Roadside to host Les Mis premiere
H e i d e l b e r g

A few journal notes from the Director, Mr. James Sohre

April 7. It is really exciting to have such a large and talented cast for this "premiere" production of "Les Miserables." Blocking (preliminary staging) rehearsals are underway, and most of the large, full-cast scenes of Act I are now taking rough shape on the stage. This is often the least enjoyable time for the cast and production team, since it involves getting traffic patterns set, accounting for everyone to have a place to be (and a place to go), etc. Oddly enough, we have been having a nice time even with this most prosaic basic procedure. It was also a pleasant (but not "total") surprise that everyone is not only picking up the music quite easily, but that it already is sounding incredibly fine. Who needs a turntable when it sounds this good?! Having such a friendly, talented team makes coming to rehearsals a joy.

April 12. The "barricade" is "built," or at least we have students running all over it as of last Sunday. Boy, these students are lousy warriors -- all that planning and after a big parade, and a battle and a half, only one teenage girl and one 12-year old boy are the casualties! (Oh, now you know!). But the climbing and clamoring and "shooting" and bleeding have at least been "put on paper," and it's looking and sounding very good. The (unamplified) group (and solo) singing rivals anything I've heard in a professional theatre. Last week, we also got to tighten up some of the big Act I scenes (even though missing a few "prostitutes" and "beggars" to Easter vacation). The "foreman" gets sleazier and greasier and poor Fantine finally got to stage and sing her big solo. Herr-"Monsieur Thenardier" is back from ten days at the Spring Fest, so he and the "Mrs." are making up for lost time -- singing, that is. And Little Cosette got to stage her "Castle in the Sky" and be bullied about by "Madame" and "Little Eponine." We also sorted out how the "Cosette" performance schedule for the three girls to share the roles of "Cosette," "Young Eponine," and the "Urchin." And the famous "March to Nowhere" in the Act One Finale took the stage. And, oh yeah, "Eponine" sang her big solo, "Marius" and "Cosette" fell in love and sang a lot about it, and "Val Jean" and "Javert" continue to bitch at each other in thrilling full-voice (boys, boys, it was only a loaf of bread!). Play of the Day: When Val Jean is supposed to break a chair in the hospital scene, and. . .well. . .he broke the chair in the hospital scene. (Wonder if our US Government insurance covers these unfortunate old French furniture accidents. . .?)

May 2 Ah, yes, the final week of rehearsals before production week - or - "so-THAT'S-what-it-looks-like-when-everyone-shows-up." Smooth sailing through act one for two nights in a row. Now to polish up act two - or - "remedial-waltzing-for-two-left-feet." Wedding scene ("The Big Waltz") is up for the full treatment tonight, and the sewer scene will finally have all the dead bodies, pick-pockets, and body carriers on the same stage at the same time. Good to finally have conductor/pianist Tim Schwarz at the keyboard so that the correct score was always accompanying the singers (the Rehearscore was recorded from a past edition of the music.) Some furniture has been banished to the shop area when not on stage in order to free up backstage space. Changes are going relatively smoothly and the large cast is doing double duty moving set pieces on and off. The costumes are really taking shape and we will be ready for that hurdle at Friday night's run through with costume changes. The cast continue to amaze me. Surely, they are setting the standard for future amateur productions of this great show. And the crew and technicians are holding their own as they face their deadlines for integrating lights, sound, props, and set pieces into the process. It has been a really pleasant and productive rehearsal period, and I'm looking forward to the final push to opening night.

May 7 Well, we are now into high gear. The marathon Sunday rehearsal we had all feared ended up going quite smoothly. For the first time running the entire show with set changes, costumes, basic light cues, and the virtual orchestra accompaniment, it in fact exceeded all our expectations. Now we'll have two nights working on just act one, and then act two to further fine tune them, before we run the entire show on Wednesday and Thursday, and before the big opening on Friday night. The newest and most exciting element that we worked with this weekend was the "OrchEXTRA" or the "band in a box." This is a programmed accompaniment tool that captures the entire orchestration and plays it back as it is "conducted" by an operator "tapping" on a keyboard. In other words, a virtual "full" orchestra that follows the singers. It think people will be thrilled by the effect, and we are thankful to Music Theatre International for having sent rep's here to train us in getting the most out of it.

I am struck time and again by what a talented and pleasant group of people comprise our cast and crew. Even after a six and a half hour rehearsal, we were not only still speaking to each other, but we were still having fun doing this great show. A few challenges still lie ahead: fog machines, projections, a few key props. But if yesterday's rehearsal was any indication, I think our audiences are in for a wonderful treat. Play of the day: a battle-dazed and clinically bewildered "Feuilly" dying two scenes too soon, and rising form the dead to sing his key lines with Enjolras. It provided a much needed laugh in "hour five" of the marathon.

May 11. The final days of rehearsal were smoother than we had dared hope. I guess I should have known from the first rehearsal that they would be. I remember the first night learning the finale, and being thrilled by the fifty-one wonderful voices singing that rousing anthem. Everyone in the cast brought such commitment and enthusiasm to the show. And many already knew the piece by memory. Now, here we are, 10 weeks later, about to (hopefully) thrill our first SRO audience as well. The technical elements are all falling into place now and being refined: light cues, costume bits, make-up and hair, set changes. and of course, the OrchExtra accompaniment. It's taken some getting used to, but the payoff is that we are hearing all the colors of the orchestration. And an odd discovery is that this long musical has the shortest bow music I've ever seen, which we have to repeat a number of times. We have found that the first act runs 1 hour and 40 minutes, and the second, 1 hour 10 minutes, but they seem to go quickly.

My job is almost over. On to opening night. Time to let the audience tell us how we did, but what an incredible journey. I still stand in the back of the auditorium thinking: "It's 'Les Miz'. . .and it's us!" It's a special privilege that whatever other American community theatre does this great show, we know we were the first. Thanks to everyone involved with getting "Les Miz" on stage at the Roadside.