Gilbert

The Gilbert thespians in Places! Productions’ “Les Misérables” include, from left, Hyrum McClure, Piper Searcy, Jackson Wood, Ava Saba, Ashton Churchill, Phoenix Moore, Sam Shaw, Sarah Chandler, Lauren Devey, Gracie Cook and Samuel Trudelle. (David Minton/GSN Staff Photographer)

It’s been seen by more than 70 million people, performed in more than 40 countries and in 22 languages, and its music is some of the most celebrated in theatrical history.

And soon, Places! Productions will bring the epic musical to the East Valley with its staging of “Les Misérables School Edition.”

Producing a show of such magnitude and fame is no small undertaking – but Places! has assembled exactly the right cast to pull it off.

The group of 50 youth, including 18 Gilbert actors, will perform Dec. 17-20 at East Valley High School, located at 7420 E. Main St. in Mesa, with a second run planned Jan. 20-22, 2023, at the Mesa Arts Center. 

“Les Mis” focuses on the tumultuous world of Jean Valjean, a former convict who spends a lifetime seeking redemption.

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France and the aftermath of the French Revolution, this timeless story of intertwined destinies reveals the power of compassion and the quiet evil of indifference to human suffering. 

The role of Valjean is played by 17-year-old Jackson Wood of Gilbert.

 “His character is so kind,” said Jackson. “He will go out of his way to make sure no one has to go through all of the pain and suffering he went through.”

All of the passion and drama of the original Broadway production is replicated in the student version – especially with a cast like this one.

Despite its deep storyline and weighty themes, the performers, most of whom are in high school, pull it off with a maturity and talent that bely their youth.

Said 15-year-old Sarah Chandler of Gilbert, “I enjoy seeing the cast blossom into mesmerizing performers. From day one, I cried watching my fellow actors in auditions, and to this day, I still cry being in their presence.”

Ava Saba, 16, plays Eponine, a role she shares with Abby Springer of Mesa. She says this opportunity is a dream come true. 

“I wanted to participate in this show because Eponine has been a dream role for me for so many years and I saw my chance to be her,” said Ava. 

It’s a dream for Sarah, too. 

“I have been listening to ‘Les Mis’ since I was 8 years old and it was one of the first shows that introduced me to musical theatre,” she said. “There was no way that I could pass taking this opportunity.”

Added Jackson: “The reason I wanted to participate in this show is because ‘Les Mis’ has always been one of my all-time favorite musicals.”

The songs are a big reason for “Les Mis’” worldwide fame.

With music by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the score includes beloved ballads like “On My Own” and “Bring Him Home” as well as high-impact ensemble numbers including “At the End of the Day” and “One Day More.” 

Allison Houston of Queen Creek is the director and music director of “Les Mis” and the founding artistic director of Places! She is confident the cast will do these songs justice.

“I think audiences will be amazed by the emotion and voices of these young performers,” she said. “I hope they will be moved by the message of this powerful piece.” 

Tim Mills of Chandler, the show’s assistant director, is quick to agree.

“This is probably the most talented cast we’ve ever assembled, and we’ve had some very talented casts in the past,” he said. 

“I think the audience will be amazed with the amount of emotion we are able to portray in this show, and how moved they will be by it,” said Ava. “People who aren’t familiar with the show before seeing it will be amazed with how touching, but real, the story is. 

For the last three months, the cast has been hard at work developing their characters.

 “The hardest part of the show would be doing it every night over and over,” said Jackson. “This is a very vocally and physically demanding show.”

Sarah is a member of the ensemble and also performs as a swing.

“A swing essentially learns the entire show and goes on as a different character at a moment’s notice, if needed,” she explained.

“During the Sunday performances, I take on a few extra roles for actors that will not be able to perform that day. Luckily, I have known the music of ‘Les Misérables’ for years, so it is easy to pick up the extra lines.”

Houston said the directing team and cast have taken great pains with every aspect of this production, from the set design and costuming to the choreography and character development.

“We have spent a lot of time going back to the source material, the masterpiece that is Victor Hugo’s novel,” she said.

“We’ve discussed the characters in depth, including their stories not in the musical, and have a wonderful dramaturg, Kasey Ray. Many of the details you see in the costumes, props, set and staging are from the book.” 

Added Lily Saba, the show’s choreographer, “We really wanted it to look natural so the dances blend in rather than everyone just breaking out in a dance.”

“Even our most experienced actors are so willing to learn and interested in any direction we provide,” said Mills. “There is an uncommon amount of heart and dedication in this group. They all want to create the best possible product and will do whatever it takes.”

Amid the hard work of learning their parts, cast members are building friendships and having fun, too. 

“My favorite part of the rehearsal process for this show is how close I’ve gotten with each and every person,” said Ava. “Everyone in this show is so devoted to making it an incredible experience for the audience and the cast.” 

Jackson agrees.

“The thing I enjoy most would have to be hanging out with the people. Everyone in the cast is so amazingly talented and just overall good people,” he said.

As for the directing team, they’re overwhelmed with pride at what this cast has accomplished. 

“I am extremely proud of these kids,” said Saba. “This show is not easy and deals with some really hard topics, and they are handling it with such grace. I end up in tears every time I hear them sing.” 

“This cast is incredibly talented, hardworking, and most importantly, kind and supportive,” said Houston. “They have been amazing at balancing this heavy material with having fun in the rehearsal process.

“They are a huge age range, and it has been amazing seeing the young learn from the old and the old learn from the young.” 

“Les Misérables School Edition” is specially adapted and licensed through Music Theatre International and Cameron Mackintosh (Overseas) LTD. It is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International.

Tickets for “Les Mis” are $15 and can be purchased at placesproductionsaz.com. The run includes both matinee and evening performances at East Valley High School and at the Mesa Arts Center. Discounts are available for teachers, seniors, veterans, first responders and students. Group discounts are also available.