Local theater group tackles dream show: ‘Les Miserables’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 October 2013 at 12:10 pm

‘We’ve been trying to push the envelope.’ – Co-director Lance Anderson, who stars as Jean Valjean

Photos by Tom Rivers – An anguished Fantine (Kaylee Jakubowski) sings the famous song, ‘I Dreamed A Dream,’ after she is forced into prostitution.

One of the classic songs from the musical includes ‘The Innkeeper’s Song’ (Master of the House).

MIDDLEPPORT – It’s a role that Lance Anderson says he has been dreaming about for more than two decades: Jean Valjean, a bread thief who turns mayor and saintly father figure in ‘Les Miserables.’

The epic musical became available to community theater groups for the first time last December. Anderson, an Albion native and veteran of the Lake Plains Players, called daily for several months, trying to secure the rights to the show for the Players.

He landed it over the summer, and in August, a 78-member cast began rehearsals. After three months of work, the cast and crew, which range from age 8 to their 70s, will perform the show Friday through Sunday at the Roy-Hart High School Auditorium.

Lance Anderson plays Jean Valjean, here shown as prisoner No. 24601. Anderson said he has longed to portray Valjean.

For Anderson and the theater enthusiasts, it’s the chance of the lifetime, performing one of the world’s most famous and successful musicals.

“We’ve been trying to push the envelope,” Anderson, 48, said before tonight’s final dress rehearsal. Last year he directed ‘Sweeney Todd.’

Anderson first performed with the players in 1987 in ‘Evita.’ The Spencerport resident gives voice lessons for a living. He loves community theater, how a group that includes many people new to the stage can come together and put on a quality show.

The Lake Plains Players include many Orleans County residents, with others in the cast from as far away as Rochester and many Erie and Niagara County communities.

The cast, including these peasants shown from the docks, total 78 people, including children as young as 8.

Anderson said the organization, now in its 31st, had been struggling and almost folded four years ago because there weren’t enough male performers. The group decided to try even more challenging shows, which attracted more talent to the stage. The crowds also grew, putting more money in Lake Plains coffers to then pay for more ambitious shows.

Jake Hayes, 23, of Albion is doing his first Lake Plains show. A former lead perfomer at Albion High School, Hayes earned a degree in marketing and communications from Pace University in New York City. ‘Les Mis’ was on Broadway when he was at NYC.

Rich Ferris, center, is making his debut in community theater with ‘Les Miserables.’ Ferris works as a paralegal for District Attorney Joe Cardone.

He is thrilled to be part of the show at Middleport. He is playing Marius, one of the young revolutionaries in the show set in France in 1862. He marries Cosette, the daughter of Fantine.

“They are giving people an opportunity to do what they love,” Hayes said about the Lake Plains Players. “It’s great opportunity for my family and friends to come see me.”

Hayes wasn’t sure what levels of talent would be on stage, and he said many of the performers and crew are high caliber.

Lance Anderson has the role of Jean Valjean, left, and Tyler Weymouth plays his nemesis, Inspector Javert, who ruthlessly pursues Valjean.

“It has been mind-blowing to see the talent in this show,” Hayes said. “It’s insane the talent we have here.”

Nick Russo of Albion is running the lights and sound for the show, his biggest show in his 13 years in the business. Russo, like everyone else in the production, isn’t getting paid. But he said he wouldn’t miss the chance to be a part of it.

“It’s that high level and iconic show,” he said.

The show has many difficult themes, including when Fantine, a poor worker who loses her job and turns to prostitution for money to care for her daughter, Cosette. Fantine would die of consumption and Valjean would step in and watch after the girl.

Kaylee Jakubowski plays Fantine, center, who loses her job and faces many desperate choices to care for her illegitimate daughter.

“It’s a dark show, but there’s a high message about what people are willing to do and sacrifice for those that they love,” he said.

Diane Thurber directed many of the Lyndonville High School musicals in a career that earned the school many awards for its theater program. Once she retired, she joined the Players and is co-directing the show. Thurber heaped praise on the group tonight during the final rehearsal.

Diane Thurber, co-director of the show, gives the cast a pep talk before the final rehearsal.

“You are primed for perfection,” she told the cast tonight. “You are doing an amazing job. I have never worked with a more talented, committed and giving group.”

The shows will be Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information on tickets and the Lake Plains Players, click here.