Curtain rises Friday for ‘Les Misérables’ at Ridgewood

Photo Courtesy of Gas Lamp Players
At the barricades, from left, Tobias Fried, of Montclair; Alexander Wolfe, of Bloomfield and James Anderson, of Glen Ridge.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Gas Lamp Teens Players will present the musical “Les Misérables,” an adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, Feb. 8, 9 and 10, at Ridgewood Avenue School.

Co-directing the production is Christie Graves and Steve Buntrock. Both directors say choosing this musical was a big undertaking.
“It was her idea,” Buntrock said pointing to his co-director before a recent rehearsal. Graves is also the Gas Lamp artistic director
“It’s very ambitious,” she said. “I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time.”

The wait was necessary because her core of young actors needed more time to mature for this particular show.
“And I thought we should wait until we had the guys,” she said. “The right time was this year.”
The actors responded with excitement knowing that their directors had a special confidence in them. Buntrock, a Broadway veteran who has performed in “Les Mis,” said the singing parts require considerable ability.

“We’re talking two-octave ranges,” he said. “That’s huge. It’s very intense singing. It needs intensity or it’s flat.”
Buntrock appeared on Broadway in the 10th anniversary show of “Les Misérables,” in 1997-’98. He portrayed the character of Enjolras, the leader of a student revolt that occurred in Paris during the so-called June Rebellion of 1832.

One of his concerns with the Gas Lamp Teens was not only that they sang their parts properly, but that they did so without hurting themselves. This sort of performance intensity, Graves said, extends to the acting.

“The show can really be done poorly,” she said. “In ‘High School Musical’ or ‘Footloose,’ they’re teenagers playing teenagers.”
But the cast has amazing talent and is collectively reaching that necessary level of intensity, Buntrock said.
“And taking the risks,” Graves added.

“If you don’t get on board with high-level emotions, then you’re just playing ‘Les Mis’ with teenagers,” Buntrock said. “This show is literally about life and death. Do these kids understand it? I don’t know.”

But the cast is giving it all they have. They were told to keep in mind that
there are teenagers who today are actually fighting for their rights.

“Les Miserables” is an epic tale of courage and redemption told through interweaving stories. It’s characters and music are most memorable. For many theatergoers, a top-notch production of “Les Misérables” is a benchmark.
For Graves, seeing it was a life-changing experience. She was 13.

“It’s so important that it be well-done,” she said.
Buntrock said he must have listened to the cast record album hundreds of times before he saw a performance. After he was cast in the 10th anniversary production, his life and career changed.

Buntrock enjoys reading nonfiction accounts about the American Civil War. When he was cast, he was reading about young men and their actions in the pitch of battle.

“I found real-life courage in Enjolras,” he said. “Isn’t that the most incredible thing? I melded the two together and became a Civil War commander and a French student. I try to impart my knowledge from my experience.”
It is a lot of hard work and the challenges facing the cast are considerable, but Buntrock said if he and his co-director show their own passion for “Les Misérables,” the cast will especially enjoy creating their roles.

The ensemble work is considerable. Graves said these roles offer cast members the opportunity for developing their own characters. The result is that while the production has many challenges, facing them together has created a safe haven for the Gas Lamp Teens to reach even higher.
“They’re rooting for each other,” Graves said. “The ensemble wants the leads to go for it.”

Buntrock provided a significant insight into how much of a group effort “Les Miserables” has to be. In the Broadway production, he said there were only three lead contracts and everyone else in the cast had an ensemble contract.
“We wanted to give the kids a feeling of a unified group,” he said. “We had a plethora of talent and would have been happy casting this show four different ways.”

He predicts the weekend of the performances is going to be an intense one.
“If they rise to the situation and they feel the audience reaction, it’ll be an experience they’ll never forget,” he said.
And now — to the barricades!

“Les Misérables” will be performed Friday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 9, at 1 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 10, at 1 p.m. It has a cast of 50, age 13 to 18, including 17 from Glen Ridge and four from Bloomfield. An admission fee will be charged.

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