July 23, 2024

Cast, costumes and quality coming together in USU Eastern’s “Les Miserables” production


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The world’s longest-running musical, “Les Misérables,” opens Utah State University Eastern’s theatre season with a two-week run from Oct. 16-25 in the Geary Theatre. The play won 76-international awards and has been seen by over 70 million people in 42 countries.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to direct this production,” said Corey Ewan, Ph.D. “I want to attract people who have never been to one of the college’s productions to share the experience that ‘Les Mis’ brings to its audiences. Artistically it challenges me as a director and that is exciting.”
‘Les Mis’ is the story of heartbreak, passion and resilience of the human spirit that has become one of the most celebrated musicals in theatrical history. It’s about forgiveness and absolution, themes that take the characters to their final rest. Song’s like “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Bring Him Home,” “One Day More,” and “On My Own,” are timeless, Ewan said.
More than 80 people showed up for the auditions, many with voices that are sheer power. Ewan brought in Jay Andrus, retired choir director and dean of students at the College of Eastenr Utah, to direct the choirs. “The power coming out of the men’s choir is phenomenal,” Ewan said.
When discussing the actors, Ewan said there are never small rolls in theatre, only small actors. He feels everyone will get to shine at one point in the production. Even the choir members will sing and act. “Our cast is made up of really good people who are committed.”
He cast four girls to play young Cosette: Lauren Bone, Ella Morley, Daneille Ori and Cecily Riley. “They are professional and really good at their craft. I don’t have to give a lot of direction, they are already really good. The two young men cast as Gavroche, Ryelan Ferguson and Daniel Bone, are equally good. He quotes WC Fields, “’never act with children or animals,’ so Fields is rolling over in his grave when I tell people how good the children are in this musical.”
Ben Jones plays Jean Valjean. “Ben has an incredibly gorgeous voice that has power. He has a presence that is easy to work with,” Ewan said. Valjean is the protagonist of the play. He spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s seven starving children. He turns his life around when Bishop Myriel encourages him to be a new man.
Part-time, nontraditional student Nicole Manley plays Fantine. “She has the clearest, most beautiful voice,” Ewan said. “Her voice reminds me of the reflective nature of a lake with no wind.” Manley plays a beautiful Parisian grisette abandoned with a small child by her lover Felix Tholomyes. She needs money so she sells her hair and two front teeth and turns to prostitution, and then becomes ill.
Former opera singer, Darrin Brandt, plays Javert. “His six-foot, five-inch presence brings character to the stage. He has great stage presence and a good handle on his character,” Ewan said. Javert is a fanatic police inspector in pursuit to recapture Valjean. Born in the prisons to a convict father and a fortune-teller mother, he renounces both of them and starts working as a guard in the prison, including one stint as the overseer for the chain gang of which Valjean is part.
The Bone family from Price has seven members of their family in the production including: Heather, who plays Eponine, a child pampered and spoiled by her parents who ends up a street urchin when she reaches adolescence. Ewan says she nails it emotionally with her character. Besides Heather, Daniel and Lauren have leading rolls, other members of the Bone family in the production include: Josh, Aaron, Adam and their mom Melissa.
USU Eastern alumna, Diana Cox, is designing costumes for the production. She earned her bachelor of art’s degree in costume design from Weber State University. “She is extremely talented and brings a great deal of creativity to the show,” Ewan said. USU in Logan and BYU have “lent costumes to Ewan” in support of his production.
Stage design is by Brent Innes, who worked for Dixie State University and Tuacahn. “I rendered four or five designs before I found an idea that worked. The first week of classes, one really clicked and met the parameters of the play. We have budgeted $4-5 thousand for the set, so I am calling in favors like crazy to make ‘Les Mis’ the best production ever for USU Eastern. Additional lighting boards and sound boards were rented to coincide with the size of the production.
Ewan admits to lots of chaos in producing a play of this size. “Blocking large groups of people, I have found, is like herding cats!” A little stressed and sleep deprived, Ewan is devoting 12 to 14 hours each day on campus as he teaches his classes plus readies his cast for “Les Mis”. “It’s a spectacle whereas the visual has to match the music.”
Theatre should be an experience and everyone needs to experience “Les Misérables” once. I want the community to see the quality of productions USU Eastern offers. This production gives USU Eastern the chance to shine and I promise we will shine,” smiles Ewan.