Imagine being so desperate that you steal a loaf of bread for your sister’s starving child. Imagine being put in prison 19 years for that crime.
That’s the story of French peasant Jean Valjean and his quest for redemption, told in “Les Misérables School Edition.” The epic tale of loss, love and rebellion comes to the Peoria stage Sept. 9–25, opening Theater Works’ 31st season.
The YouthWorks production is set in 19th-century France, and its powerful lyrics and haunting melodies pack an emotional wallop. Also part of the story are a kindly bishop, a not-so-merciful police inspector and a group of young idealists caught up in revolutionary France.
“Les Misérables” began as a French historical novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862. A musical based on the novel ran on Broadway from 1987-2003 and won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. “Les Misérables School Edition” was adapted for high-school performers.
The YouthWorks presentation brings with it some impressive talent. Musically directing the memorable score is James May, replacement conductor for the Broadway “Les Misérables” company.
Directing a large cast of 38 gifted young actors (the oldest of which is 18) is original Broadway “Les Misérables” cast member Kelli James. A top vocal coach and director, James appeared in Theater Works’ “Follies,” has received several AriZoni Award nominations for acting and directing, and won an AriZoni Award for original choreography for Valley Youth Theatre’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
Chris Hamby, Theater Works’ newly appointed artistic director, says it’s important for audiences to know that although this production is titled “School Edition,” it “has only slight differences and subtle changes from the original Broadway production.”
“The talent of the cast and the epic scale of the show will make you forget these are young performers,” Hamby says.
One of those talented performers is Julian Mendoza in the lead role of Jean Valjean. Other theater credits for the Arizona State University freshman include Rapunzel’s Prince in “Into the Woods” and Gad in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” for Valley Youth Theatre. For Studio 3, he played Pharaoh in “Joseph,” and he was a storm trooper soloist in “The Producers” for Greasepaint Youtheatre.
Trey DeGroodt plays Javert, the police inspector whose view of justice has no room for mercy. The 18-year-old actor and cosmetologist is a recent graduate of Peoria’s Liberty High School and Cutting Edge Style Academy. Acting credits include Princeton in “Avenue Q: School Edition” at Desert Foothills Theater and Nicky in “Avenue Q: School Edition” at Theater Works. He also appeared as Paul in “A Chorus Line” and La Cienega in “Bring It On” for Spotlight Youth Theatre. He has handled hair and makeup design for a number of shows over the years and received several nominations for his work.
The tragic figure of Fantine is portrayed by Addison Bowman, a 15-year-old sophomore at Sandra Day O’Connor High School. Kathlynn Rodin, a 17-year-old senior at Arcadia High School, takes the role of Fantine’s daughter, Cosette, left at first with an abusive couple but later rescued by Valjean.
Additional notable roles are Eponine, played by Sarah Pansing, a 15-year-old sophomore at Arizona School for the Arts; Madame Thenardier, played by Quincy Anntinette Janisse, a 15-year-old attending Boulder Creek High School in Anthem and Thenardier, played by Sam Primack, a sophomore at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, who has been actively involved in theater since age 4.
Theater Works suggests that “Les Misérables School Edition” is appropriate for ages 13 and up.
If you go: Sept. 9-25; 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Gyder Theater at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, 8355 W. Peoria Ave. $16. 623-815-7930 or theaterworks.org.