By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
There was a lot of movement on the stage as the cast of “Les Miserables” rehearsed the lively number “Master of the House” on a recent Thursday night.
“Be specific in what you’re doing,” Associate Director Frank Caiati instructed the cast as they swayed, smiled, and flirted with each other during the song.
Caiati wasn’t satisfied. He wanted more movement, more activity in the background as John Panepinto and Kathy Valentine, as Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, were singing in the foreground. Like an artist looking at a large canvass and deciding to put a little dab of paint in the corner, Caiati was looking at the overall picture on the stage, not just at the foreground. He wanted a full tableau of movement on every part of the stage. He told the ensemble players in the back to raise the drinking glasses high during the song.
Caiati also worked closely with Valentine, encouraging her to add little bits of comedy to her performance of the song.
The cast performed the number two or three more times before Caiati and the show’s lead director, Jeff Samaha, were satisfied and were ready to move on to the next song. The musical is being presented by Jeff Samaha Productions/Ridge Chorale, a theatrical production company in Bay Ridge that has presented numerous shows over the past two decades.
What does it take to mount a full production of “Les Miserables,” one of the most famous musicals ever written? Plenty of hard work and long hours, the people behind this production told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “Our rehearsals started in the beginning of July,” Producer Karen Tadross said. “We rehearse four nights a week,” she said.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle got to sit in on a rehearsal and watch as the actors prepared for the show. The orchestra wasn’t present. The cast performed the show’s songs accompanied by a piano player. While the cast members took their jobs seriously, the concentration on their faces evident, there were also a lot of smiles and plenty of laughter during the rehearsal. “We have fun,” Samaha said.
At one point, Valentine, who was singing while standing at a table, asked the stage crew where she should put the table. “Put it where you want. We’ll mark it and light it where you are,” Tadross answered, referring to where the lighting director will focus.
The show will be presented on Sept. 20-22 and 27-29 at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology at 350 67th St. It is the only full scale production of “Les Miserables” in Brooklyn sanctioned by the licensing company representing the show’s creators. The rights were hard to come by, but Samaha was able to secure them after many years of trying and said he wants to mount a top-notch production. “You want to give the audience a rich, memorable experience,” he said.
The cast members who will bring the musical version of Victor Hugo’s timeless classic to life range in age from five to 65. More than 150 performers came to audition for roles when the casting call went out. Sixty people are in the cast, making “Les Miserables” one of the largest productions of any musical ever presented in southern Brooklyn.
“Les Miserables” is set in 19th Century France and depicts love and loss, class distinctions, and a revolt against the government.
During rehearsal, some of the cast members were wearing their costumes to help them get into character. “You have to address the world you inhabit,” said Bill Andrews, who is playing the leading role of Jean Valjean. “The clothes you wear inform the character you are,” he said.
“Some of these costumes are from the original Broadway production,” Tadross said. Many of the costumes are borrowed from the Theater Development Fund, an organization that promotes the theater. The fund has a warehouse where the costumes from Broadway shows dating back decades are stored and allows theater groups to borrow the costumes.
Many of the cast members, like Andrews, Joseph Bellino, who plays Inspector Javert, and John Patrick Sabatos, this show’s Marius, are actors seriously pursuing careers in the performing arts. But not everyone in the show is dreaming of the Great White Way. Some in the cast are people who simply enjoy performing as a hobby and have of intention of making a career out of it.
The performers said they’re not daunted by the task of presenting a beloved musical whose songs, such as “One More Day,” “On My Own,” and “I Dreamed a Dream,” are Broadway classics. “The show is ingrained in a lot of people’s minds. So many people have seen it, or have seen the movie,” Panepinto said. “But you can’t think about that. You have to take the role and make it your own,” he said.
“There’s a part of us in our characters,” said Sean Kincaid, who plays Enjolras.
The cast has a larger mission in mind, Sabatos said. “We’re storytellers telling a story,” he said.
Taylor Leigh Cannon, a member of the chorus, said the show is relatable, despite the fact that the action takes place more than 150 years ago. “Everyone has experienced heartbreak,” she said.
Andrews on whose shoulders much of the emotional weight of the show rests described “Les Miserables” as a singer’s show because of the powerful score. “Its message is hope. You want people coming out of the theater feeling hopeful,” he said.
For ticket information, visit www.ridgechorale.com or call 718-989-9566.