Victor Hugo’s novel of a complicated love affair, suffering and redemption spans 1,500 pages, but the Payson High School thespians pulled it off with aplomb.
“The kids were excited about the project from day one,” said Director Thomas Walling.
Hugo set Les Miserables between the years of 1815 and 1832, the year of the bloody June Revolution. The characters represent the different troubles of the day, a woman with a child born out of wedlock, a man jailed for stealing bread to feed his starving family and a policeman trapped by his commitment to duty.
Instead of the intricate scripts done by Hollywood and Broadway, Walling used an adaptation of Hugo’s work by Tim Kelly, who writes for high school thespians.
Kelly used a Victor Hugo narrator character (played by Daniel Walling) that sped up the narrative and compressed the years covered by the book. Still, the tech department had to perform heroic feats changing sets.
Walling said, “I read the script this summer and was impressed with all the places represented,” he said, “I decided to use five towers.”
The towers rotated to form diverse scenes, including the office of Inspector Javert to Lafayette Park, an inn, a factory, an estate, a priest’s house, a court room — and the crowing glory – the barricade.
“By the end of the summer we had all of the furniture built, but I could see it would take too much to have all that taken on and off the stage in the time we had,” said Walling.
So he filled the five towers with furniture and had the techs and actors pull down the front of a tower like a drawbridge to expose piles of furniture inside. Then the actors added a few pieces of furniture on the stage itself to complete the setting.
Along with lighting, it worked as well as the professional versions – requiring a huge effort by the students who moved the props all night.
Jason Lemmon volunteered time to help. “It was hard work to shift sets between scenes,” he said.
“It hasn’t settled in yet that this is opening night,” said Cody Rislund who played the lead — Jean Valjean. He even sacrificed his mop of hair for the role.
So did Steven Martinez, who played Marius, Cosette’s love interest. “We built this from the ground up — everything came from our store room,” said Martinez.
For other productions, such as Beauty and the Beast, the Payson Theatre Department used costumes and sets from other schools.
On opening night, the actors knew they had the season on the line. “Thomas told us one of these three nights we will be judged for the state competition,” said Rislund, “He just didn’t tell us which night.”
Walling said the last time the Payson Theatre Department went to state competitions was in 2002. “I want to impress the judges,” said Walling, “This is one of the best selling books of all times.”