Les Misérables: The Musical Phenomenon

“Les Misérables” has always and forever will be one of Broadway’s dearest and most beloved musicals of all time. Audiences around the globe have fallen in love with this iconic work, based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name. “Les Misérables includes three of the most recognizable songs of musical theater repertoire: “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” and “Bring Him Home.” It is very exciting that the Western Carolina University Musical Theater Department has chosen this epic work to include in its mainstage season.

 “Les Misérables” travels with prisoner-on-parole, 24601, Jean Valjean, as he runs from the ruthless Inspector Javert on a journey beyond the barricades, at the center of the June Rebellion in France during the 19th century. Meanwhile, the life of a working class girl with a child is at turning point as she turns to prostitution to pay money to the evil innkeeper and his wife who look after her child, Cosette. Valjean promises to take care of the child, Cosette. Over time, the tale evolves into a beautiful love triangle between Cosette, Marius, a student of the rebellion, and Eponine, a girl of the streets. The people sing of their anger and Enjolras leads the students to fight upon the barricades.

When deciding to produce a musical like “Les Misérables,” those in charge must question if they have the resources to fulfill the demands brought forth by such a huge production. The run time for this production totals two hours and 40 minutes according to music director Nathan Thomas.

“The greatest challenge for us was the time frame that we had to put this production together. The orchestra and I only had a few days to rehearse two hours and 40 minutes worth of music, difficult music, and then bring it together with the performers,” said Thomas.

WCU’s rendition of “Les Misérables” includes over 400 costumes according to costume designer Susan Brown-Strauss. Although many of the pieces were pulled from wardrobe, Brown-Strauss and costume shop manager, Tony Sirk, sewed the majority of the costumes by hand, with the help of a few compensated student workers, as well as student volunteers.

 Auditions for the WCU Musical Theater Department’s production of “Les Misérables” were held late last fall. The audition day brought in over 50 people according to junior Maximilian Koger who plays several minor roles in the production.

 Koger said, “…the audition day was no longer than a few hours. I expected it to be longer because there were so many people. It was also great to see many other students who were not musical theater majors come out and audition; some of them were even cast.”

 In fact, the role of Marius will be played by junior Shane Dinan, an occupational therapy and music double major. Several students in the musical theater department were shocked to see a non-musical theater major fill one of the major roles in the show. Dinan, however, is no stranger to the stage. Dinan has played a plethora of leading roles in his hometown community theater. In addition, Dinan is a veteran of the WCU Catamount Singers ensemble, and has been a featured soloist with the WCU Concert Choir.

  Dinan said, “The biggest challenge for me being cast as Marius is that I am not used to performing for the amount of people that I will be performing for this weekend. It was nerve-wracking because I felt like I have to prove myself to my musical theater counterparts. At first I was very intimidated, but over time, each cast member began to realize that the right decision was made in terms of me being cast in the role of Marius. We all love each other, and this process has been one of the most amazing times of my life.”

 Dinan’s voice will melt the hearts of each and every individual in the audience. Dinan’s smooth and sultry timbre no doubt takes the charm of Marius to the next level.

 The best aspect of WCU’s rendition of “Les Misérables” is the fact that there is no weak moment or cast member in all of the two hours and forty minutes worth of art. In college theater, departments are sometimes at risk with of individuals who may not be equally strong as vocally strong as his/her other cast members. This is not the case for WCU’s production of “Les Misérables.” Each and every individual cast in this production proved to be just as strong as the others with whom they shared the stage. This aspect of the show will keep audiences engaged from start to finish. Although each cast member proved his or her strong acting and vocal abilities, there were four standout cast members in this production, Dinan being one of them.

Tierney Cody, senior Bachelor of Fine Arts Musical Theater major, has had quite an impressive undergraduate career with the WCU Department of Musical Theater. In her freshman year, Cody was cast as Maureen in WCU’s production of “Rent. Cody also was cast as Mrs. Lovette in “Sweeney Todd” and Diana in “Next to Normal” which was performed last semester.

 “There is no pressure with playing one of the most iconic roles in the history of musical theater,” Cody said jokingly. “The greatest challenge for me was figuring out how to tackle ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ because that song is the most famous song in the show. I had to figure out how to make it my own, and to captivate the audience so that they would not be like, ‘Oh gosh. Not this song.”

Cody’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” is one of the highlight moments of the entire show. This heart-wrenching aria will drive one to tears because of Cody’s superb vocal ability, in addition to her strong acting skills. After graduating in May, Cody will be touring along the east coast with the Bright Star Touring Theater.

 Another stand out cast member of this production is senior Alex Hairston. Hairston was cast as Mimi in WCU’s production of “Rent” her freshman year as well. Hairston plays the part of Madame Thénardier. Hairston’s role provides several moments of comedic relief amidst moments of pain and heart-break audience members will experience throughout the show. The hilarity of Hairston’s role will keep audience members laughing hysterically.

 The final stand out cast member of this production is junior transfer student Chase Edward McCall who plays the lead role: Jean Valjean. McCall is brand new to the WCU Department of Musical Theater.

According to McCall, this is his very first lead in a musical, “My interest in musical theater started six years ago. I fell in love with everything about this art form. I have worked so hard and waited so long for my time to fulfill a leading role. When the directors announced the mainstage season, I worked so hard to prepare my audition in order to fulfill the role of Valjean. This is the greatest moment in my theatrical career thus far.”

 McCall has one of the best voices on the WCU campus. When the time came to fill the role of Valjean, one could argue that this was a no-brainer. McCall’s bright voice soars across the orchestra. McCall proved to conquer the vocal demands that are required of one cast as Valjean. McCall’s expansive vocal range was effortlessly portrayed.

 McCall said,  “The hardest part for me was not the music actually. It was the acting. This show demands great acting from each and every cast member, but especially Valjean. Valjean is such a complicated character. I had to do so much research if I was to perform this part, and perform it well. I actually read the entire novel. All 1600 pages of it. This is my debut leading role…and I want to make all of the audience to remember this moment.”

The most unique aspect of WCU’s production of “Les Misérables” is that it is directed by Tony Award nominee, Terrence Mann. Mann originated the role of Inspector Javert on Broadway in 1987. To have a legendary Broadway star of his stature actually directing WCU students is a feat not many other college musical theater departments get the luxury of experiencing.

 Mann said, “This was truly an amazing experience for me. I have directed this show once before, but the quality of talent I got to work with over the past few months has just been a wonderful experience. I have wanted to bring Les Misérables to the Cullowhee community for quite some time. I am so thrilled that we finally got to do this production. Education is one of the most important things to me. I think that it is very important to educate our children to be artistic and to embrace their artistic ability. The theater teaches children many great things. Among those things is that each child can discover new things about himself/herself that he/she may or may not have known. I cannot stress enough that each American citizen has a civic duty to advocate the arts and to keep the arts alive in our communities and in our homes.”

 WCU’s Department of Musical Theater production of “Les Misérables”is the best production to have hit the Bardo Arts Center. This will surely be a memorable moment in WCU history.