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March 18, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 2004

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The Westfield Leader and The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Times

March 25, 2004

Legendary ‘Les Misérables’
Presented By SP-F Repertory Theatre Troupe

By Susan M. Dougherty

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times

[News Review - Les Miserables] SCOTCH PLAINS- Some critics might have called it insanity when Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School (SPFHS) Drama/ Music Department announced it would present Les MisÚrables as its spring musical. Other people might have thought it was an act of pure hubris. After seeing it on opening night this past weekend, I would call it brilliant.

An 18-piece timpani-driven orchestra sets the opening scene of misery and degradation of a chain gang in France in the 1800s that admonish each other to "Look Down" in order to survive. Jean Valjean, the lead throughout the musical that spans some 20 years, has just served 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's starving child and later attempting to escape.

Abe Hiatt, a vocally mature and proficient junior, plays the demanding lead role.

Casting students in the right role in a high school is half the battle. The team of Producer/Music Director Laurie Wellman and Director Tom Pedas has to be credited for knowing the students' voices and talents and matching them to roles in which they can shine. And these teenagers do shine.

A visual and auditory tapestry comprised of threads of various themes, musical and thematic, Les MisÚrables boasts a colorful combination of intrigue, passion, love, greed, and compassion.

A stunning lead solo voice of Matthew Capodicasa as Inspector Javert demonstrates that a high school senior's basso profundo can indeed be profound. Replete with Napoleonic hat and mutton chops, this antagonist battles with protagonist Valjean from the get go and continues throughout the musical that is technically an operetta in nature since all lines are sung.

Stephen Carroll's velvet lyrical voice of the Bishop sings sweetly and compassionately to thief Valjean. There is no overdosing on sugar here, however; in fact, a versatile singer/actor, Stephen later displays his multifaceted talent in the role of Joly, one of the revolutionaries in the show.

In the strong musical number "At the End of the Day," the ensemble gives a glimpse of the burden of weariness the poor feel daily.

A favorite audition song, "I Dreamed a Dream" is handled well by Jaclyn Tumolo playing Fantine, the mother of an illegitimate child named Cosette. When fellow factory workers steal a letter written by Cosette's caretakers, a fight ensues and Fantine loses her job. This especially wellplayed musical number in the factory showcases a variety of solo voices that could have handled leads easily themselves.

Forlorn, Fantine sells her hair for money and then is taught the harsh realities of prostitution. Garishly dressed women of the night topped off with plumed hats show their vocal flexibility with raucous sounds and tender unison blends when needed. Fantine (Jaclyn Tumolo) uses a beautiful upper register of her voice when she pleads to Inspector Javert to let her go for the sake of her child.

Later, effective strobe lighting in the runaway cart scene sparks reality. At the end of that scene, the low notes of Capodicasa's Javert are ominously evil in vibrato and intensity.

"Who Am I?" the introspective song that Valjean sings, is rushed a bit in tempo, perhaps causing first time audience members not to grasp all of the lyrics. Otherwise, Pit Orchestra Director Durand Thomas reins in a knowledgeable, talented musical ensemble.

When Paige Mankin sings, "Castle on a Cloud," as young Cosette, she steals the hearts of the audience. That role and the one of the street urchin, Gavroche, played by Daniel Pesin on March 18, got two of the biggest ovations of the night. Both have angelic voices.

Devilishly wonderful in the role of innkeeper Thenardier and Madame Thenardier are Devon Bonstein and Laura Manziano. As the innkeeper's wife, Laura is excellent. There is no other word for her performance. The disdain she dumps on young Cosette is acting at its best. And in "Master of the House," with Devon taking the lead, the audience fairly howls its delight.

No wonder the house rocks in that number; the stage is packed with crowds of SPFHS's drama and music students each doing its character's bits while still reacting to the dishonest innkeeper and his wife.

Devon spits out hilarious lyrics. He and his wife sail through the number with ribald gestures as punctuation. He and the Mrs. should be sure Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award Nominees, if not winners. In fact, there should be a fair number of n o m i n a t i o n s from this talented cast as well as the show itself.

