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'Les Miserables' set to open Peoria Players season

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We've all heard the issues, the complaints that our education system is not what it should be, that we need to do a better job of taking care of our poor and even that the prison system in unjust.

For one man, the audacity of voicing these complaints in his writings forced him into exile from his native country. Victor Hugo eventually returned to France, but his beliefs about the above mentioned social issues made him one of that country's best known writers. Included in his work was the timeless novel "Les Miserables", which later became one of the most popular musical dramas of all-time.

It is the messages within the play that made Connie Sinn want to direct "Les Miserables" at Peoria Players Theatre.

"It is a brilliant work. What director wouldn't want to do this show? When it was offered, I really didn't hesitate. I wanted to direct it, to bring the messages that are still relevant today to the audience," Sinn said just before a recent dress rehearsal for the Peoria Players production.

The show opens Friday, Sept. 6, kicking off the 95th season of Peoria Players with a 10-show run through Sept. 15. Tickets are on sale at the theatre box office on North University Street or can be purchased online at www.peoriaplayers.org or by calling 688-4473.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 and at 2 p.m. on Sept. 8, 14 and 15.

Season tickets are on sale, as well. They are $85 for all six shows.

"Les Miserables" will be followed by:

· "Barefoot in the Park." The Neil Simon comedy, directed by Liz Landes Reed, will run Oct. 4 through 13. Tickets go on sale Sept. 23.

· "Meet Me in St. Louis." Directed by Mary Ellen Ulrich, it will run Nov. 8 through 17. Auditions for the show, which centers around the Smith family at the time of the 1904 World's Fair, will be Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Satruday at 10:30 a.m. at First Christian Church, 6400 N. University St. Tickets go on sale Oct. 28.

· "Oliver." Directed by Bryan Blanks, it will run Feb. 7 through 16. Auditions will be Nov. 1 and 2 at a location to be announced later. Tickets go on sale Jan. 27.

· "The Miracle Worker." The story of Helen Keller, directed by Charles Killen, will run March 14 through 23. Auditions will be Jan. 24, 25 and 26 in the Peoria Players Theatre lobby. Tickets go on sale March 3.

· "Shrek the Musical." Making its regional premiere May 2 through 11, it will be directed by Travis Olson and Mary Keltner. Tickets go on sale April 21.

Individual ticket prices are $18 for adults and $12 for patrons 18 and under for musicals and $12 for adults and $9 for 18 and under for nonmusicals.

Sinn said she believes "Les Miserables" has remained popular because most people can relate to the messages in the show. "Everyone can relate in one way or another to the despair and especially to the message of hope that is in the song 'One Day More.' There is also a story of faith here, when Valjean comes out of prison mad at the world but finds faith and self-redemption with the help of the Bishop. He becomes a man of compassion," she said.

The show, set in early 19th century France, spans more than 30 years and follows Jean Valjean in his quest for redemption. But in that quest he breaks parole and is tracked relentlessly by police inspector Javert. Those and other characters get swept into a French revolution along the way.

Charles Brown portrays Valjean, just a few months after playing the upbeat Professor Hill in "The Music Man" at Corn Stock Theatre. The differences, Brown said, are not at all subtle.

"I went from the scheming and singing Music Man to a character in which I am covering 30 years or what was basically a miserable life. It is definitely the most challenging role I've ever done, both vocally and interpretively. But I am enjoying it. I'm glad I did it. It was a bucket list role, to be sure," he said.

John Huerta, who portrays Javert, is largely known in local theatre circles as the kind of song-and-dance man he portrayed in "Singin' In the Rain" at Corn Stock several years ago. He views Javert as an opportunity to expand his acting talent is dramatic fashion.

He played dramatic well in Peoria Players' production of "Frankenstein" a few years ago. He was Dr. Frankenstein in that show.

"Both roles were conflicted roles but this one really opens the debate of whether the character is a good guy or a bad guy. It is real conflict because Javert thinks of himself as judge and jury while trying to do what he believes is right. The opportunity to sing and act a role like this, I am so grateful to Connie for believing in me," Huerta said.

Sinn said she decided shortly after accepting the play that she would look for passion from the actors when deciding on casting. "Sometimes you see shows that don't have the passion and it's often because singers are cast with the hope they can act well enough. I wanted to cast actors who could sing. I've got that and Charlie and John given me exactly what I wanted from them," she said.

Brown, she added, is giving his character the layers needed to bring out the passion. "He shows torment when he needs to, compassion when he needs to. I can't ask for more from him than I am getting," she said.

Other cast members include Ashley Rufus as Fantine, Chloe Morton as Cosette, Lindsey Pugh as Eponine, Emily Schroff as little Cosette, Cecilia Huerta as little Eponine, David Sinn as the Bishop and Steve Bartolotti and Rachel Lewis as the Thenardiers. The revolutionaries Enjolras and Marius are portrayed by Aaron Ganschow and Brian Witkowski, respectively.

Sinn said the entire cast of 62 people works well together. "We have some great voices in this cast. I am not nervous at all about my cast. They are ready," Sinn said.

She said audiences will be impressed by the 12-piece orchestra directed by Camilla Russell, as well as the set designed by Julie Wasson and the costumes by Carrie McMillan.

Sinn said she isn't concerned about directing "Les Miserables" just over a year after it was performed at Eastlight Theatre in East Peoria.

"I thought Eastlight did a wonderful job with the show. But I think people will come to see our show because they want to see it. We are staging it different, using multiple levels, and there are no duplications in casting," she said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).