Amidst Proctors’ busy Broadway season, packed with the likes of “Hamilton” and “Waitress,” is “Les Misérables,” a student-driven production that’s slated to take over the MainStage this weekend.
The show promises to be a feast for the eyes and ears.
“It’s going to be a spectacle,” said Toussaint Santicola Jones.
The 16-year-old Albany resident plays Javert in the production. It’s his first year in The School of the Performing Arts at Proctors, which is putting on the show. The program is less summer theater camp and more crash course in professional theater.
More than 70 teens from across the greater Capital Region and beyond are involved this year, according to Director Steven Yuhasz.
When he first talked with Proctors’ CEO Philip Morris about the program four years ago, Yuhasz said, “I don’t want to do a high school musical. I want to do a professional musical with high school students, and that’s the experience that they get here with us.”
There are three components to the program: the acting company, the production team and an orchestra. For a full month, students are at Proctors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday for rehearsals and workshops. Actors learn everything from stage combat to stage makeup, while students on the production side learn about sound and lighting, taking a tour of Adirondack Studios. Those who are in the orchestra participate in workshops on rhythm and technique with professional musicians.
“It’s a really comprehensive program,” Yuhasz said.
That’s exactly what Grace Roberts has found. The 15-year-old Schenectady High School student has been interested in theater for years.
“Throughout elementary school and middle school, I always wanted to be involved in a theater program. When I came to high school, I got involved in the Blue Roses Theatre Company. But there was nobody doing sound,” Roberts said.
With the help of a fellow student and a few adults, Roberts discovered how to work the sound system for the school’s productions. She’s worked on several productions, but nothing as big as “Les Misérables.”
“I’ve learned a lot about sound because I’m doing more than I do in school usually, and because this is such a big show. There [are] 43 mics. It’s such a huge production that it’s really keeping me on my toes,” Roberts said.
And although this is the school edition of the production, it’s still two and a half hours long.
“It’s a big show. There [are] over 330 pages of music,” Yuhasz said.
That music helps tell the poignant and classic story of Jean Valjean, who after years of unjust imprisonment gets out and tries to make the most of his life in France during the 19th century. Valjean eventually comes to own a factory and becomes mayor of a town. However, his criminal past comes back to haunt him when Javert, the chief of police, recognizes him and tries to bring him to justice.
Throughout the storyline, music is playing nearly the entire time, making the show challenging for the tech team as well as the orchestra.
“We spent the first four days, from 9 to 5, just learning the first act. Then we did the second act the second week, but it took that long to learn that much music. It’s nonstop. Plus the way the show is designed and written, there’s music continually underscoring what’s going on,” Yuhaz said, adding, “The orchestra students are going to get a workout, that’s for sure.”
Playing one of the lead roles has been a learning experience for Santicola Jones.
“I got into theater relatively recently, when I was a freshman. I started doing community theater because my sister had been doing it for a while, and for the longest time I had this aversion to it,” Santicola Jones said.
However, as an instrumentalist (he plays both saxophone and bass guitar), he finally decided to give it a try.
“I really fell in love with the mode of storytelling in musical theater, and this show is an amazing show to do, especially at Proctors, because everyone is so talented and the direction is amazing that it enhances the entire thing,” Santicola Jones said.
Being in “Les Misérables” has stretched his acting as well as his musical skills.
“I [learned] about how to maintain my voice. I’ve learned a lot about acting and how to manipulate my body to be able to act as if I’m speaking normally when I’m singing,” Santicola Jones said.
There are plenty of challenging songs and scenes — exactly why Yuhaz picked “Les Misérables.”
“I want to do something that’s classic that students may not have a chance to do in school. It gives the students an opportunity to really learn and to expand [their] craft and [their] confidence,” Yuhasz said.
It’s certainly done that for Santicola Jones and Roberts. The only thing that’s left to do is perform.
The School of the Performing Arts will perform “Les Misérables” on the Proctors MainStage at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $12. For more information, visit proctors.org.