Les Misérables is the most popular and longest-running musical in the world.
It has been translated into 21 languages and performed in 43 countries. The production recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and audiences are still crazy about it.
Les Misérables – School Edition will be at the Sid Williams Theatre July 24 to 28. The mega-scale production is this year’s Comox Valley Music Centre’s musical theatre offering.
More than 40 students, ranging in age from 12 to 18 are taking part in the show. Many participants who “eat, breath and live theatre” are from the Comox Valley. And some are from other locales — one lives in California and another, who attends school at Shawnigan Lake, postponed his return home to South Africa to attend CYMC.
Written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg and based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Mis is a story about love and betrayal, redemption and revolution and the indomitable strength of the spirit. It is an incredibly challenging production involving a large cast, an exceptional number of songs and dances, complex sets and a slew of costumes to make — all within 23 days.
The students are in good hands, however. Director Lori Mazey has been teaching drama, first at Lake Trail and then Vanier since 1993. She has directed many award-winning productions and is the author of Torn Rainbow, Sticks & Stones & Names May Break Me, a play that explores homophobia, racism and hate speech in schools. Mazey directed CYMC’s A Chorus Line last year.
“Putting together a show in the amount of time you have with CYMC is always a challenge,” she acknowledges. “And I’ve learned through all the musicals I’ve directed that the moment you think, ‘This one will be easy’ is the moment you are in big trouble.
“And Les Mis has many challenges. There are hundreds of period props and period specific costumes which couldn’t be made or finished until we cast the show on July 1, which means Molly Hilliar and her team only have three weeks to complete hundreds of costumes.”
“There’s lots of choreography, which our director of dance and choreography, Lindsay Sterk. takes care of,” Mazy continues. “And the whole show is sung so that means more work for everyone as learning music tends to take longer than the spoken word. But the bulk of the work is the responsibility of our musical director, Heather Burns. She has to cover two and a half hours of music with both the singers and the orchestra. On top of all that, the acting and roles are exceptionally challenging and require a great deal of maturity for this young cast to share an incredible story.”
Mazey notes that everyone that signs up for CYMC’s musical theatre is prepared to work long hours every day and to give it their all. She admits that occasionally a student finds it overwhelming; the staff pays attention to how everyone is doing and makes adjustments as necessary.
“It’s a lot of 12 hour days for the instructors, too,” Mazey says. “Challenges can arise as the personalities work together but it can often – as with this team – lead to increased creativity and fantastic teamwork. And there is a huge advantage to having an artistic team rather than just one director as you can spell each other off. It can be exhausting but is definitely worth it!”
Mazey got the theatre bug early.
“I started dancing when I was 3 but I didn’t really know what theatre was until Grade 4 when my class from Glacier View attended a performance of Peter Pan at Puntledge Elementary,” she says. “After that I was so excited to go to Puntledge the next year and take part in their shows.”
Attending the musical theatre program at CYMC was a natural progression.
As for her chosen path in theatre she says, “I find directing much more rewarding than acting. I love working with a fantastic team to realize a vision and bring stories to the incredible Comox Valley audiences. I love musicals and Les Mis is my favourite.”
CYMC’s Les Mis runs at the Sid from July 24 to 28 at 7:30 p.m. with a bonus 2 p.m. matinee on the 28th. Tickets, at $23 for evening shows and $21 for the matinee, are available at the theatre box office.