Do you hear the people sing? St. Thomas High School’s production of Les Misérables is epic
March 16, 2023
HOUSTON — “I like a challenge.”
That’s St. Thomas High School Director of Theatre Dan Green’s reaction when he’s asked what excites him about mounting the musical Les Misérables as the school’s spring offering. He also loves other things about it: the music, the story and the students involved.
“I’m excited and humbled to share this story with St. Thomas because it’s a labor of love about the true nature of love,” he said. “What could be better than doing something like this for people we love?”
To be sure, Les Mis, as it’s affectionately called, is a massive undertaking. Since its opening in London in 1985, reimagined from its original incarnation on the French stage in 1980, and both of them based on Victor Hugo’s 19th-century novel of the same name, the show has existed in superlatives. It’s become the longest-running musical in the world. It’s been translated into 22 foreign languages. More than 120 million people in 52 countries have seen it. The show broke records in London’s West End, and when it transferred to Broadway in 1987, it garnered 12 Tony Award nominations, winning eight, including the coveted Best Musical award. It would play more than 6,000 performances and launch two revivals.
For all its grandeur and legacy, however, it remains a musical that is about love and about mercy. It follows the intertwined lives of the convict Jean Valjean, sentenced to a chain gang for stealing a loaf of bread and attempting various escapes. Paroled at the beginning of the musical, he’ll eventually make a decision that will ripple across decades. Throughout it all, he’ll be pursued by the relentless Inspector Javert, whose concept of justice leaves little space for daylight between black and white. Amid the musical’s epic sweep, the themes of God’s grace and making sacrifices for a higher cause run deep, seen not only in the main characters of Valjean and Javert but also in the supporting roles of Fantine, a factory worker with an illegitimate child to care for, and Eponine, the daughter of corrupt and callous innkeepers who is secretly in love Marius, a student revolutionary.
These are weighty subjects, which Green said, and he and the cast don’t shy away from them.
“When we break down each scene, we can’t help but have these conversations about the joys and hopes and mercies we all hope for,” he explained. “Valjean’s redemption, Javert’s tragic rejection of mercy, Fantine’s sacrifice, and Eponine’s sacrifice all make sense only in a world illuminated by God’s divine presence.”
Green said that more than 100 students are involved in the telling of this musical, whether in the cast, crew, orchestra or offering other support. As St. Thomas High School doesn’t rent sets, it’s the students and their families who help design and build the world brought to life on the St. Thomas stage. Support also came from Incarnate Word Academy, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart and St. Agnes Academy, all who had several students perform the female roles, including Eponine, Cosette and Fantine.
“We just like challenging everyone with difficult work that, if done correctly, can serve as its own reward,” Green said. “We’ve built giant, 30-person ships, castles that grow to two stories, the west wing of the Beast’s castle… 16-foot-tall, man-eating plants… spinning stages, stairs that light up, haunted mansions, New York City…It was time for us to build Paris, a barricade, and some working cannons.”
This will be the first time Les Misérables has been done at St. Thomas and Green’s first time directing the show.
“I love working with [the students] and a legion of people who love what we try to do in the St. Thomas Drama Program,” he said.
But he cites the commitment of the students to the process, both of stagecraft and approaching the material with open hearts, as one that gives him great joy.
“The story illuminates the beauty of real love as sacrifice. I would hope and suspect that such a theme resonates soundly with everyone who has embraced their vocations, with everyone who has chosen to love God’s creation,” he said. “As we talk through the work in rehearsal, those ideas are at the core of the motivations for many of our actors in this production. Many of the seniors have said as much, which is deeply profound.”
Les Misérables runs March 24 to 26 at St. Thomas High School. Tickets are $15 and go on sale after March 18. Performances are Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.sths.org/athletics/sporting-event-tickets.