Private school setting the bar high for musical

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In a school where academic achievement is a major part of the fabric, a Grade 12 student has a lot more on his mind than getting straight As.

With the final touches being put on the Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School’s fall musical Les Misérables School Edition, Desmond Lazar feels right at home as he prepares to captivate audiences in one of the most touching musicals of the 20th century.

“I do my academic work to the best of my ability, but I don’t enjoy it as much as I do acting,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be a professional actor for six years.”

After playing minor roles in past school musicals and ushering for Shakespeare Company and Vertigo Theatres in Calgary, Lazar is embracing his biggest role yet – the part of innkeeper Monsieur Thénardier.

“It’s been mentally fulfilling – the level of fun he has and the energy,” he said. “His goal is to be wealthy and prosperous through any means necessary. He’s really not a good person at all. He robs dead people’s bodies and steals. He doesn’t care about the consequences.”

Audiences will be transported to 19th century France in Les Misérables School Edition Nov. 29-Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. with a matinée Dec. 2 at 2 p.m.

The play is set during some harrowing times where broken dreams, unrequited love and survival of the human spirit are portrayed.

“It’s a beautiful story,” said Lazar. “It’s magnificently put together.”

As show times approach, Lazar is feeling the pressure. He said past vocal training did not prepare him to sing both well and poorly in his role as the innkeeper.

“It’s been really tough,” he said. “I began singing nasally and I was told not to do that. I got more raspy to now sounding gross.”

Playing opposite of Lazar is Annabelle Hicks as Thénardier’s wife.

Unlike Lazar, Hicks found the singing easy but the acting a challenge.

“I struggled with having to act cruelly towards the younger actors,” she said. “When I was a kid, I was pretty intimidated and sensitive to attitude changes. After the first month I tried to tone it down a bit and do the mean parts not that mean.”

Hicks said this decision did not go over well. The Grade 12 student was told to act horrible towards the younger actors, a task that took some getting used to.

She describes her character as cruel and someone who takes advantage of others, but also hardworking and driven.

“As I found out more about her I liked her even more,” she said. “She works hard and she knows what she wants in life.”

Since tackling her first major role in Les Misérables, Hicks noticed her confidence improve.

“In real life I’m more reserved and watchful of my actions,” she said. “On stage there is a different confidence factor. That’s definitely something I really love about doing the performances.”

Director of Fine Arts Daniel Hall has been guiding Lazar, Hicks and the other young actors to perform to the best of their abilities, and is proud to see everything come together despite the challenge of performing it in song.

“It’s all music,” said Hall. “It became a real challenge for both myself and the students and getting them to realize that they’re having to act through the songs, that the songs aren’t just pretty notes.”

Hall said he worked with the cast to bring meaning to the script.

“We did it through a lot of improvisation of playing through it while we were rehearsing and really analyzing the songs and finding the stories and emotions within the songs as well,” he said. “They love the music, they love the energy of the show, they love the story. It’s a classic tale that takes you on an emotional ride.”

Each year, Hall sets the bar high and is never disappointed.

“I work with the kids in the expectation of excellence and they always rise to it,” he said. “I want people to walk out of the show at the end of it and go, ‘I can’t believe that happened in a high school. This is better than the quality I’ve seen at Theatre Calgary or a professional company.’”

STS brought in alumnus and professional actor Steve Patterson, who’s played Marius on Broadway and the American touring show Les Miserable, to work with the students for four days.

“We spend a lot of time talking about character and motivation and trying to dig beneath the surface of the character to see where the character is coming from,” Hall said. “We take them from a one-dimensional character and give them a three-dimensional life with background and motivation.”

Tickets to see Les Misérables costs $16 and can be purchased at the door or at www.sts.ab.ca/liveevents

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