Lauren Perrotta, playing Eponine, creates tender, plaintive musical moments one of which is "Little he knows, little he sees."

Like Captain Ahab searching for Moby Dick, Inspector Javert stays hot on the trail of Jean Valjean throughout their lives. When Javert (Matt) sings, "and if you fall as Lucifer fell," it is clear that he sees life in terms of black and white. Matt is electric when he sings "This I swear."

In the song, "Red and Black." Enjolras (Tuan Nguyen) and Marius (Ryan Aspell) are the leaders of the student-supported revolution. Tuan's art song quality voice raises support for the cause. "Do you hear the People Sing?" which starts pianissimo is the signal for the rest of the crowd to stream down the aisle and appear on stage. That in itself is quite a feat with approximately 45 in the ensemble.

This has always felt like a natural intermission spot in the show, but it isn't. The grownup Cosette, a lovely senior named Jillian Prefach, has to literally bump into Marius (Ryan) in order for them to meet and fall in love. Some of the best moments of the show happen when Jillian opens her mouth to sing. The talented trio in "A Heart Full of Love" blends powerful voices of Ryan, Jillian and Lauren.

Simple yet effective "walking" choreography by Gisa DiIorio at the end of Act I is accented by the waving red flag of the revolution and the stirring theme of "One Day More." With Act II, enters one the unnamed stars of the show: the barricade. Kudos to its designers and builders! The scene of gunfire and mayhem juxtaposes with the "Drink with Me" scene that precedes it. A melancholy moment in the show, it is tender and reflective.

Eponine's heartfelt solo "On My Own" is similar in approach to the original cast album. She alternates a controlled belt and head voice for the show-stopping song, probably the most well known in the musical, and wins over the hearts of the audience who have experienced similar pain of unrequited love. "Bring Him Home," a stellar song is a little overplayed in intensity and volume. It needs to be whispered at moments with emotion dripping from each note. Abe Hiatt's wonderful last few notes of falsetto are his best in that piece.

After being saved by his enemy Valjean, Javert ponders his unrelenting quest. The strobe light effect on a frazzled, disheveled Matt Capodicasa in the suicide scene is powerful and convincing.

Marius (Ryan Aspell) sells the song "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" with thoughtfulness and soul. An effective use of the "ghosts" of his friends lined up on the bridge reflects the ravages of war.

After that contemplative scene comes the levity of the wedding scene where Madame T and Thenardier crash it in the hopes of blackmailing Marius. Laura and Devon return in more outlandish costumes. The characters and their antics are pretty laughable; good direction and confidence on the part of the actors help bring it altogether. Electricity is in the air when they are on stage.

A high demand for excellence was placed on this cast and crew and they delivered. At the end of each performance when they ask the audience for a donation for the Interfaith Council for the Homeless of Union County, it is clear that through this show, these performers have been touched by the plight of the poor. Congratulations to these teens for a job well done. And to the parents and directors who have helped shape them into the stars of tomorrow: thank you also for making them concerned citizens who will make a better tomorrow for all.

JOIN IN OUR CRUSADE!...After each performance, cast members of the Scotch Plains/Fanwood's Les MisÚrables ask audience members to contribute to the Interfaith Council for the Homeless of Union County. In the last four months of rehearsals, the students have served meals in soup kitchens, and hosted a Christmas party for homeless children and their families. This show, which piqued the teens's social consciousness, continues through this weekend. The troupe raised over $1,000 in the first weekend of performances for the organization.

[News Article - Union County Volunteer award]

Union County- Freeholder Al Mirabella (C) presents the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School "Les Miserables" cast with a resolution honoring the troupe as a recipient of a 2004 Volunteer Recognition Award by the Union County Office of Volunteer Services.

Director Tom Pedas (2nd R), Music Director Laurie Wellman (R), Tuan Ngugen, president of the repertory theatre (L), Jillian Pretack, secretary of the repertory theatre (2nd L), actor Daniel Pesin (front L) and actress Jillian Gardner (front R) were on at to receive the honor.

