I was in a community theater production a couple of years ago.
It was a one-night guest performance — a starring role in the play “Love Letters,” where two actors sit at desks and read love letters they’ve written to each other over the course of their lives.
I had always wanted to try community theater but still, I was nervous. In the couple of days I had to prepare, I steeled myself, expecting to face rows of people staring up at me through the spotlights. What happened was far worse. The weather turned bad that night and the four people who came to see the play were all related to me.
It was painful, but I walked away with new respect for those who fill our local stages with dramatic entertainment. The ones who say to each other, like Mickey Rooney, “Hey, let’s put on a show!”
Our region is flush with local theater groups who relentlessly come up with new ways to amuse those of us who buy their tickets. But, local audience loyalty is spotty at best.
That’s why my eyes widened when I heard that one local group, Theatre in the Mist, was taking on “Les Miserables.” I’m pretty sure I muttered, “are you kidding me?”
For those who don’t keep up with musical theater, or haven’t read the reams of press about last year’s movie of the same name, the musical opera is a massive undertaking. There’s a giant cast. And everybody sings all through the play, each lyric advancing the plot.
Those involved have gamely taken on a production that director Joey Bucheker calls “a monster.” The theater group’s chairman, Ryan Scarfone, calls it “a beast.”
The 14-year-old company has never attempted anything like this, but they know big reach leads to big gains. This could considerably amp up its reputation, which has already been increasing with successful past musicals like “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Annie.”
About 250 actors showed up to audition for nearly 60 roles. Some of the cast are professionals from Buffalo, performing free in this non-profit production because it isn’t likely a local professional group will have the cash to produce it any time soon. Cast members are driving here for rehearsals from all over the region and parts of Canada. One actress drives two hours from Cuba. It appears the hundred or so people involved in getting this enormous, song-filled production together are simply captivated by the challenge.
The other day, Lewiston actor Jerry Mosey commented to me via Facebook, “Believe it or not (at 71) I’m playing Thenardier — Master of the House!” His excitement was contagious.
I met up with Mosey on Wednesday to talk about the play, and while “Les Miserables,” with its dark tones of class warfare, has never been my favorite musical, even I got drawn into the excitement.
Mosey, a veteran actor most recently seen performing in the Marble Orchard historical tours in Lewiston, told me over Orange Cat coffee about his life. It’s been a wandering road which led him towards and then away from the priesthood. After the seminary, he toured with a nightclub band, but eventually became a college educator before retiring about ten years ago. He sits on a handful of community boards, but his real love is theater and that love is expressed in this dastardly role.
The play takes place in 19th century France and is about a man who is wrongly imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his dying nephew. Years later, released from jail, but pursued by his jailor, the man gets entangled in a student uprising and lives are changed forever.
Mosey plays a loathsome barkeeper who gets to sing the well-known song that is the play’s comic relief, “Master of the House.”
Jerry describes his character as a man who steals from the corpses in the sewers with the certainty that there is no ultimate punishment for his deeds. “I raise my eyes to see the heavens, and only the moon looks down,” Thenardier sings.
An interesting role for a man who early in life left the priesthood, but for Mosey, the play itself is full of spiritual redemption, which might be why it has drawn adoring audiences from around the globe since it debuted in Paris in 1980.
Describing the extraordinary production, Mosey says that the final moments carry the most powerful message, one that causes his eyes to well up as he speaks of it.
He told me how John Valjean, the main character, on his deathbed sings “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
I don’t know about Valjean, but for me — if I were to look for the face of God — it would more likely be in the faces of the 100 or so people in front of and behind the curtain at the high school, who have the guts to try to put on a show that has daunted the highest paid professionals. They are doing it regardless of who shows up in the seats, because there is soulful joy for them in the doing.
If there is a face of God, it would surely be reflected upon theirs.
(”Les Miserables” runs Oct. 11 through 26 at the Performing Arts Center. For more information visit www.theatreinthemist.org or call 877-856-0694).
Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.