” with only the backing of our Steinway piano (played by Brian Li). She did an amazing job of breathing new life into this well-known show tune. A veteran of the stage, she is more than familiar with Les Mis. She elaborated on her relationship with Éponine: “I’ve done the show before, and actually played Cosette! So, it’s been fascinating thinking about music I love so much from a different emotional and vocal perspective. The biggest challenge, in my mind, is that Éponine’s music is some of the most well-known (and overdone) music for a female Broadway performer, so I’m really trying to figure out how to make it my own and not just do what everyone has seen a million times before.” Chelsea has really gotten inside the mind of her character and clearly knows the show well.
The third song they played for us was “Bring Him Home,” which was sung by Charles Dizon Gracy who plays the part of Jean Valjean. This heart wrenching prayer over Marius was sung to perfection by Gracy who hit some surprising high notes as he took us all on an emotional journey into abstract introspection. The final song that the cast sang for us brought in all of the performers in “The Epilogue” which was led by Wende Ann Donahue. This performance is a triumphant expression of choral command that exposes the struggles of the musical performers themselves, but that ultimately leads to the reign of human spirit over worldly tragedy. This troupe has shown that by working together they can overcome even the most daunting of tasks. In the end they stand together triumphant in front of their peers knowing that they have done something amazing.
Les Misérables is being performed at the Collins Center for the Performing Arts in Andover from October 25th to the 27th by the ACT Theater Company. The show is conducted by Tom Cox and directed by Mark Gracy. Cara Kennedy, who plays Madame Thénardier, had this to say about the show: “People should come to see this show for so many reasons. It’s an amazing story about redemption, the power of love and forgiveness. I often sit in rehearsals with chills because of the power of the words my cast mates are singing and the story they are telling. If I can still be getting chills after seeing and hearing it for over a month… I can’t wait to see what happens when there is a live audience to experience it!”
For more information please check out www.acttheatercompany.com.