The Onteora High School auditorium will be transformed into 19th century France on April 28, 29, and 30, as the Onteora Music Department presents Les Misérables (School Edition), a musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s epic historical novel. Adding to the poignancy of students playing the revolutionary youth at the Paris barricades, this production will mark the farewell of music director Krista Cayea, who is moving on in June, after 33 years of teaching music at Onteora.
“Krista’s going out with a bang,” said director Tori McCarthy. “This is a massive musical.”
Cayea has taught voice and piano, directed the high school and middle school choruses as well as the vocal jazz ensemble, and served as musical director for many student musicals. She plans to take six months to do “nothing much, some travel. Then will I do some accompanying, singing on my own terms, and maybe private teaching.”
Les Miz contains complex music, and the entire story is told in song. Although the student version cuts back on some of the music, it creates a problem by eliminating set changes. “I guess they didn’t expect a high school would make such an ambitious set,” said McCarthy, who brought along several cohorts from STS Playhouse, including Ken Haaland, Burr Hubbell, and Terrence Boyer, who have constructed an elaborate set. At a recent rehearsal, multi-tiered wooden platforms framed the stage, and students were twining ivy around a grill gate. Other STS regulars include Chris Bick as stage manager and Tori’s sister, Amber McCarthy, as choreographer. Amber has added dance routines not in the original, allowing the ensemble members to strut their stuff.
The play, set in the tumultuous period leading up to the Paris Uprising of 1832, tells the tale of Jean Valjean, a man who struggles to reclaim his life after serving a prison sentence for stealing bread to feed his sister’s starving children. He is pursued by the relentless Police Inspector Javert, who is determined to return him to jail. The play reaches its climax on the streets of Paris during the uprising.
The 40 actors range from 7th- to 12th-graders, many taking multiple roles. “Some of them are just a little younger than the students on the barricades,” said Tori. “Several of them die. It’s tough for us to watch.”
At Monday’s rehearsal, the leads, clearly at ease with each other, sat in the auditorium and discussed the show’s challenges. Will Davis, who plays Valjean, performed with the orchestra in last year’s musical and decided to audition for an acting part this time around. As characters are injured or dying during the barricade scene, he said, “It’s hectic, and I’m running up and down, carrying people all over the place.” He’s been working out to facilitate his carrying duties.
Kalena Kwiecinski (Fantine) said of her death scene, “It’s hard to get into your emotions and still be able to sing.”
Trinity Luther (Éponine) agreed that death scenes are difficult. “When I’m dead up there, I’m fighting the urge to laugh because you guys are looking at me.”
Baileigh Griese (Cosette) finds theater stressful. “Everyone is working super hard,” she said, “but it pays off.”
Spencer Estes (Marius) observed, “My character is oblivious to things around him. He makes choices I would not have made, and I have to live through it. But it’s also fun to play a different kind of person.”
Evan Puccini (Inspector Javert) said, “It’s fun being the badass. I like chasing Valjean and never catching him.” At Javert’s moment of truth, said Puccini, “I realize men can change.”
The Onteora High School Music Department presents Les Misérables on April 28 and April 29 at 7 p.m. and April 30 at 2 p.m. at Onteora High School/Middle School on Route 28 in Boiceville. Tickets are $15 for adults, and $10 for students and senior citizens. Tickets can also be reserved by calling 845-657-2373, Ext. 2210. Please leave a message with your name, phone number, show date, and how many tickets you’d like.