ACT Teen Theatre group takes on 'Les Miz'
Authentic Community Theatre has offered classes in voice, dancing and acting over the years, as well as ACTjr children’s productions and Community Theatre productions for actors ages 13 and older. Known as ACT, the nonprofit organization moved during 2018 from its Williamsport-area location to a larger facility in Hagerstown’s west end.
In its latest development, ACT added a Teen Theatre group specifically designed for ages 13 through 19. Teen Theatre will present its first production, “Les Miserables — School Edition” at Western Heights Middle School in Hagerstown on Friday, Aug. 23 and Saturday, Aug. 24. Based on the 1862 Victor Hugo novel “Les Miserables,” the show tells a story of passion and redemption during the June Rebellion in France.
With direction by Zane Oberholzer, choreography by Kelly Jenkins Moreland and musical direction by Zayna Burnham, “Les Mis,” as it’s commonly known, focuses on Jean Valjean, an unjustly imprisoned parolee who continues to encounter mistreatment. He is pursued by Inspector Javert and becomes involved with the June Rebellion.
Jeremiah Wright, 17, of Hagerstown, portrays two characters in the production – the bishop and Enjolras. Bishop, Wright said, “brings Jean Valjean back to the light.”
“Jean Valjean was locked up for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. When he comes out of prison, he is not really the best person,” Wright said.
After the bishop invites Valjean to his home, cares for him and feeds him, Valjean steals his silverware. The bishop lies to authorities to protect him and claims that he gave the silver to Valjean as a gift.
“In doing so, he saves Jean. He saves his soul,” Wright said.
Exercising his acting chops, Wright switches gears for his portrayal of Enjolras, an intense, charming and wealthy young man who leads a radical political group advocating the total overthrow of French royalty.
Wright, who previously lived in Montgomery County, Md., now attends North Hagerstown High School and is making his ACT debut. He’s been doing musical theater since he was in seventh grade, and his oldest brother introduced him to “Les Mis.”
“When the movie came out, I saw that, and the anniversary concert. It really grew on me,” he said.
The musical differs from many in its intensity of subject matter and mood, he said.
“A lot of musicals are really upbeat and joyful. This has that, but there are also some very dark, upsetting times. But I think those are the challenges that cause us to think and make us better.”
Genesis Wilson, 16, of Falling Waters, W.Va, portrays Marius, a romantic hero who provides one of the lighter moments of the show as he sings “A Heart Full of Love.”
“It’s about when Marius falls in love with Cosette and they are just two strangers who fall in love at first sight,” he said. “Marius, he is kind of like the Disney prince, the guy who is not naive, but who sees the world a little differently.”
“Les Mis” will be Madison Graham’s sixth show with ACT. The 15-year-old Clear Spring resident said she takes from the musical the message that people do not always feel prepared for what comes to them.
“The characters in the story didn’t really expect what was coming to them. They didn’t have very long to prepare for war. I feel like it’s still like that today. Sometimes you don’t see things coming. There are surprises in life. You can’t always prepare for everything and this shows how that is,” she said.
Ensemble performer Emma Mullinix, 12, of Hagerstown, also has done a number of shows with ACT and said this one offered her some cultural and historical perspective.
“(The director) worked with us in trying not to remain modern but to think about how a 12-year-old in that time would act,” she said. “We had to do a lot of thinking on our own, and we had conversations about what they would or wouldn’t do. We might do something and think that might be a little modern, and then think again how to do it in a different way.”
Jackson Kwok, 12, of Hagerstown, who acts as 10-year-old Gavroche, said he, too, put a lot of thought into appropriate characters choices and movements.
Lio Salazar, 16, of Greencastle, Pa., said an Advanced Placement European History class he took last school year helped familiarize him with the setting of “Les Mis.”
“The class touched on the June Rebellion, the French Revolution and those mindsets. It’s helped with bringing that to acting as a hungry person who is very angry and wanting food,” he said.
He sees the main message of the show as one of seizing the moment.
“Life is precious and short and you have to do what you can. Especially for that time period,” he said. “There were not a lot of medications, immune systems were not that great. They needed to do what they could to survive. There is not a lot of time to dally in life. You gotta get to it.”
Top photo: Caroline Bowers, left, portrays Fantine and Zoe Mason, right, portrays Cosette in ACT's "Les Mis - School Edition." The musical is based on the 1862 Victor Hugo novel set during the June Rebellion in France. (Submitted photo)