Master of the house
The UB Theater and Dance department performs Les Miserables
Zoe Tchapraste grew up in a family of performers in New York City and has been singing since she was 8 years old.
"Theater is in my blood," Tchapraste said. Tchapraste, a senior music theater major, said singing helped her ease into the part of ?aeponine as she began preparing for her first lead role.
UB Theater and Dance department put on the first performance of Les Miserables at the Center For the Arts (CFA) on Thursday. The show, consisting of 31 UB student actors and dancers, brought in a packed audience on its opening night. The musical originally ran on Broadway from 1987 to 2003 and a film adaption of the show came out in 2012.
As the first number started, men marched in singing "Look Down," and the audience hushed, focused on the show. The stage was filled with men dressed in rags, slaving over boulders as police officers kept them in line.
Taylor Gray, a senior music theater major, played ex-prisoner Jean Valjean. He left the audience captivated as his voice resonated throughout the theater.
The audience, entranced by the talented singers who took over the theater with their powerful voices, was equally astounded at the 14-piece orchestra sitting on stage beside the actors.
The towering set used throughout the production was designed by senior theater major Ian Shelanskey. He said designing a set that would fit the whole orchestra and not encumber the 31 actors on stage was the most difficult aspect to consider.
"You know the music and the show so well, and all of those things come together to create the 'epicness' of the show," Shelanskey said. "To have the orchestra on stage kind of solidifies that and makes the characters on the same plane of importance [as the orchestra]."
While Shelanskey was concerned about spacing on stage, the performance didn't seem overcrowded throughout the show.
Danielle Gilman, a sophomore business major, said she didn't expect the UB production to be as "phenomenal" as it turned out. She had never seen a show with the orchestra on stage.
"At first, I thought it was going to take away from the show but it ended up doing the complete opposite," Gilman said. "It was perfect for the type of show that was put on. Whether you've seen Les Miserables or not, you are familiar with at least some of the music, and being able to watch the actors sing, and the music being played directly behind them was genius."
Gabrielle Petrosino, a senior music theater major, has been performing in theater department shows since her freshman year. This year, Petrosino had the opportunity to choreograph the entire production and act in the performance as the young Cosette, a role typically played by a child.
Nathan Matthews, an associate professor of music theater and director of the show, offered Petrosino the position as choreographer. He thought it would be a great opportunity for her to test out the skills she has acquired, according to Petrosino. She said dance is her specialty.
Petrosino began preparing for her role as choreographer over winter break, researching the show, reading the novel and listening to the soundtrack on repeat.
"I made it a point as soon as I found out that I was choreographing not to watch anything," Petrosino said. "I wanted my ideas to be fresh and I didn't want to see what anyone else had done before."
The choreographer worked with the entire creative team as well as her mentor Kathleen Gold, adjunct instructor in theater and dance, to decide which direction they wanted to take the show.
As each song flowed into the next scene, the audience applauded and cheered.
When Petrosino took the stage for her solo, "Castle on a Cloud," the audience was impressed to hear the voice the 4'9" actress possessed.
"Young Cosette was one of the cutest girls in the show," said Nicole Faerman, a junior communication major. "When she walked onto the stage, I thought she was a little kid they brought in for the production. When she began to sing my jaw literally dropped. I couldn't believe the voice that came out of her."
Matthews, with the rest of the creative team, chose to focus on the characters and orchestration when putting together this production.
"We are being imaginative instead of realistic," Matthews said. "[The audience] will see actors, and an orchestra that is built into the set, not big mountainsides or big streets with buildings."
Jaclyn Schneider, a sophomore nursing major, said she couldn't take her eyes off of the stage for a minute.
"It was a great idea to use a more basic set design and just really focus on the performers," Scheinder said. "The actors and the musicians were so unbelievably talented, anymore set decoration and movement would have taken away from their performance."
The real "powerhouse" number the audience can expect to enjoy is "One Day More," which features the entire cast on stage. The different voices of each performer melded together in a beautiful harmony, elegantly accompanied by compelling orchestral music. Petrosino said she saw a lot of potential for "One Day More," focusing specifically on it dance-wise because of the talented force behind it.
The audience should expect to see the same Les Miserables it already knows with the same orchestration without cutting or censoring any scenes, according to Matthews.
The Theater and Dance department will be performing Les Miserables through May 4 at the CFA Drama Theater. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for UB students.
Tori Roseman contributed reporting to this story.