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By Chris Ramos

The air is filled with the enthusiasm of young idealists. Political revolution lurks as a pending day. Enter 19th Century France, a recollection which is open for the public to see as Les Miserables comes to Nordonia High School.

Director Chris Simmons, Assistant Director/Choreographer Megan Gargano, Musical Director Bill Shaffer & Fight Choreographer/Acting Coach Dane Leasure have been hard at work to make a famously renowned musical come to fruition for our eyes.  

It is an abridged version of the musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg which is based on the epic novel written by Victor Hugo, considered a must read within the literary world. Les Miserables School Edition is a story which radiates heartbreak, passion, and the resilience of the human spirit. It is a tragedy in its fullest extent. Beauty submerged in darkness, which is sure to leave the audience in awe. Leading this year’s cast are junior Brad Zinn and senior Dakota Pugh as Jean Valjean and Javert.

Performances of this year’s Les Miserables will be Friday and Saturday, April 21st and 22nd at 8 PM and Sunday, April 23rd at 3 PM. There will also be a free preview performance for senior citizens on Thursday, April 20th at 4 PM. Tickets go on sale on March 13th. Reserved seating is $15 a ticket and General Admission tickets for students are $8 for students, $10 for senior citizens and $12 for adults. Please visit www.nordoniadrama.com for more information on the show and to reserve your tickets!

Les Miserables is rated PG-13 for language, adult themes, and simulated violence. Any questions on the show can be directed to nordoniadrama@gmail.com.

Video by Gary Miller

I was able to visit Chris Simmons and Megan Gargano, along with the cast, before their rehearsal for an interview. I must say, Chris Simmons is as friendly as they come. Not only that, but he is intriguing to listen to. Passionate about his work and striving to bring the best out of his performers, Mr. Simmons represents the soul that we love to see in art. I was also able to sit down with leads Dakota Pugh and Brad Zinn.

Christopher Ramos: What’s the excitement behind this play? Especially with the participation in the Dazzle Awards? How is it coming along?

Chris Simmons: It is coming along well. We do have a lot of time to do this, which is great. We spent a lot more time than other schools spent. We spent almost four months. We cast before winter break, then we start rehearsals right after winter break in January and the show is the third weekend of April. So, it’s almost four months. We have all of the moving parts worked out and now we’re going back, to add in the set and props. I’m happy where we are right now. Every year I always feel as though we’re ahead or behind, so that’s normal. We have really talented kids this year. Bill (William Shaffer) has been moving along with the orchestra. So it’s gonna be a huge show. I think I’m crazy. We’re two months in and I still think I’m crazy for choosing this show. It’s huge, absolutely huge. I’m happy where we are but we still have plenty of work to do in the next six weeks we have.

Chris: Is this the biggest show you have partaken in?

Simmons: Probably. It’s going to be right up there with Cinderella. In terms of scale and magnitude. Les Miserables is world famous, it’s such a renowned and acclaimed show. It’s also a show which is one hundred percent sung, there aren’t scenes with lines, the show is sung all the way through. This makes it even harder. So, it is right up there with one of the biggest we have ever done.

Chris: What impact do you expect to leave on the audience with this show?

Simmons: I have been telling my cast that with their acting and choices, because after all it is a tragedy, the crowd should be ugly crying by the end of the show. It is an emotional show, especially act two which is where characters start dropping. We are working on emphasizing those emotional moments to arouse a reaction from the audience. To make them feel something. There are some funny moments, we do have comic relief, but overall the show is definitely a tragedy.

Chris: During rehearsals, what kind of atmosphere do you like to establish?

Simmons: A big thing for me as a director is collaboration. I am more than capable of coming in and telling the actors and singers what to do, but  I really like giving an opportunity for the actors to discover what they want to do and what feels natural for them. If they need guidance or for me to step in, I am more than happy to provide that advice. I really like setting it up so that they self discover their own characters. That way, it is more natural.

