RIVER FALLS — The “Les Miserables” production is not for the faint of heart, whether acting on stage, directing the show or sitting in the audience.
It takes about 50 River Falls High School students two and a half hours to sing their way through the emotionally complex lives and deaths of dozens of well-known characters within a violently heart-wrenching plotline. Another 50 students are responsible for adding scenery components and passionate music to the musical.
Starting Nov. 15, the audience is at the mercy of the students’ talents to lead them through the poignant lessons each character portrays.
While some scenes are shortened or toned down for gruesomeness, those watching the show can expect to see a plot similar to the 2012 Universal Pictures film, including memorable songs “I Dreamed a Dream”, “Look Down” and “One Day More."
The story is developed from the novel by Victor Hugo.
Weaved together entirely through song, the story begins in 1800s France with prisoner 24601 Jean Valjean portrayed by senior Elijah Arneson. Valjean manages to get out, and after attempting to steal silver from a priest, he finds grace and redemption, eventually becoming mayor and adopted father to young Cosette, played by Carolyn Decheine. Cosette’s mother, Fantine, portrayed by Emma Veenendall, died of illness.
Cosette falls in love with Marius, a young man involved in a democratic revolutionary, played by Jackson Califf. Inspector Javert played by the only freshman in the sea of senior actors and actresses attempts to recapture Valjean but learns life-altering lessons during the pursuit.
The story culminates in the barricade scenes, which were a favorite among the lead cast members, where the fight with motives of peace, equality and love ensues. Solo performances along the way build up character depth and emotionally attach themselves to whoever listens carefully.
“The solos are so beautiful to tell characters’ stories. Those moments are very special. The death scenes at the end are also a time to reflect on those precious relationships,” director, drama coach and English teacher Kim Miller said. "We were waiting for the right group of kids to do this show. This was the time we felt was right to be on board."
The production’s weighty elements required the theater department to enlist a second director for the first time ever in addition to Miller’s work.
Jason Decheine from River Falls was new to the crew as the co-director, and others in his family had a hand in the production.
Carolyn Decheine, his daughter, plays the adult character Cosette. Jason’s wife and co-owner of Helmer Dance Studio in Hudson, Laura Decheine, choreographed the production.
“This show is so gigantic and intimidating … we needed him to help plan ins and outs for it,” Miller said. “He helped kids channel inner roles.”
Along with the Decheine family, another River Falls family joined in on the play.
Bryan Jaeckel, River Falls High School band director, leads the pit ensemble through the vigorous and well-known music while his small children Abby and Ben Jaeckel perform on stage with the high schoolers as the young Cosette and fiery Gavroche. Bryan’s wife, Jill Jaeckel, plays in the pit ensemble.
The production and theater team benefited from the April 2018 referendum, which granted the high school new lighting and sound systems.
Students in lead roles, over 20 of which are seniors, said the musical is a great ending to their high school theater careers.
The also agreed the play requires intentional listening by the crowd as the cast has worked hard to articulate their lines and emotions through song.
The performance will run at 7-9:30 p.m. Nov. 15-16 and Nov. 22-23 and 2-4:30 p.m. Nov. 17. Tickets are available for purchase online for the first time at rfpa.ludus.com, but will also still be sold at the door and cost $10 for students and $15 for adults.