The cast members went to soup kitchens in Plainfield, Clark and Elizabeth to serve meals, sang Christmas carols at a holiday party for the homeless, presented a special preview performance of "Les Miserables" at Ozanum, an area homeless shelter and chartered a bus to bring the residents of the shelter to one of the performances. They also held a canister drive at the end of the six performances of "Les Miserables" and raised over $5,700.00 for the Interfaith Council for the Homeless of Union County. (Photo by Jim Lowney/County of Union)

SP-F High School Casts Roles for ‘Les Misérables’

Suburban News-Prime Time

December 17, 2003

[News Article - Les Miserables] SCOTCH PLAINS - The Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School Repertory Theater announced names of its 80-member cast now preparing to stage the musical show, Les Misérables, starting March 19, 2004.

The show entertained millions in countries around the world for more than a decade, closing in New York only this past spring.

“This is the first season that Les Misérables has been available to amateur theater groups in northern New Jersey,” said SPFY school district choral music director, Laurie Wellman, producer. “Our exceptional cast includes eight singers who are 2003 all-state chorus members selected by the new Jersey State Music Educators Association, and nine in the American Choir Directors Association All-Eastern choir.“ Tom Pedas of the Cranford schools will direct the show. Durand Thomas of Scotch Plains Fanwood High School music department will conduct, and Gisa Di Iorio will choreograph.

Seniors in key roles include Ryan Aspell (Marius), Devon Bonstein and Laura Manziano (the innkeepers Thenardier), Adam Corbin (Grantaire), Tuan Nguyan (Enjolras), Jill Prefach (Cosette) and Jackie Tumolo (Fantine). Juniors include Matthew Capodicasa (Javert), Abraham Hiatt (Jean Valjean), and Lauren Perrotta (Eponine).

Les Misérables will open at 8 p.m. on March 19, 2004, at the Scotch Plains Fanwood High School on Westfield Road, Scotch Plains, and run for five performances. The subsequent dates are March 20 (evening), March 21 (matinee) and March 26-27 (evenings). The box office opens for ticket orders on February 1, 2004. Call (908) 889-7755.

Dozens of featured roles will be filled by members of the 64-member chorus. Vangelis Dimopoulos, Jake Forrestal and Daniel Pesin will share the role of the child Gavroche, and Jillian Gardner and Paige Mankin will alternate as young Cosette.

Scotch Plains-Fanwood Public Schools In the News

SPFHS Rep Theater's "Les Miserables" ran for six performances.

The Show

"Les Miserables" by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg retells in operatic form the 1400-page novel of 1861 by Victor Hugo. The French author, born a decade after the French Revolution, his teen years spent under Napoleon, captured the plight of 'the unfortunate' -- people neither powerful nor prosperous during the stressful and politically fast-moving decades of Hugo's early life.

As an opera in the 1990s, Hugo's tale of the wronged convict, Jean Valjean, and the people he helped entertained millions in countries around the world for more than a decade, closing in New York only in the spring of 2003. This is the first season in which the show, in a school edition released for use by non professionals, has been available in this area.

Ms. Laurie Wellman of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Public Schools' Music Department is the producer. "It's unbelievable how our cast and our community have risen to the challenge of producing this demanding musical show," said Ms. Wellman. "The set is so much more than walls at the back of the stage. We have 75 students, and most of them except the leads play two to five roles apiece."

The show requires more than 300 costumes. The stage setting, with its barricade, consumed an estimated 400 person-hours for salvaging materials and construction.

Mr. Tom Pedas of the Cranford Public Schools directs. "'Les Mis' has a powerful story and great music," said Mr. Pedas. "We have the voices to pull it off and carry off the many technical challenges of this brilliant show."

Players in key roles include R.Aspell (Marius),D.Bonstein and L.Manziano (the innkeepers Thenardier), M.Capodicasa (Javert), A.Corbin (Grantaire), A.Hiatt (Jean Valjean), T.Nguyen (Enjolras), L.Perrotta (Eponine), J.Prefach (Cosette) and J.Tumolo (Fantine).

