Actor Lowrey Brown, left, who plays the character "Enjolras" and a group of students prepare for the performance of the Broadway classic Les Misérables during a rehearsal at the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville on July 9th. Les Misérables is the largest production in Aurora Theatre history and will run from July 25 - Sept. 8. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
'Les Mis' at the Aurora
To read the other installments of the three-part series, click below:
ACT I: The Rights
ACT III: The Production
Aurora Theatre prepares for Les Misérables production
Aurora Theatre prepares for Les Misérables production that will show in Lawrenceville July 25 - Sept. 8.
LAWRENCEVILLE — Before the cast could learn the music of “Les Miserables,” Music Director Ann-Carol Pence practiced for hours so she could help the actors through their parts.
“The score is wonderfully challenging though,” she said. “The composer Claude-Michel Schonberg incorporates about 10 themes and uses them so efficiently. It is going to be so exciting once the orchestra comes in. The show is ‘through-sung,’ meaning there is very little dialogue and there will be no break in the two-hour-and-40-minute score for the musicians. On a two-show Saturday that is going to be challenging.”
Once she felt comfortable, Pence worked with some actors who had more difficult parts in the musical.
“We receive the music, I plan how I want to organize music rehearsals to give everyone a chance to learn their vocals,” she said. “I worked with Bryant Smith (who plays Valjean) and Kevin Harry (Javert) before rehearsal started and I had one day with Michael Stiggers (Marius) and that really got us off to a great start.”
On June 27, the cast and crew met for the first time as a whole in the theater’s rehearsal hall, tucked away upstairs. With Pence leading the music and tissue boxes places on the long table, the “sing through” started in the stark, mirrored room.
Some of the actors stood while singing. Others stared at the ceiling to get into character. During the three-hour session, notes were missed and tears fell during the session, but the first gathering was seen as a great success.
“I think it went very well and was absolutely necessary for a show this size,” Anthony Rodriguez, the Aurora’s producing artistic director said. “Because the show is ‘sung through,’ there is an enormous amount of music for all the characters to learn. A few one-on-one sessions with Ann-Carol and the principals makes for a smoother process when putting the show together.”
The Aurora scheduled a total of four weeks for vocal practice. Pence said that’s more than most theater companies budget for musicals.
“We do this to give us time to address clear storytelling instead of just singing and dancing,” she said. “I want the actors to make big choices, not just sing pretty notes. I want them to have an investment in what their character’s journey is. If you are a blank slate with no ideas, you will probably find it difficult to work in our environment.”
Since the actors can’t work solely on their voices in rehearsal, they have to practice at home with a recording.
“Ann-Carol asks that each cast member bring a recording device of some kind to music rehearsals,” Rodriguez said. “Then each person can work at home on any of the rehearsed material.”
In addition to singing there is fancy footwork, created by choreographer Sarah Turner Sechelski, to work out. Sechelski isn’t trying to make the show a dance number, but the dancing puts emphasis on specific points in the plot.
“(The director) Justin (Anderson) and I got together months ago and talked through the show,” she said. “Even then I was really starting to get clear ideas in my mind of what I wanted this moment would look like or what another moment could look like.”
The characters don’t waltz around the stage. They move together with a purpose while singing about a revolutionary period in France — not the French Revolution.
Working with the actors has been fulfilling for Sechelski, who doesn’t usually work with professionals.
“You can tell these people are professional experienced actors,” she said. “Most of the choreography I’ve done is with high school kids. That’s all about spending days and days on a tiny step to get it perfect. These guys, you tell them once, they know what you’re taking about and they do it. These kind of rehearsals and moving forward is about making it absolutely stellar, which is awesome. When you start with greatness and move forward, all you can get is perfection.”
But the cast is going to continue rehearsing to find this perfection, which can be a feat according to the director.
“The challenge is to take the clarity of storytelling and emotional connectivity we’ve discovered with the music in the rehearsal hall and marry that to what our bodies are now doing on stage,” Anderson said. “It can get a little overwhelming with walking multiple floor patterns, navigating set pieces and remembering a wealth of choreography. But with every rehearsal, the actors learn to blend all of these elements more and more until it’s seamless.”
If you think that is a massive amount of work, the actors also need to learn how to work through prop exchanges and costume changes while storytelling through song.
In Sunday’s edition, the GDP looks at how the costumes and sets were designed.