MAHOMET — It’s spring, and with that comes the annual Mahomet-Seymour High School musical.
It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun. Dozens of students take part, and many adults also help make the production happen. So it’s complex to begin with, and it’s perhaps never been more so than this year.
For 2019, they’re tackling “Les Miserables: Student Edition.”
“It’s by far the hardest show that I’ve ever been involved in,” said Jaise Allen, director. “I’ve done this show three times — twice I was in it and then once now directing. So it’s been great actually to come like full circle, be on this side of it now, but it’s technically very difficult. There are a lot of moving pieces. There are over 80 people in the show. The whole thing’s music, so it adds that extra layer of difficulty, so yeah, it’s really difficult.”
The tough show and its by no means happy-go-lucky theme haven’t stopped the Mahomet-Seymour students from exuding enthusiasm about the play, though.
“The show is called ‘Les Mis,’ ‘the miserables,’ right? So it’s a hard play to get excited about,” Allen said. “Yes, it’s a very great play — it’s fantastically written, it’s beautifully written. It’s got great theme, it’s got great conflict ... something that we all deal with — death, on a daily basis sometimes, and it’s hard to get the kids’ energy up all the time, so it’s nice that they’re excited about it.”
Based on the 1862 French historical novel by Victor Hugo — considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century — the play includes the well-known “I Dreamed a Dream” and many other songs, such as “Master of the House.” It’s certainly not easy pickings for high schoolers.
But MSHS is ready.
“We’ve had about 12 weeks of rehearsal, and things are coming together. It’s a busy week,” Allen said Tuesday evening as the cast and crew prepared for dress rehearsal.
The drama club plans to present the student edition of “Les Miserables” at 7 p.m. April 4-6 and April 13, and at 2 p.m. April 7 and 14 at the high school. Tickets are $12 and are available now at mshsdrama.booktix.com.
“We have a cast mainly full of eager students who want their community to come see them. I think that’s worth it in itself,” Allen said.
There’s no shortage of talent among Mahomet-Seymour students, the director said.
“Every year, we always contemplate doing double casting: Every show, we give the chance for two people to be in the same role, and they perform on alternating evenings, alternating shows, and if we have the talent to do it, we will, and if we don’t, we don’t. We’re not going to force something that shouldn’t be there. But yeah, we have enough talent to cast every role as a double-casted role. As a downstate school — not in Chicago, performance schools, things like that — it’s pretty rare, I feel like. So I’m pretty excited.”
A 2006 MSHS graduate, Allen is in his fourth year directing the annual spring play for the school.
“I’m a bank manager by day, and then I come here after work,” he said.
He noted the production, expected to be nearly three hours including intermission, is basically OK for younger siblings to attend, too, since it’s the student edition of the original.
“There are a couple curse words, you know, things like that, but nothing you don’t really hear on TV nowadays,” Allen said.
There are some surprises in store that Allen is keeping under wraps generally. And don’t expect seasoned performers like senior Katie Witruk, who plays Cosette, to give away the secrets.
She also is a student director and business co-chair. She admits that being in the play is a lot of work.
“We rehearse every single day for about three hours every single night, but then ... we do more and more, whenever we add more aspects,” Katie explained.
She has participated in previous MSHS plays, including “The Addams Family” and “Grease.”
“My favorite part is just the camaraderie,” Katie said. “I love that. That’s something I’m definitely going to miss whenever I graduate.
“This is definitely a second home; we spend so much time here,” she said.
Katie has plans to attend Parkland College, with an interest in elementary education and possibly theater.
Senior Rachel Silvey also performed in “Grease” and took part in “The Addams Family.” She plays the role of Eponine in “Les Mis.”
“It’s just something that I truly love,” Rachel said. “It’s just such an enjoyable second home, like Katie said.”
The young performers already know how to get over on-stage jitters, too.
“Because I’ve done this for so long, it’s just taken a lot of practice,” Rachel said. “It helps that when the bright lights are on you, you can’t really see the audience, which completely helps the stage fright.
“When I first am getting ready to come out, that’s when the stage fright happens, because I’m like, ‘OK, you’ve got to get ready to go,’ and it’s ‘go’ time.”
Sophomore James Wyatt Taber, a veteran of “Beauty and The Beast” from last year, plays Mr. Thenardier in “Les Mis.”
“This is by far my favorite musical of all time, so it’s really cool to be a part of it, and see it all come together on our stage especially, cause we do things way over the top as much as possible, and it’s so cool,” James said.
“My mom’s a big theater nerd,” he said by way of explaining how he got into acting. “I’ve been living around that my whole life and I was like, hey, there’s a musical here, let’s try out for that, and I made it my first year, and I’m super lucky to have that happen.”
Obviously, there is a lot of singing in “Les Mis,” but given the choice, that’s not this drama student’s favorite part of theater.
“For me, it’s more about the acting,” James said. “I really enjoy the acting and getting into character and being apart from who you are as a person, and just jumping into a whole different person’s life.”
Mahomet-Seymour students appear all ready to go into whole other lives for a few nights, and they hope their community will come along for the ride.