Christendom students, in conjunction with a local private school, Chelsea Academy, brought audiences to tears, laughs, and cheers this past weekend with their performances of the widely acclaimed school version of the musical Les Misérables. Packing hundreds into the theater for each of the three performances, the musical featured strong vocal performances, stunning set design, authentic costumes, and inspired direction from sophomore director Emma Hackett and sophomore producer Kieran O’Donnell, leading to one of the most enjoyable shows ever put on at the college.
“There are three ways to do Les Miserables: the first way is to whitewash it, making it feel superficial and weakening the impact. The second way is to plunge into the grittiness, which is artistically lazy and unnecessary, and also weakens the positive effect. We chose the third way, the middle ground. We’re accepting the fallenness of man so that we can show the redemption and the mercy. There really isn’t a more perfect play for the ‘Year of Mercy,’ because this one shows man’s fallenness, but also his potential to be redeemed,” said O’Donnell.
Hackett and O’Donnell began organizing the musical early this spring as part of their sophomore leadership project, required as part of the college’s Education for a Lifetime career development program. For both, and many of the cast members as well, being a part of this play was a dream come true.
“The play does have hard themes, but ultimately it is a story about redemption. You can’t have redemption without suffering. It also contains deeply Catholic elements: the communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, even life everlasting. Les Miserables tells the story from the valley of tears, and impacts the modern world that is also suffering, looking for hope,” Hackett expressed.
The decision to produce a play of this size and notoriety, in addition to the responsibilities of being full-time students, was a major one, but one which both Hackett and O’Donnell made without hesitation.
Since the college does not offer degrees in performance or theatre, all students have the opportunity to audition for all the plays, but they must always put their academic studies first. This emphasis on the academic program, and seeing the play as an extra-curricular activity, is what makes the ability for any student to participate a reality. At many colleges and universities, only those majoring in theatre or the arts are able to perform, and quite often, they earn academic credit. At Christendom, all students, no matter the major, may take part in the many aspects of putting on a performance such as Les Mis.
With the aid of Meghan Hackett, Emma’s mother, and Christendom’s Executive Vice President Ken Ferguson, the cast did a fantastic job bringing the visions of Hackett and O’Donnell to life. Senior Patrick Hilleary played the lead role, Jean Valjean, and won audiences over with his stellar performance. Other character highlights included O’Donnell and sophomore Veronica Stephens as the hilarious partners in crime, the Thénardiers, who are the stars of the song “Master of the House;” also junior Max Van Hecke starred alongside Hackett as Marius Pontmercy, the lover of the grown-up Cosette. Sophomore Danielle Lemieux played a compelling Fantine, rivaling Anne Hathaway’s Academy-Award winning performance in the movie adaptation of Les Miserables, and Ferguson’s own son won audience’s hearts with his fantastic performance as Gavroche.
Audiences agreed that the performances were incredible, leaving them teary-eyed and extremely impressed. Hackett and O’Donnell achieved their dream of bringing Les Miserables to the stage, and the performance was so spectacular, their peers are sure to remember the powerful story for years to come.