Ponte Vedra students to present “Les Miz”


One of the biggest musicals in history will take the stage Feb. 1-5 at Ponte Vedra High School.

“Les Misérables,” the dramatic production that explores betrayal, forgiveness, redemption, self-sacrifice and much more, is based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name. On Broadway alone, it ran 6,680 performances over 16 years. Among its awards are two Tonys, including one for Best Musical.

With powerful themes and raw emotions, it’s a demanding production, but director Jason Nettle believes in his cast, which is made up of 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students from his advanced acting class.

“I think we all possess all the stages of humanity in us, whether we understand them or not,” he said. “And I think this type of show is about how we struggle with so many things and how kindness can help a lot of people through those tough times.”

He added that he would not have selected this show had he not believed his students could handle it.

Indeed, the cast members have embraced the show’s challenges.

“It’s very hard,” said senior Claira Williams, who plays Fantine, the tragic character who surrenders everything she has for the sake of a child she never sees. “To really think about what the character Fantine has to go through, it takes an emotional toll.”

To help her relate to such suffering, Williams draws on substitute experiences that can better aid her understanding and portrayal. But it’s that very challenge that she enjoys.

“I’m so lucky to have this opportunity to play such a hard acting role, because that’s something that I love to do,” she said. “And to really try to find those levels and what goes through Fantine’s mind has been a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge.”

The sacrifices her character makes for her daughter, Cosette, make for some of the most powerful and devastating moments in the show.

“That unconditional love is just unbelievable,” said Williams. “I feel that a lot with my mom. I’m trying to channel that into my performance.”

Another powerful and demanding role is that of the main protagonist, Jean Valjean, played by sophomore Charlie Pennella.

Preparing for that role, Pennella has done his homework.

“I’ve been doing a lot of research watching as many productions as I can to make it my own,” he said. “I just have to put myself in the character’s shoes to really live through the moment.”

Of course, not all the characters in “Les Misérables” endure the same seemingly insurmountable trials.

Senior Cairo Maughan plays Enjolras, a wild radical who leads the insurrection.

“He’s so much fun to play, because every song he sings is just an inspirational, motivational piece where  he’s trying to rally everyone,” Maughan said. “He’s always very energetic, and obviously just a very cool guy in general.”

Seniors Rigel Gruberg and Maia Rogerson portray Monsieur and Madam Thenardier, respectively.

“It’s a very dramatic play, so we would be considered, probably, the only comic relief characters,” said Gruberg. “We are like these very seedy, grifty people. We’re always trying to find a way to make money, except we don’t have any morals whatsoever.”

Gruberg and Rogerson find their roles fun, in part because they are a bit freer to improvise in some places.

Rogerson said she began participating in theatrical productions as a freshman at the school and has found it enjoyable.

“I think the main thing that brought me into it was the people and the environment that was around me,” she said. “We’re all a big family here.”

Solo lines were divided among the show’s 28 performers, and there are between eight and 10 principal roles.

The cast members had voice lessons with a professional from the University of Florida and met with a Broadway actress who starred in the show’s national tour.

Preparing for the show involves more than the performers. Nettle said he first read the roughly 1,400-page novel to get ready for it.

Tickets for this production of “Les Misérables” are $10 and can be purchased by going to gofan.com and looking under Ponte Vedra High School. Show dates are: 7 p.m. Feb. 1, 2, 3 and 5; 5 p.m. Feb. 4.

Nettle made a point of mentioning that this is not a children’s show, rating it a PG-13. The posters say that it is the “school edition,” but aside from some tightening up in parts, it’s very much the show audiences have always enjoyed.

In addition to directing, Nettle is the music director, lighting designer and set designer. Bella Davidson is choreographer.