Xtreme Theatre is taking on the ultimate musical of forgiveness and redemption: Les Misérables.
The musical is based on the French historical novel by Victor Hugo that was first published in 1862.
The story begins in 1815, when protagonist Jean Valjean is released after 19 years of imprisonment, but can’t find shelter because he is a former convict. When a bishop gives him shelter, Valjean steals his silverware. But after he is caught by police, the bishop forgives him immediately and covers for him, explaining to police that he gave Valjean the silverware – two additional silver candlesticks – making it appear to the police that Valjean forgot to take them. When the police leave, the bishop tells Valjean to use the money from the candlesticks to make an honest man of himself.
Valjean tries to do so by reinventing himself and changing his name. He eventually becomes the mayor of a town and the owner of a successful factory. This is how he crosses paths with a poor woman named Fantine as he tries to deal with the police chief Javert, who has discovered his criminal past.
Xtreme Theatre production manager Suzy Haynes said the students – all home-schooled, between 15 and 18 yearsold – begged the directors to take on a more serious production.
“We’ve done lots of shows over the years and I think they were getting tired of Disney and light-hearted stuff. It’s fun, but they wanted to do something meatier,” said Haynes, adding that it was a hard decision to take on Les Misérables because of the size of the show and she admits it’s been a difficult year.
In past productions, the group was split into two casts of around 30 students. But with this production, all 65 students are in the one performance, to take on the demanding harmonies.
“That’s why they wanted all the kids in one cast because they are all singing harmonies of each other,” said Johanna Reed, another production manager with Xtreme Theatre and who just put on Seussical the Musical Junior.
As six students are singing one piece in Les Misérables, another six are singing a matching piece, although in a slightly different harmony, Reed explained.
Powerful songs like Do You Hear The People Sing will blow the audience away, she added.
Despite the challenge of having so many students rehearsing at the same time, Haynes said it was worth it for the vocals alone.
“The vocals just make me cry,” said Haynes.
A couple of her favourite songs are Fantine’s I Dreamed A Dream and little Cosette’s song Castle on a Cloud.
What is unique about the production is how involved the students and parents are behind the scenes.
In addition to making their own promotional video, the actors had to make 12 muskets.
They attended workshops, where they were given chunks of wood that they had to sand down before attaching the hardware.
Costumes have been sourced from all over the Lower Mainland, said Haynes.
But it is the inclusiveness of the theatre group that makes it special, she said.
Haynes points out that children don’t have to audition to get into Xtreme Theatre, which means any child can be a part of the production.
“It’s a thrill of a lifetime for kids who could never have that kind of opportunity,” said Haynes.
Xtreme Theatre was created by Wendy Holm to provide an opportunity for all home-schooled children to experience musical theatre. The group has Christian leaning, but children of all faith backgrounds are welcome to join.
Xtreme Theatre’s production of Les Misérables, school edition, by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, runs May 15 to 18 at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on May 15 and 18.
• Tickets for the May 15 preview shows are $12, regular shows are $16 and can be purchased by calling 604-476-2787 or by going totheactmapleridge.org.