Les Mis

A talented cast in authentic period clothing makes the Places! Productions’ presentation of “Les Misérables School Edition” an engaging work.(Courtesy of Samantha Held)

It’s been seen by more than 70 million people, performed in more than 40 countries and in 22 languages, and its music is some of the most celebrated in theatrical history. 

And soon, Places! Productions will bring the epic musical to the East Valley with its staging of “Les Misérables School Edition.”

Producing a show of such magnitude and fame is no small undertaking – but Places! has assembled exactly the right team to pull it off. 

The cast of 70 youth actors, which includes Chandler teens Olivia Haller and Coat McGraw, will perform Dec. 17-20 at East Valley High School, 7420 E. Main St. in Mesa, with a second run Jan. 20-22, 2023, at the Mesa Arts Center.

 “Les Mis” focuses on the tumultuous world of Jean Valjean, a former convict who spends a lifetime seeking redemption. 

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France and the aftermath of the French Revolution, this timeless story of intertwined destinies reveals the power of compassion and the quiet evil of indifference to human suffering. 

“Everyone in this production has such powerful voices that make you see fireworks light up around them, especially when they hold such beautiful notes,” said Coat, a freshman at Perry High School. 

Indeed, all of the passion and drama of the original Broadway production is replicated in the student version – especially with a cast like this one. Despite its deep storyline and weighty themes, the performers, most of whom are in high school, pull it off with a maturity and talent that bely their youth.

Tim Mills of Chandler, the show’s assistant director, has been part of Places! – both as a director and as an actor – since the community theater company launched in 2016. 

 “This is probably the most talented cast we’ve ever assembled, and we’ve had some very talented casts in the past,” he said. “Even our most experienced actors are so willing to learn and interested in any direction we provide. 

“There is an uncommon amount of heart and dedication in this group. They all want to create the best possible product and will do whatever it takes.”

Added Allison Houston, director and music director for “Les Mis” and founding artistic director of Places!, “I think audiences will be amazed by the emotion and voices of these young performers. I hope they will be moved by the message of this powerful piece.” 

Olivia Haller, 14,  a member of the ensemble, also sings two solo parts in the scene that takes place after the deadly battle at the barricade. 

A happy and upbeat girl in real life, she has worked hard to develop her character and evoke the sadness and emotion this scene requires. 

“One of my solos is after everybody just died and we’re all mourning the losses,” said Olivia, a freshman at Learning Foundation for the Performing Arts. “It’s very hard for me to act sad. But that’s the thing, you kind of have to experiment with new ways of doing things. In this scene, I am acting sad and singing sad.”  

 Coat, 15, also is part of the show’s ensemble, which is particularly demanding in “Les Mis,” as nearly every word in the two-hour show is sung, every scene is carefully staged and every performer plays an important role in bringing the story together. 

“The ensemble is fantastic, especially in this show, because you get to be so many other characters,” said Coat. “The chorus in any play brings the story alive right in front of your eyes. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Amid the hard work of learning their parts, the cast is having plenty of fun, too.

“The hardest part for me is not talking backstage,” laughed Olivia. “With all the friends I made, it’s hard not to want to talk to them.”

Added Mills, “These kids are so encouraging and supportive of one another. As a junior high teacher and a director of youth and teen performers, I’m very aware that the relationships they’ve built are incredibly special. It really comes through on stage.”

With music by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, “Les Mis” is famous the world over for its score. For Coat, it’s hard to pick a favorite song. 

“My favorite solos are ‘Stars,’ ‘On My Own,’ ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ ‘Bring Him Home” and ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.’ They make me cry every time,” Coat said.

But “Les Mis” offers more than just a beloved score; the directing team’s keen attention to detail is evident in every aspect of the production, from the character development and costuming to the choreography and set design.

Said Houston, “We have spent a lot of time going back to the source material, the masterpiece that is Victor Hugo’s novel. 

“We’ve discussed the characters in depth, including their stories not in the musical, and have a wonderful dramaturg, Kasey Ray. Many of the details you see in the costumes, props, set and staging are from the book.” 

“The barricade is something that audiences always look forward to seeing in ‘Les Mis,’” added Mills. “I think people will be blown away by our barricade.”

As opening day draws near, the cast and directing team are putting the final touches on the production. 

“The thing I’m enjoying most about this process is just seeing how everything comes together,” said Olivia. “It’s always so cool because sometimes we rehearse things separately and then you get to see everybody’s amazing solos later.”

Added Mills, “I’m hoping audiences will leave the show believing this was the best ‘Les Mis’ production they’ve ever seen.”

“Les Misérables School Edition”is specially adapted and licensed through Music Theatre International and Cameron Mackintosh (Overseas) LTD. It is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International. All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI, mtishows.com. 

Tickets for “Les Mis” are $15 and can be purchased at placesproductionsaz.com. The run includes both matinee and evening performances at East Valley High School and at the Mesa Arts Center. Discounts are available for teachers, seniors, veterans, first responders and students. Group discounts are also available.

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