Chris: What quality do you like to see in you performers?

Simmons: Dedication and passion for what they’re doing. It is a commitment, we are here for four months. It is definitely a commitment to be involved in a musical, a lot people may not realize right away how involved and how long the hours are that we put in. As long as you’re willing to put in the work and you’re willing to be here, that’s really all I ask. So, that we aren’t wasting each other’s time. I want to be productive and make sure that the show is moving forward. After every rehearsal, the show should be one step forward. We do have fun along the way.

Chris: What makes this experience most rewarding for you personally?

Simmons: For me personally, it’s when we have an audience. Getting to finally sit back and watch. My assistant (Megan Gargano), Bill, and I don’t really have that opportunity to sit down and watch until we open. It’s that moment where we get to sit back and enjoy the show along with the audience, looking for the reaction upon the faces which we hope to see. I always get a tad bit emotional on opening night, at curtain calling, when the cast is receiving recognition. Seeing that we have a show, an audience, and hearing the applause makes it worth it every year.

Chris: What play that you have partaken in, has been your personal favorite?

Simmons: That I’ve acted in or directed?

Chris: Let’s go both.

Simmons: Ok. Directing is easy. My favorite, one which will always have a special place in my heart is Aida, which we did two years ago. Aida was the first show I saw in Broadway while I was in New York during high school. It sparked my desire to keep theatre in my life. Whether as an actor, or now director. To be able to produce it here, was a personal high. Acting wise, my senior year of high school when I went to Nordonia. My senior year in 2004, we performed Guys and Dolls. I played Nicely, Nicely Johnson. I had a big number at the end of Act 2 and I stood up on a desk. It is a role which I would love to play again, if I can still sing it, it’s really high. It was one of my highlights in high school.

Chris: How has your non-profit organization, The Movement Project been coming along?

Megan Gargano: It’s been doing great, in fact we have moved up to Tremont recently.

Chris: How long have you been around Nordonia theatre and dance overall?

Megan: I’ve been here at Nordonia since Joseph. So, I’ve been apart of Joseph, The Wedding Singer, Aida, Cinderella and this year’s production. Making that five years. Dance, I’ve been around for my whole life, earning my bachelor of fine arts in performance and choreography from Ohio University School of Dance, and now working with The Movement Project.

Chris: What excitement do you have about this musical?

Megan: It is very relatable to real life, as it touches on struggle and hardships. When a musical is applicable in that way, then it’s powerful.  It’s an emotional musical.

Chris: Simmons made a joke that the audience should have “ugly crying face” reactions by the end of the show, do you think it’ll have that kind of resonance among the viewers?

Megan: *laughs* Yes, I think it will.

Chris: Brad, how is working with the cast? How much time does it take for the actors to gel together?

Brad Zinn: For a lot of people, it takes awhile. You’re not just being yourself. You have to become a whole another character. Especially for me since it’s my first year.

Chris: This is the first time you’ve ever participated in theatre?

Brad: Yes, it is.

Chris: Will you return next year?

Brad: Most definitely. I think it’s a lot of fun.

Chris: Dakota, how does it feel playing a lead role? What responsibilities come with that?

Dakota Pugh: It’s pretty cool being a lead role. The biggest responsibility is, since you’re a lead, you tend to sing on your own most of the time, so you always have to be as good as you can be.

Chris: How is it working with Mr. Simmons?

Dakota: Oh, he’s fun. He’s a funny guy.

Chris: What are you most excited for?

Dakota: I’m pretty excited for the set. I’m also apart of tech crew, the people who build the set. Chip Davis, the head of the tech crew, talks to me about what the set is going to look like. I am excited for his ideas.

Chris: And finally, how long have you been involved in theatre?

Dakota: Specifically at Nordonia High School or in general?

Chris: In general.

Dakota: Since I was in seventh grade, making this my sixth year in theatre. Five of those being at the high school.

Photos by Julie D’Aloiso