Tag Archives: Les Miserables

A Star Is Born?

Nathan here, guest writing once more!  This is the narrative essay I wrote for my dual credit Composition class at NCMC.  I had forgotten to release this story a couple weeks ago, but now I can claim that my blunder was simply a calculated step to save this tale for the one-year-anniversary of opening night for Les Miz.  So anyway, to the story!  Enjoy. My hands were shaking as the emcee finished his opening remarks, so I took a deep breath to slow my pulse as the orchestra began to play.  The line in front of me had begun shuffling forward onto the stage, mallets in hand, moving in time with the music.  Despite every instinct screaming for me to turn and run, I gripped my own mallet tightly and fell into step at the end of the line.  Two measures and four steps later, the hardwood floor of the wings gave way to large square sections of plywood and for the first time in my life, I stepped onto the stage as an actor.  Working for this moment had taught me perseverance far beyond any I had ever known, and now it was about to pay off. The entire saga had begun eight months earlier, when my music teacher, Olivia Coon, suggested I audition for a role in the upcoming production of Les Misérables being staged by Carousel Productions in Macon, Missouri.  The words “Les Misérables” had hardly left her mouth before I was asking when auditions would be held.  It had always been my dream to perform Les Miz, as it’s known to its fans, and besides, how hard could an audition possibly be? It turns out the audition was much harder than I could have imagined.  On a cold November evening, I walked into the Royal Theatre for the first time, at once supremely confident and extraordinarily nervous.  People continued to trickle in until the whole lobby was full; by the time I was called into the audition hall there were at least 50 people, and with every competent-looking individual who had entered, my confidence had taken a hit.  Suffice it to say, a bad case of nerves and a shattered confidence did not serve me well during my audition.  Little more needs to be said except to explain that I was assigned spoken lines in a musical. In spite of my setback, I was determined to carve a role for myself; so when rehearsals began in January, I decided that if I still failed, it would not be for a lack of effort.  I made sure to arrive on time, if not early, for every rehearsal.  I practiced every chorus and every minor solo.  I leapt at any opportunity to fill in lines if someone was absent and to accept whatever part was available.  By the time the cast was finalized at the end of the month, I was rehearsing as Courfeyrac, one of the students; Constable #1; and as a convict in the chain gang. February was a hard month; whereas January had been very fluid and relaxed, with most of our rehearsal time being spent solely on the music, in February we moved into the theatre and discovered the challenge of fitting 60 people into a space designed for a much smaller cast.  I think the cast’s first realization that this was real— that our community theatre truly was performing Les Miz— came in this first week of February, as we quieted our jokes, shortened our conversations, and extended our rehearsals.  We no longer had time to sit and chat, especially those of us with multiple roles.  It was not uncommon to see fellow actors run from one wing, down the stairs, and into the dressing room to change, all before racing back to the other staircase to be in position for the next scene.  Because of these challenges, it was in this month that the bonds amongst our cast were forged.  Whether it was reminding someone of their position or helping a friend tie his ascot, we realized that we must support one another for the show to succeed. With just three weeks until the show a sense of urgency developed in the cast.  We were now able to run through the entire show consecutively, but we still were not close to having a stage worthy performance.  Despite any worry this may have caused our directors, though, we never panicked.  Much of why we were able to stay calm and focused can be attributed to the efforts of the principals; those people who held lead roles and helped lighten the mood while never being distracting.  Our Jean Valjean, Joel Vincent, was especially supportive of our motley assortment of revolutionary students, and even when we completely botched a scene, he would always be there with a silent high-five and congratulations. Finally, with a week to go, we were ready.  All the patience on our director’s behalf, all the determination of the actors, and all the tolerance of our families had come to this point— now there was nothing to do but wait. The tension in the air was palpable on opening night.  The audience’s, the cast’s, my own, it all washed together as we, the chain gang, entered stage right.  An expectant hush fell over the crowd as the two lines of convicts opened the show, our footsteps in time with our rhythmic chant as we reached our positions on stage.  I took my spot in the front corner of the stage, dropped to my knees, mallet held ready, and waited for the cue to start work. Our mallets kept the rhythm throughout the scene, but the crowd didn’t notice; they were enthralled by the energy sparking between Javert and Valjean.  “Do not forget me,” you could almost hear the audience as they took a breath in anticipation of Javert’s final line, “2-4-6-0-1!”  The rest of the chain gang and I stood, turned, and exited the way we had entered, and as we left, we echoed the ominous words of the chain gang’s lullaby: “Look down, look down, you’ll always be a slave, look down, look down, you’re standing in your grave.”  The thundering applause that escorted us from the stage didn’t make me feel like a slave, however: as I raced down the stairs to change for the next scene, I felt as though I could fly.

Music is More than Fun!

Not surprisingly, music has shown itself to be helpful in learning once again.    In fact, of my three children, Dallas, who has just turned 21 and was diagnosed with Aspergers just last year, but started vocal and piano lessons at 14, showed the most marked improvement, not only in vocal skills, but in problem solving, speech enunciation, concentration, focus, and memory enhancement. (an upgraded WordPress would allow some pretty cool home music performances on here!)  I regret not having started them all on piano and vocal lessons much earlier in life, but no use wallowing in guilt about something that cannot be changed.  However, if our experience will encourage anyone to consider such lessons for their children, starting as soon as possible, that’d be keen.  Formal lessons to start wouldn’t be necessary.  Just sing, clap, tap your toes with your children – you’ll have loads of fun, too!  As they progress, introduce more complicated rhythms and/or a foreign language fun song as well.  Those brain synapses will be stretching and growing all over!  Whether you are a home, government, or private educator – put some music in those young lives!  It’ll last a lifetime!

Nathan (in Yellow coat) as a student in Les Miserable performance by Carousel Productions, Macon, MO in March 2014.  Photo by Kelly Lewis Photography
Nathan (in Yellow coat) as a student in Les Miserable performance by Carousel Productions, Macon, MO in March 2014. Photo by Kelly Lewis Photography

Speech therapy?!   Try SING therapy!

A Musical Fix for U.S. Schools – an essay by Ms Joanne Lipman for the Wall Street Journal  This essay, once again, explains the importance of music in our lives. Sadly, government and some private schools put this on the chopping block far too often.

Jessica performing at the piano at Central Methodist University her freshman year - 2010 - SAI music fraternity annual recital in Linn Memorial United Methodist Church.
Jessica performing at the piano at Central Methodist University her sophomore year – 2010 – SAI music fraternity annual recital in Linn Memorial United Methodist Church.

Jessica was very active in the music department through college, having received a vocal scholarship and was involved with the Chorale group and Conservatory Singers choir.  Now graduated, spring of 2013, she teaches Kindergarten at The American School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where she also volunteers to direct the high school honor choir.  She continues to practice piano when she has time.  Dallas hasn’t put his musical skills to work yet, except to enjoy singing and making a joyful noise unto Yahweh!   His voice is well-suited for baritone parts.  He started out not even being able to hear a note on the piano and matching the pitch!  Nathan continues vocal lessons locally and last winter was involved with Carousel Productions in Macon, Missouri.  The six performances were sold out!  Though he had initially been rejected at his audition for singing parts, he showed up and did so much better during practices, that he eventually landed FOUR small parts in the productions.  Les Misérables has always been one of our favourite shows, so it was especially sweet that he was able to participate.

Shabbat Shalom!