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Showstoppers Theatre Brings ‘Les Misérables’ to Life

Students ages 11 to 18 infuse the demanding musical with spirit to create leading performances

The production Les Misérables is, by anyone’s standards, an ambitious and demanding musical. For six weeks, the Showstoppers Theatre Productions cast and crew, made up of students ages 11 to 18, worked diligently to create a resounding performance under the direction of Radu Azdril. However, the musical would not have been possible without the invaluable instruction of music director Eleni Pantages and acting coach Gary Fields.

Unlike many musicals, Les Misérables is entirely sung, making it more of an opera than traditional musical theater productions. The repertoire reflects an extensive array of themes including the daily battle to survive, the enduring power of love and redemption’s struggle against the unforgiving word of law, all of which are set to complex piano accompaniment and intricate melodies. Thus, it is essential that every soloist and chorus member give each carefully enunciated phrase inflections and personality in order to express the story effectively. But before that can be done, the music must be learned.

Over the many weeks of rehearsal, Pantages and Fields ensured the entire cast was capable of singing four-part harmony and counterpoint with clear diction and accurate execution. From the breakneck verses of “At the End of the Day” to the triumphant cut-offs in “The People’s Song,” these Showstoppers alumni patiently helped our singing become and remain outstanding.

Once the chorus songs were learned, it was time to pump up the personality behind each character and bring the musical to life. At this point, Pantages and Fields began working separately with different members of the cast. Pantages, who also sang the warnings of the army officer from offstage and helped with the soundboard, worked more in depth with smaller groups and individual soloists on vocals.  In these one-on-one sessions, Pantages gave cast members a chance to gain confidence in their singing without the pressure of being surrounded by all their peers.

She helped solidify notes and worked out troublesome harmonies while always making sure we could get our questions answered and receive guidance if needed. In the quieter atmosphere of her individual instruction, Pantages helped each cast member she worked with feel comfortable singing his or her part in the musical. With this chance to develop our characters, everyone from the most seasoned thespian to the shyest recluse blossomed and was ready to thrive on stage.

Singing nonstop for a show as long as Les Misérables can get painfully dull for the performers, as well as the audience if the music is not made conversational and the acting engaging. To make sure the audience would be absorbed in the lives of each beggar, student and wretch, Fields worked with individuals on acting techniques and helped the group animate the chorus numbers. His instruction covered everything from the most minute character quirk to what the entire cast should be expressing en mass.

Music director Eleni Pantages, left, acting coach Gary Fields, director Radu Azdril and costume director Marian Azdril helped guide the Showstoppers Theatre production of Les Misérables
Music director Eleni Pantages, left, acting coach Gary Fields, director Radu Azdril and costume director Marian Azdril helped guide the Showstoppers Theatre production of Les Misérables. (Gregory Pantages photo)

For instance, he taught a girl how to swing her arms like the man she was playing in order to create a more convincing performance. During “The People’s Song,” he challenged us to root ourselves in such a stance that we would not topple over while singing if he gave us a little shove. Fields hammered the living conditions of the beggars, the opinions of the revolutionaries and the feelings of every downtrodden Frenchman in the musical into our consciousness so that we could enrich and substantiate our characters. From the many soliloquies to the all-cast chorus numbers, Fields led by example through his depiction of Javert and encouraged us to portray a distinct and committed person living in that moment.

In Les Misérables, the cast and crew expended an incredible amount of energy from auditions and the building of the sets to the final curtain call. Countless hours of hard work ended in a remarkable triumph that drove many to vow their return next summer. Nevertheless, the production would not have been possible without the help of many additional volunteers.

Many thanks to David Holmes, who shared his expert advice and knowledge of Les Misérables, and San Marcos High School for lending costumes and other resources.

Thank you also to La Colina Junior High School for use of its facilities, The Granada for its technical support, the Showstoppers Theatre Production board and, of course, Radu and Marian Azdril, without whom we would not have had the opportunity to enjoy performing such a great work.

Last but certainly not least, thank you to Pantages and Fields, whose time and commitment to the show helped make Showstoppers’ production of Les Misérables a success. Though many have expressed their wishes that this show would never end, at the end of the play there is another play dawning and another show’s curtains are waiting to rise.

— Chrysanthe Pantages is a sophomore at San Marcos High School.

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