To the Barricades, Vol. 6

Les Misérables the musical, was written based on Les Misérables the novel by Victor Hugo.  It is a truncation of a book that is both epic in scope and deep in terms of story and character development.  It's also an intimidatingly large tome that goes on forever.

"Each character is introduced by themselves - a novel within the novel - before they are woven into the story," shared director Claude Giroux in his opening remarks at last night's rehearsal, which included presentations of both the costume and set designs and a full sing through of the show.

"Hugo asserts that love and compassion are the most important gifts a person can give another," he said.  "It is only by learning to love others that we can someday be successful.  This is also a play about rebirth, redemption, tolerance and forgiveness."

"And yes, in my mind this is a play," he said.  "There is no glitz and glam to this show, it is a beautiful story told through music."

He urged us to consider and keep the word "Grace" in our thoughts as we continue through this process.

"The dictionary defines grace as: to do honour or give credit," he said.

"We are going to do honour to this story through everything that we do."

He asked us to consider our own lives and experiences, and reflect on three different things:

1) A time that we forgave someone for something that was very difficult to forgive
2) A time that someone forgave us for something that we did that would have been equally difficult for that person to forgive, and
3) A kindness that was given or done to us that changed everything - a game changer

All of a sudden, using this simple exercise, over 50 of us were tapping into our emotional vaults, personally connecting with the heart of Les Misérables.

I felt so honoured being among this dedicated and talented cast and crew last night as we sang through the entire show.  There were a number of times as I watched and listened that I was overwhelmed by the beauty of what I was experiencing.  Despite suffering through sore throats and colds, Tim Heggie and Sheldon Dahl did amazingly well in the lead roles of Valjean and Javert.  Kelli Northrup, Diana Moser and Lindsay Ingersoll were particularly striking last night, as were so many of the ensemble, belting out their solos, large and small.

Going through the singing phase of this rehearsal process, I get to sit next to some of the youngest and most delightful members of the cast.  Grace Lima and Amrita Mosale, sharing the role of young Cosette, and Reese Stanley, playing Gavroche, are doing such wonderful jobs.

There have been a few cast changes since we left for Christmas holidays, caused by emergent work conflicts and other things.  Greg Lupul has stepped into the vocally demanding role of Enjolras.  He's a great addition to the ensemble and has bravely stepped up to play the lead revolutionary.  I'm so glad he's with us.

As we were in Mexico, we missed a few singing rehearsals that happened early in the New Year.  I heard compelling accounts of the impact that Kyle Beeson, a pipeline operator working in the oil sands, was having as Marius, particularly during his emotionally heart-wrenching "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" solo near the end of the show.

"It was the first time that any of us, except for Susan (Music Director), had heard him sing it," said Steph Link, stage manager.  "When he was done, our jaws were hanging on the floor."

In this context, my expectations were stratospheric as he launched into Marius's beautiful song eulogizing and grieving the loss of his revolutionary comrades.  Among a stellar cast of principles with an excess of talent and experience, Beeson, as a theatrical first-timer, demonstrated unparalleled instinct, natural skill, and emotional depth.  I, too, was speechless as he finished the song.

"Oh my goodness," I muttered to myself under my breath.  It was one of the most beautiful performances I had ever seen.

Goosebumps and shivers were in abundance last night.  We are about to dive into a frenetic couple of days of initial blocking, an element of Claude Giroux's directing style that I've become quite familiar with after going through several productions with him over the years.

"At this stage I work very quickly," he said to the cast.  "You're going to find that the next few rehearsals are going to be crazy fast.  I'll have to ask for your patience.  I tend to slow things down the further along we go in the process."

Les Misérables opens on February 14.  There is no doubt in my mind that it will be one of the most remarkable productions that Fort McMurray has ever seen, both in terms of scope and scale, and in terms of emotional impact.  We are going to keep "grace" in our hearts and minds, and honour this beautiful story.  We hope that you will grace us with your presence.

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