V.Dimopoulos, J.Forrestal and D.Pesin will share the role of the young street urchin Gavroche, and J.Gardner and P.Mankin will alternate as young Cosette.

The cast includes eight singers who are 2003 All-State Chorus members selected by the New Jersey State Music Educators Association, and nine in the prestigious All-Eastern Choir of the American Choral Director's Association.

Cast and Stage Leadership Credentials

Laurie Wellman, producer, in her 24th year as choral director at Scotch Plains Fanwood High School, has led musical theater at SPFHS Rep to progressively greater challenges and achievements during the past decade. Ms. Wellman is chair of the Choral Procedures Committee and a board member with the New Jersey Music Educators Association. Regularly part of the scene at regional and all-state choral events, Ms. Wellman conducted the Region II choir in 1992.

Tom Pedas, director, teaches music Hillside Avenue School in Cranford. He was named "Master Music Teacher" by the New Jersey Music Educators Association. Tom was guest conductor for the Region II High School Chorus and the Junior High New Jersey All-State Honor Choir, as well as director of the Celebration Singers. He founded the Celebration Children's Choir and the Linden Summer Playhouse, where he has directed for seven years. Tom has also directed musicals for the Scotch Plains Players, Mystic Vision Players, Cranford Dramatic Club and Hillside Avenue School, as well as the Cranford Repertory Theater shows, "Fiddler on the Roof" and "The Music Man" (2003).

Laura Manziano (Madame Thenardier), a senior, is in her third SPFHS Rep season. Previously she played Lulu Warnicker in 'Footloose' and Mother Burnside in 'Mame.' Laura has sung in the All-State Women's Chorus and for two years in the Region II Women's Chorus. For two years she has performed with the Paper Mill Playhouse's Theater Sports group.

Jackie Tumolo (Fantine), has in four years never missed appearing an SPFHS Rep show, from 'Anything Goes,' to 'Mame,' to 'Footloose.' Jackie was a 2003 singer in the Region II Chorus. She is co-president of the Concert Choir, choreographer of SPFHS Show Choir and captain of the Varsity Gymnastics and fo Colorguard and Winterguard. Jacking appeared twice, in 1996 and 1998 in New York's seasonal production of 'A Christmas Carol.'

Ryan Aspell (Marius), senior, plans to major in theater. He played a lead, Ren, in 'Footloose' and Patrick in 'Mame' in the two past years' SPFHS Rep shows. Ryan has been involved with several community theaters in the area including Plays in the Park. He sang in last month in Boston in the All-East Choir of the American Choral Directors Association.

Jill Prefach (Cosette), a senior, will study music in college based on a llong record of successes not only at SPFHS Rep &endash; the lead Ariel in Footlose, 2003, and the snooty socialite mother in "Mame," 2002 &endash; but also in the Paper Mill Playhouse New Voices Conservatory. Jill has been a All-State chorus honoree and Region Chorus participant from eighth to eleventh grade.

Matt Capodicasa (Javert), a junior, performed in Europe as featured soloist with the touring company, American Music Abroad. Now in his third SPFHS Rep show, Matt had a leading role last year as the Rev. Shaw Moore in "Footloose' and before that as M. Lindsay Woolsey in 'Mame.' He has sung in programs with Union County Arts Center and New Jersey Performing Arts Center ('Tosca'). His choral credits include All-State and Region Choirs in both 2004 and 2003. Matt is currently in rehearsals for 'Kiss Me, Kate' with the Cranford Dramatic Club and is a student film-maker.

Abe Hiatt (Jean Valjean), a junior, is in his third SPFHS Rep role, having last year played Bickel in 'Footloose' and before that Gregor in 'Mame.' He sang in last month in Boston in the All-East Choir of the American Choral Directors Association. Abe's choral credits include All-State and Region Choirs in 2004 and the All State Choir of 2003. Like several of the cast members who have appeared in New York's seasonal production of 'A Christmas Carol,' Abe took part in 21 shows in 1998.

