EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 24, 2013

Bring It Home!

By Judy Wakefield

---- — They’ve been looking forward to performing this show for countless years and practicing for months, making sure each note is exactly on pitch. Finally this weekend the 80 members of the ACT Theater Company will bring the mother of all musicals to life.

The local nonprofit troupe opens the curtain on “Les Miserables” at the J. Everett Collins Center at Andover High School for three performances this weekend.

“There’s a buzz about this show,” said Cara Kennedy, a teacher at the Pike School in Andover who is in the production. “It’s a blockbuster.”

The company couldn’t even consider taking on the show until this year, because the rights to stage the play were off limits to adults. Even when they became available, only a handful of nonprofessional adult theater groups in the state were awarded the coveted scripts. Andover Community Theater was among the lucky few.

This isn’t the first time Andover has hosted a production of “Les Miserables,” however. Andover High School staged the story of redemption and love focusing on Jean Valjean in 2002 when the school was allowed the rights for the youth production.

It was a big show for Andover High at the time and it led to some great memories for the play’s director, Susan Leland-Smith Choquette, who is now the director of theater arts at Andover High.

“We staged it with a cast of future stars,” Leland-Smith Choquette said.

Kennedy, who graduated from Andover High in 2001, remembers the show and recalls dreamily thinking, “If I ever get the chance to be in that show ...” She’d jump at the chance, she meant.

Eleven years later, her wish is coming true.

The show features professionally designed sets and costumes, a 16-piece orchestra, a stirring score and a talented cast. It is by far the theater company’s biggest musical performance to date. Performers from all over New England have been attending long rehearsals since July.

“We have actors driving to rehearsals from Worcester, Hudson, Portsmouth three nights a week,” Kennedy said. “It’s a big deal.”

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables” follows the story of Jean Valjean (Charles Gracy of Bradford in the ACT production), an ex-convict who eventually becomes mayor of a French town. It was made into a movie last year that earned numerous awards, including a Golden Globe for best motion picture and an Academy Award for Anne Hathaway, who portrays Fantine, for best supporting actress.

When one of Valjean’s factory workers, Fantine, blames Valjean because she finds herself cast into a life of prostitution, he feels responsible and agrees to take care of her illegitimate daughter, Cosette, when Fantine dies. “Les Miserables” follows the pair as Cosette grows up and they become swept up in the political turmoil in France, which culminates in the historic June Rebellion.

Mark Gracy, ACT’s executive producer who is directing “Les Mis,” said in a press release that he feels privileged to be working with such an amazing cast this famous show.

“It’s rare to meet someone these days who has never heard a song from `Les Mis,’” he stated. “So for me, and most in the cast, to be able to perform this show in its totality is the experience of a lifetime.”

Andover High School guidance counselor Sally O’Rourke is among the cast members, along with her young daughter, Deirdre. It’s her first show in 26 years and she’s excited to share the stage with her child.

“I have been singing these songs since I was in high school. (There is) no happy ending. The play is hopeful, but not like a Rodgers and Hammerstein production. And it won eight Tonys,” O’Rourke said in an email earlier this week. “Some of the biggest names in Broadway history have either been in or sung songs from ‘Les Mis’ on an album.”

O’Rourke said she was covered in goosebumps earlier this week when the orchestra struck its first chords during a dress rehearsal.

“At the end, one of the most poignant lines is, `To love another person is to see the face of God’ and then the chorus comes in,” she said. “A number of us were in tears. It is thrilling to be a part of this cast and production.”

If You Go What: "Les Miserables" presented by ACT Theater Company. When: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 25 and 26, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, 2 p.m. Where: J. Everett Collins Center at Andover High School, 80 Shawsheen Road, Andover. How: Tickets are $25 premium seating and $20 general admission. Discounts are available for groups of 20-plus. For more information visit www.acttheatercompany.com or call 978-276-9568.