A Music Director's Epic Tale: Les Miserables

Chapter 2 : Project Planning

2.2 - Preparation

Fitting a show like "Les Mis" into the show cycle at our theater (essentially only a little over 2 months to learn the music and blocking and then the two weeks of dress and tech rehearsals) requires critical planning skills and the ability to shift quickly should things not be coming along as planned. This show posed an interesting challenge for myself and Jessica because we knew that learning and rehearsing the music had to be a primary focus, but not at the expense of the blocking and character development. We took the novel approach of looking to compliment each other's primary area. In introducing songs, I would help the cast understand what it was all about, both compositionally as well as thematically, how and why it fits into the show, and so forth. This would help drive their initial singing approach, but also lay the foundation for Jessica's reiteration of these ideas at future rehearsals and what she wanted to see from each actor in each scene.

Jessica would also be present at each music rehearsal so that she could catch any singing issues that I might have missed plus to ensure the right overall mood and tone of each song right from the very start. Jessica also is a huge fan of this show, and in her many years of directing, she actually never had the opportunity to stage this show, so years of great ideas and knowledge of the show could finally come to life. You could say she'd been planning this for a long time!

As further preparation for teaching the show to the cast, I reached back into my deep, dark memory banks of studying the story in high school. We spent some time in French class discussing the characters in Victor Hugo's original novel (I graduated from high school the same year that the original French production took place, a few years before it hit Broadway). We even read some passages in French. I love history and researched the historical context in which the story takes place. I also recalled having read some of the story in English, and went back and selectively read some key parts of the huge tome.

But long before the first meeting of cast and parents, Jessica and I sat down and hammered out the roles we'd play in the production, and then she requested a rough draft of how I thought it best to break down all the rehearsal time. She graciously allowed the blocking to work around the initial music rehearsals. There's no one right way to do that with this show - you could block the entire show without learning any music, you could get all the songs learned initially and then move on to blocking, etc.

Part of our approach was to ensure the cast understood the story. So, in the very first rehearsal, after the parents got the "ground rules" about how the theater is run, and so forth, the cast gathered around and Jessica explained the plot of the show, as well as who all the main characters were. We also placed the story into the context of French history and explained what Victor Hugo was trying to get across with his novel.

These kids probably hadn't read the novel, are probably too young to have seen it when it was on Broadway (1987-2003), and might not have studied it in school. So this proved to be a big help.

Working backwards on the calendar didn't stop with the date of the first auditions for the show. We needed to plan backwards further for the usual tasks of: ordering the license and the music, creating a prop list, and in my specific case, devising the right approach for the presentation of the music.