GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Gas Lamp Teen Players were shooting high in their most recent musical production, the epic “Les Misérables,” based on the Victor Hugo novel. According to one of its co-directors, Kristy Graves, they hit a bull’s eye.
“It was unbelievable,” she said in a telephone interview this
past Monday. “They went above and beyond. I couldn’t have been prouder.”
Graves shared directing duties with Steve Buntrock, a Glen Ridge resident who had performed on Broadway in the 10th anniversary production, in 1997-’98. Both knew going into the Gas Lamp show their cast was faced with the arduous task of physically being able to sing the parts without hurting themselves while rising to the emotional heights of the acting. The musical was performed four times at Ridgewood Avenue School this past weekend. The age of the cast members was 13 to 18.
“We told them before the first show how exactly the experience had been for us,” Graves said. “We were incredibly ambitious and they followed through.”
She admitted to still not knowing what the final results of the rehearsals would be as the curtain went up.
“We were blown away by the first performance,” she said. “Each performance got better and tighter. And they found moments.”
Between shows, Graves said there was some technical discussions and some actors asked for feedback, but that was pretty much about it.
“The show in itself is heart rendering,” she said. “You’re crying and so is the audience. In the final number and the curtain call, you saw the kids crying. They didn’t want it to end.”
“Les Misérables’ is told through interweaving stories, some that involve characters involved with a student uprising known as the June Rebellion of 1832.
And after the show, everyone was hugging each other and crying
“We were all just a mess,” Graves said.
Graves is also the artistic director of the Gas Lamp Players. She said that next up for teens is a cabaret show to be performed in NYC with rehearsals beginning Friday, Feb. 22. The show will be performed twice in The Triad Theater, on West 72nd St. Graves will be directing and asking teachers to do master classes.
“It’ll be a learning experience,” she said.
The cabaret performance will feature scenes from musicals. The selections are still being worked out.
“I want the kids to bring in ideas,” Graves said.
She expects some of the actors from “Les Misérables” will be in the cabaret performance. But just for a little longer, there is the afterglow of a successful “Les Miz.”
“Everyone just loved it,” Graves said. “I’ve never seen ticket sales bump up after opening night.”
Ticket sales, she said, increased from show to show.
Graves said that one of the things about working with Steve Buntrock was that they both set the performance bar high and then pulled things from the cast to reach that height. Some audience members even told her that there were some instances when the Gas Lamp Teens out-shined professionals.
“Kids are such dreamers,” Graves said, “and if you have a vision, if you say jump, they ask how high.”
A powerful experience for her which she took away from the performances was that her cast members were just as old as the teenagers who actually died in the actual uprising.
Graves said for her next show she would like to find something completely different with a new set of challenges, but not an epic.
“Maybe something like ‘Chicago,’ she said. “A show just as magnificent with another set of challenges. Or maybe a comedy.”
Whatever it is, performing it at Ridgewood Avenue School will not happen during this coming summer. The auditorium will be undergoing renovations and Graves said she is looking into possible alternate spaces.