COAST CITIES — Some of the coast’s most gifted young thespians are currently starring in the California Youth Conservatory’s presentation of “Les Misérables — School Edition.”
The iconic Broadway musical runs through July 29 at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.
Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, “Les Misérables” spans three turbulent decades in 19th century France. Protagonist Jean Valjean is an ex-con on parole after 19 years on the chain gang who is condemned to be an outcast. His only ally is the Bishop of Digne. Valjean finds it difficult to start a new life when he is haunted by his past and pursued relentlessly by police inspector Javert.
This is the fourth production of “Les Misérables” since CYC was founded in 2003 by Shaun T. Evans.
“‘Les Misérables’ is among the top three musical franchises in history,” Evans said. “Our last production was in Oceanside and it had the best box office performance ever. I think we are going to top that. This cast is very special.”
Evans explains that, despite their youth, most cast members already have professional theater experience along with plans to pursue a career in theatre. To prepare them for their roles in “Les Misérables,” they have received hands-on training from master class instructor Thomas O’Leary who starred in 1,000 performances of the “Phantom of Opera” on Broadway, and was in the first national tour of “Les Misérables.”
“Thomas spent 10 hours with the kids training and drilling them on ‘Les Misérables,’ making believable characters from those in the book,” Evans said. “One of their goals is for people to see the show and feel like they really saw ‘Les Misérables,’ not just kids who did ‘Les Misérables.’ Shortly after the show starts, the audience will forget they are watching teenagers.”
Starring as Jean Valjean is Ala Tiatia from Ridgecrest, Calif., who begins studying theater at MiraCosta College this fall. A sign of the times, Ala said that he learned about auditions for ‘Les Misérables’ from his Facebook friend, Tzytle Steinman who plays Cosettte. Ala auditioned for the role over Skype from his home in Kern County.
“Once I came to rehearsal I was in awe because of the talent of these children,” he said. “I’m really blessed to be in a cast like this.”
Ala gave kudos to Evans for pushing him and the others to exceed expectations of themselves.
“When I performed ‘Les Misérables’ in high school, I did it in a very reserved manner, not going off the sheet music or notes,” he said. “Shaun gives you artistic license to do with the role what you want to do. He helped me be a better performer than I’ve been in the past.”
David Ahmadian of Carmel Valley plays Enjolras, the leader of a student revolt. This is his third production with CYC.
“I’ve been doing youth theater for a long time and every production with CYC has been professional and high quality,” he said. “Patrons who come expecting to see a ‘bless your heart children’s theater’ will be shocked to see the quality of theater CYC puts on.”
Before establishing CYC, Evans was a working actor since 1989 with credits that include starring in the Broadway production of “Fences” with James Earl Jones and the national tour of “Showboat.” He also appeared in the TV series “China Beach” and “Charles in Charge.”
“Once I got married and had kids, I wanted to settle down so I started the company,” he said.
In addition to performing, actors are required to build everything for the production, including the 23-foot revolving stage that is a trademark of “Les Misérables.”
Other cast members include Talia Can, Max Corney, Andy Koponek (Carlsbad); Breanna Bliss, Alyssa Thomason (Carmel Valley); Mara Jacobs, Alexa Samaniego (Del Mar); Tzytle Steinman (Oceanside); Emily Hoolihan (San Marcos); and Kaley Milligan (Vista).
Last year California Youth Conservatory won the San Diego A-List 2011 for Arts and Entertainment Theater Group.
Curtains will close on “Les Misérables” at 1 p.m. July 29. For ticket and schedule information visit cyctheatre.com. For group or other info, call (619) 944-7574. The Welk Resort Theatre is located at 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido.