One of Broadway’s longest-running musicals, “Les Miserables,” is coming to East Hampton High School this weekend. Debbie Mansir, the director, explained why she chose this Victor Hugo classic — not only for its value as entertainment, but also as education.
“It’s one of my favorite shows for many reasons,” she said. “The music is incredible, the lead characters’ evolution through the story is unique and complex. We spent a bit of time before even starting rehearsals understanding the history of the times in the early 1800s in France — the social, economic, and political systems that were in place and how each character was affected by them.”
She said the cast has been deeply affected by Hugo’s work, and the music by Claude Michel Schonberg and the book (in English) by Herbert Kretzmer.
“The messages of love, forgiveness, and redemption are so powerful and relatable with the kids, even today. I have heard the kids speak of these themes in their general conversations. Also, because there are only eight lines of actual dialog, and the rest is sung, there is a full orchestra pit, which would include more students in the overall performances. Our pit has full string, woodwinds, brass, and percussion sections, allowing more students to participate,” Mansir said.
There were also several deeper discussions about character. “We talked about the role of women during this time and why Fantine ended up as a prostitute, and the lengths she would go to protect her child, Cosette. We discussed why Marius, a privileged and educated young man, would be involved with the student uprising of 1832. Victor Hugo takes the two main characters, Jean Valjean and Javert, on a journey from evil to good, darkness to light, despair to deep faith, and injustice to justice, in reverse proportion to each other.”
Productions at East Hampton High School take quality seriously. “I have been most fortunate in working with an amazing team of people this year,” Mansir said. “Dylan Greene is an extremely talented vocal director and our lighting guru. I am thrilled that Jayne Freedman, one of the founders of Springs Community Theater Company, is on board as assistant director. Troy Grindle is once again the orchestra director and has worked diligently with our students to truly enhance the performances.”
She continued, “This is one of those experiences I have dreamed about for a few years, and I am beyond thrilled that I can see it come to fruition. It is my hope that anyone who comes to see the show will have the opportunity to experience something very special and will remember it for years.”
Mansir was passionate about the importance of arts in the schools. “You don’t have enough page space for me to elaborate,” she said. “I have a tendency to get on a soapbox to extol the importance of the arts in schools. All I can say is I have been doing theater in the schools for 16 years, and I have witnessed the transformation of more than one student from a shy, lost individual to one with a purpose and true friends. Kids find their niche, a place where no one judges, and where by the end of a run, they are supported and lifted up to something they might not have been without participating in an arts program.”
“Les Miserables” will be performed Friday, March 1 and Saturday, March 2, at 7 PM and Sunday, March 3, at 3 PM. Tickets can be purchased at the door. For more information, call 631-329-6462.