Grant Park High School is going all out in its presentation of Les Miserables, renting the Burton Cummings Theatre for the Performing Arts, spending $10,000 for lights and sound and allowing patrons to buy tickets through Visa and MasterCard.
"Everything is big about this show," says artistic director George Budoloski. "This is not a high school production any more. It's getting really stupid. We are all walking around the edge of our capabilities."
Les Miserables, the celebrated Alain Boublil/Claude-Michel Schonberg stage spectacle, is in its last weeks as the second longest-running show in Broadway history. Last April, the rights were released for an abridged version for high schools and since then about 1,000 gymnasiums all over North American have been filled with the sounds of Castle on a Cloud and I Dreamed a Dream.
Grant Park officials opted for a bigger venue than its cramped gym and a bigger experience for its 100-member student cast.
"It's an opportunity for the kids to work in an environment that they'll never forget," says Budoloski, who produced The Wave at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in 2000. "These kids are putting on a magnificent musical in a magnificent building. For all of us, it's more exciting than doing it in the gym."
Justin Stadnyk, a Grade 12 student, plays Jean Valjean, the convict/hero who is sentenced to 19 years on a chain gang for stealing a loaf of bread. The 18-year-old from Charleswood is ecstatic that he is the beneficiary of all this time and money in his graduating year
"Being at the Burton Cummings adds a professional touch that makes everyone work that much harder," says Stadnyk, who has been accepted into theatre at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont. "It brings the calibre up from a high school show to something more. Our gym has a different tone."
Les Miserables, which is based on Victor Hugo's epic 1,200-page novel, is a much darker musical than the sunny-natured fare that high school teens typically perform. The storyline and the characters requires they step out of themselves. It's difficult for all of them to grasp what it's like to be les miserables, the miserable masses of 19th century France.
Sarah Roche, 18, is playing Fantine, the destitute mother forced into prostitution to support her child.
"It's hard to become her," says Roche, a Grade 12 student who dances with the professional division of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. "I tell myself before I go on how ashamed I should be and how no one loves me."
Roche only has to look at Broadway to see how Fantine can lead to the Great White Way. Former Winnipegger Jayne Paterson is playing Fantine in the final weeks in New York. Louise Pitre, who was cast in the role at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in 1991, also went on to Broadway where she was nominated for a Tony Award for her work in Mamma Mia!.
"It would be so overwhelming," says Roche, who plans to concentrate on a dance career. "Even here at the Burton Cummings, it's amazing to feel the energy on stage. I could only imagine what it would be like on a Broadway stage."
It doesn't come cheap to give Grant Parks students a big-time experience. The budget is $37,000 -- most of which is being spent on making the young actors look and sound good. It cost $4,000 for the rights to Les Miserables and another $1,000 just for microphone batteries.
Tickets sales to date are over 2,000. About 3,500 of the 6,000 available tickets need to be sold to break even. Budoloski is confident that can be achieved but it's the thought of having to do it again next year and the following year that is making him wondering where it will all end.
"The expectation is that our shows will have this grandness," he says. "Unfortunately that breeds growth. I would say this show in this theatre with these production values is about the maximum."
Les Miserables is presented at 7:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday, with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the school (771-4657) or at the theatre.