When she was planning for the 2014-15 school year, Durango High School drama teacher Kristin Winchester knew she had an incredible crop of singing, dancing, acting, instrument-playing, set-designing students to work with. So she aimed high, selecting the epic musical “Les Misérables” for the fall production.
The students lived up to her expectations – and more. Their production of “Les Mis,” which opens today, is a bold, dynamic and professionally executed piece of stage performance complete with an elaborate set, tightly choreographed moving parts, plenty of action and, most notably, some very fine vocal performances.
“I think in general this is kind of the standard that (DHS) sets,” Winchester said. “But we did up the bar with this show in particular.”
Winchester felt good enough about “Les Mis” to submit it to the Colorado State Thespian Conference. A state judge attended the tech rehearsal on Monday night, and on Thursday, Winchester received the results: “Les Mis” has been selected, along with a work by Chapparal High School, as the top high school production in Colorado. DHS will perform the musical on the conference’s main stage in Denver on Dec. 5.
“It’s extremely exciting,” Winchester said. “This is the first time that a Western Slope school will be showcased on their main stage.”
DHS received a perfect score on its evaluation, Winchester said, and the judge’s glowing review emphasized the dedication of the students.
“I think that exactly sums up our show,” Winchester said. “The amount of professionalism they have is obvious.”
Indeed. Fumbles or falters often present in high school theater are rare here. DHS students are confident singers who don’t break from character and who move deftly through the intricately choreographed scenes. It’s a no-holds barred production, from the rambunctious chorus numbers down to the emotional solos and the accordion-playing bar boy.
Winchester said she chose the condensed school edition of “Les Mis,” a sung-through musical based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo, because she thought it would pair with the strengths of her students – and specifically, the singers.
The school announced the show last April, and there was high interest. Winchester said several students even spent their summer working on their audition pieces – some with vocal coaches. Some 120 students – or about 10 percent of the school – are involved in the production.
“Les Mis” follows the storylines of several characters – reformed convict Jean Valjean, lovelorn Eponine, street urchin Gavroche, dogged police inspector Javert and greedy innkeepers the Thenardiers – during the early 1800s in France. It’s a sweeping saga that touches on social injustice, revolution, compassion, love and the struggle of life.
“There’s no real villain in this story, the villain is life, the villain is the time period and the world,” Winchester said.
Evatt Salinger as Valjean, Emma Buchanan as Eponine, Colson Parker as Gavroche, Curtis Salinger as Marius and Katelyn Craig as Fantine are among the play’s standout actors, and the student orchestra deserves kudos for providing a nonstop score.
The students have been working on “Les Mis” for nine weeks, and Winchester said the level of investment is impressive. Many have done independent research on the play, coming in with ideas or information that enhance the performance, and many have connected deeply with their characters’ stories.
“It’s been a fun experience,” Winchester said. “It’s neat to see them getting so involved and devoted to this show.”