Writer / Janelle Morrison Photography / Roger David Manning and JJ Kaplan
In 1980, a musical that has become the world’s longest running, “Les Misérables,” opened in Paris, France. Directed by Robert Hossein, the music was composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg, and the libretto was written by Alain Boublil. An English-language version of Schönberg’s Tony Award-winning musical phenomenon opened in London in 1985.
It was produced by Cameron Mackintosh and adapted and directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird. “Les Misérables” is still selling out venues and has been seen by over 70 million people in 42 countries throughout the world. Now it is coming to life on a local stage at the Zionsville Performing Arts Center (ZPAC) this November.
Zionsville Community High School (ZCHS) proudly presents its production of the epic 19th-century drama as this year’s fall musical. The mass of student and staff talent will enthrall its audiences with the timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit, shattered dreams, love, sacrifice and redemption.
Led by Zionsville’s own Mikayla Koharchik, seventh-grade language arts teacher and musical director for ZCHS, the remarkably talented pool of students and staff have been rigorously rehearsing, designing and preparing for what will be a memorable and breathtaking opening night.
Koharchik, who is a talented actress and performer with her own impressive resume, spoke about the daunting undertaking of producing such a powerful and renowned musical. She also praised how the students and staff have embraced the challenges and hard work that comes with producing a musical of this caliber.
“A school version was created for ‘Les Mis.’ It’s the same show, but it’s been truncated, so that it won’t be quite as long,” Koharchik said. “This has been over of year of planning. I knew that we had the students to do it. You have to have really strong male singers, and those are hard to come by. A big reason why we have that is due to our strong music department. Aaron Coates and Deana Broge have really raised all of these kids up.”
Junior Cynthia Kauffman is playing Éponine. “Éponine is a dream role for me, and I didn’t ever think that my high school would do it because it was too big of a show,” Kauffman said. “You only hear of regional or professional theaters doing it. I wanted this role so badly. Éponine is kind of sassy and kind of on her own. Her parents aren’t really ideal parents. She’s in love with Marius, but it’s not mutual, so I have to, for some songs, bring out the tender and lonely side of her. But she is also very brave and courageous.”
Junior Katelyn Soards is playing Cosette. “When I found out that the fall musical was going to be ‘Les Mis,’ I was extremely excited,” Soards enthused. “I love classical music and am such a fan of the music in this show. I think that you typically see a lot of pop musicals nowadays, especially in local theater, and I appreciate it, but my roots are in classical music. I am very excited to be a part of this musical.”
Playing the role of Fantine is junior Grace Tucker. “I am very proud that we decided to do a show like this,” she said. “This is my third Zionsville High School musical, and I am really excited that we are taking on the challenge of ‘Les Mis’ this year. When I look back on playing Fantine, I hope that I gained some sort of maturity from it. Being a girl in high school, it’s easy to have a narrow worldview, but I think that playing this part will help me expand that a little bit more.”
Playing one of the lead male roles, Cade Williams is portraying Jean Valjean. “This is my first musical production, so I don’t have a lot of background in acting,” he said. “But, I am using what I have learned from show choir and putting that into this show. I have received a lot of help from the directors on taking what each scene is trying to tell the audience and what I am feeling in the moment. They have been a big help to me in learning what to project to the audience.”
Playing the conflicted and tortured role of Javert is senior Noah Boehm. “When I first saw my name on the list for this part, I was like, ‘Okay,’” Boehm said. “I usually play more lighthearted parts, and while I am excited for the challenge of this role, I want to make [Javert] not the bad guy of the story. Javert is very misunderstood, and all of his thoughts on what is right and wrong in his mind are correct. He’s trying to do all of these things in the eyes of his religion and is trying to make right in society. His pursuit of Jean Valjean is definitely out of good intentions but comes out in the wrong way.”
Playing the roles of the insidious Monsieur and Madame Thénardier are seniors Jake Strachan and Elizabeth Jolly.
“Thénardier isn’t the strongest character,” Strachan admitted. “He is very shallow and selfish in all of his motivations. As opposed to Cade [Williams] and Noah [Boehm] who need to find deep down reasons for being who they are to strengthen their convictions, I have to do the opposite and throw everything that I know out the window. I have to embrace my character and go in the direction of weakening all of my convictions and be very shallow.”
Thénardier’s wife is a dream role for Jolly. “This is only my second high school production, and I am thrilled to be cast as Madame Thénardier,” Jolly said. “I was Jordon Baker in ‘The Great Gatsby’ last year, but this is still sort of breaking out for me. I never thought that this would be a role that I would be considered for, so I was absolutely flabbergasted when I got called back. It’s been a little crazy but an absolutely wonderful experience.”
Senior Weston LeCrone is playing the role of Marius. “Marius was a role that I really had interest in, and I think that even though he is the love interest and not many people think that he has the most depth in the show,” LeCrone stated. “ I think he actually does, and it’s cool to be able to delve into that aspect of his character and look at his emotions, more than someone might typically look at the role of Marius. For me, it’s putting my experiences that I’ve had in my own life into the character. That makes it more real and will allow the audience to connect to the character more.”
Behind the curtain are another group of extremely talented students and crew who are creating the “magic” under the leadership of the stage manager, junior Will Schrepferman.
“I’ve worked stage crew on many productions since the seventh grade,” Schrepferman said. “This is my 12th production that I’ve worked on and have worked with Mrs. Koharchik several times. “There is something really special about being behind the scenes and being part of how the magic happens. My interest has progressed over the years, and I’ve crewed for performances small and large like ‘Shrek,’ ‘Mary Poppins,’ ‘Aladdin,’ ‘Oklahoma!’ and ‘Pippin.’ I’ve done some bigger productions before but nothing quite as complicated as ‘Les Mis.’ There are a lot of moving pieces, and getting them to work together in so little time is a little hectic but is very enjoyable.”
Zionsville Community High School’s Musical Pit Orchestra Director Ashley Ray has had the daunting task of teaching her students the lengthy score to “Les Misérables” since before the school year began.
“This year is my third year conducting the pit orchestra, and just knowing how hard the students at Zionsville work, I told Mikayla that as long as we got the music early on, we’d be able to learn all of it,” Ray said. “The main thing with ‘Les Mis’ is that there is music going on the whole time. They are singing and playing for the entire production. We got the music in May, and we started our rehearsals a few days before school started.”
Ray explained that the orchestra students have been practicing and will be performing alongside professional musicians, thanks to a “Side by Side Students” grant that was awarded by the Zionsville Education Foundation.
With just under 100 cast, crew and pit members, Koharchik and the staff have been juggling a myriad of moving parts but are confident that they are all coming together as opening night approaches.
“I was a little nervous in the beginning, but let me tell you, I have kids in the ensemble and chorus who could have leading roles. That’s how deep their talent goes. Zionsville has really talented kids, and I didn’t doubt for a second that they could do it,” Koharchik said.
For performance dates/times and tickets, visit zvilleperformingarts.org