Lauren Perrotta (Eponine), a junior, had one of the leads, Rusty, in last year's SPFHS Rep show, 'Footloose' and also appeared in the previous year's 'Mame.' Lauren has been nominated for this summer's theater program at the Governor's School (College of New Jersey) with opportunities to interact with professionals and take classes in theater, music and acting.

Devon Bonstein (Thenardier), a senior, now appears in his first musical. Devon has been involved with SPFHS Rep theatre for four years. Both the previous two shows (Footloose, and Mame) benefited from Devon's role as the stage manager and student director. He has been light technician on "Oliver," produced by The Rainbow Experience. Devon has taken improvisation and writing classes the Papermill Playhouse.

Jake Forrestal (Gavroche), age 8 in third grade at Hillside Avenue School in Cranford plays sports and studies piano and singing. In 2003, Jake was Winthrop in the Cranford Repertory Theater's 'The Music Man' and the year before that appeared in the Cranford Dramatic Club's 'Winnie the Pooh Christmas.'

Vangelis Dimopoulos (Gavroche) , is 12 and in sixth grade in Park Middle School. He studies piano and singing and plays trumpet. He recently composed his first piece, sings in the school chorus and has performed in Greek school plays.

Dan Pesin (Gavroche) , is nine and in fourth grade at Coles Elementary School. He enjoys gymnastic competition and plays soccer with the Scotch Plains Fanwood Burn.

Paige Mankin (Young Cosette), age nine, attends McGinn school, plays piano and takes ballet and jazz dance. She has always been a quick study on Broadway songs.

Jillian Gardner (Young Cosette), attends fourth grade at Coles Elementary School. Jillian has been a dancer since age three and a singer in the choir at Fanwood Presbyterian Church since age five.

Gisa DiIorio, director of choreography, is a master teacher at Dance 2000 who has lent her talents to SPFHS Rep shows in recent years.

Durand Thomas, SPFHS instrumental music teacher, will conduct the pit orchestra for Les Mis.

The music supervisor of the Scotch Plains Fanwood Public Schools is Vincent Turturiello, recently honored with the Master Teacher Award of the New Jersey Music Educators Association.

The Community Story

"Victor Hugo in his monumental novel 150 years ago dramatized needs that haven't gone away," said show director Tom Pedas. "Our students have recognized this not only on stage but in real-life engagements with the less fortunate. In keeping with the theme of Les Miserables, the students sought opportunities throughout the community to show support for the needy."

  • Appearing on Dec. 16, 2003, at St. Helen's Roman Catholic Church in Westfield, the cast "Les Miserables," entertained at a Christmas party for area homeless.

  • At the St. Helen's Church Christmas party, the "Les Miserables" cast featured songs from the show itself as well as a carol sing-along with the St. Helen's youth group and their guests, 30 current residents at Ozanum, a 90-bed homeless shelter in Edison.

  • The event was organized by St. Helen's youth , Patti Gardner, as well as the show's director, Mr. Tom Pedas of the Cranford schools, and producer, Ms. Laurie Wellman, choral director of the Scotch Plains Fanwood schools music department.

  • St. Helen's has a tradition of sending students from their youth group to Ozanum for weekly session to entertain and play with children there while their mothers run errands, attend job interviews or otherwise seek to achieve a settled life.

  • Student performers including Laura Manziano provided liaison between the church youth groupand the show cast.

  • Student performers Brittany McDonald, Abe Hiatt and Corey Fineman have supported the "Yes, We Care" soup kitchen.

  • The soup kitchen is housed in the Zion Lutheran Church in Clark, where a community organization including Dr. Sanford Fineman of Scotch Plains gathers donated food, prepares meals and makes weekly distributions at the St. Joseph Social Service Center in Elizabeth.

  • On February 1, 2004, cast members traveled to the First Baptist Church of Elizabeth, home of the Elmora Soup Kitchen. They supported the kitchen team with food preparation for 60 clients, serving, and cleaning up.

  • On behalf of the Interfaith Council for the Homeless of Union County, the cast will also conduct a canister drive during 'Les Mis' during 'Les Mis' performances.


News Articles

Tom Pedas, The Celebration Singers and Children's Chorus


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