Building the cast for the local school production of "Les Miserables" was a painful process, says director Jojo Urquico. “We have over 60 students in the cast which is of course one of the challenges of this production,” he said. “Pulling off a big show like this is quite challenging — plus Les Mis is a show for actors who can sing.”
The early stages of the production were problematic, Urquico said. “We only had 30 people in the cast. In a course of months, we grew and now we have an ideal number of people in the cast.”
In the end, he said, all the pain has paid off. “One of the greatest joy about directing this show is seeing how each and everyone have grown as a performer — every one of them. Nothing can compare to the joy I get knowing that this show will change people's lives one way or the other.”
Presented by World Theater Productions, Les Miserables will be performed at Father Duenas Phoenix Center on Oct. 13, 14 and 15.
“As we are about to tell our story in few days I think the audience is about to see a show that will talk about for a long time,” said Urquico, a Germany-based director who was one of the original cast of Miss Saigon.
Les Miserables is based on Victor Hugo's novel set in 19th-century France. This musical sensation has produced such hits as “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Do You Hear The People Sing,” and “On My Own,” among others.
Les Misérables centers on Valjean, a proud and decent man imprisoned for stealing bread to save his sister's family from starving. After his release, he is pursued relentlessly by police officer Javert for breaking the terms of his parole. He becomes a respectable town mayor and factory owner. His path crosses that of his poor employee Fantine, whose grownup daughter Cosette, who is fated to hall in love with revolutionary firebrand Marius amid the eruption of violent uprising in Paris in 1832.
Erica Faye Santos Tubera, a student of Northern Marianas High School in Saipan, plays Fantine. "I love Guam. It's like home but without my family," said Tubera, who is performing for the first time in a professional stage production. "In Saipan I was doing some productions but I was never a lead. It was difficult at first playing Fantine, but now I feel like it's easier because of the help of Jojo Urquico and the other directors. They helped bring out the character in me,” she said.
Choosing the right actor for the right role is a critical decision in any production. “The roles can't just be given to anyone,” Urquico said. “Taking singers that can't act is a danger. If an actor is able to bring everything closer to truth, people will forget if she doesn't have the greatest voice on earth as long they can follow her story. There is a difference between an actor that sings and a singer that acts.”
Playing Fantine made Tubera fall in love with the character, who represents dignity amid hardship. Tubera sees Fantine as a representation of the struggles that come with homelessness. Incidentally, proceeds from the production will go to the Guam Homeless Coalition.
Urquico first spotted Tubera at the Tumon Bay Music Festival, where he was one of the judges. "I actually thought she could be our Fantine, but I knew she was from Saipan," Urquico said. "So I messaged our musical director, Max Ronquillo, and I messaged the main guy in charge of theater in Saipan that I really wanted Erica. I asked them to have Erica send me an audition video and she did, so I offered her the part. I really love her voice. She really improved a lot. Not just her, everyone in the show improved a lot. I know they can give more, they can do more. And if they want to take this career seriously I think they have a bright future in the industry.”
The setting is another component of stage production that requires careful details.
“One of the challenges is coming up with an exciting concept and then realizing it didn't work when I tried it with the cast and the stage set. In those cases, being flexible and willing to try another concept is important,” said Julius Sotomayor Cena, a local artist, who produced the digital backdrops.
The backdrops consist of impressionistic paintings with subtle animations.
“This is actually my first time using paintings as backdrops. First, I visualize. I learn what the scene is about and its mood and what it needs to be complete. I also communicate with the director and try to deliver what he wants. If approved, good. If some needs adjustments, I do so accordingly.”
“Being able to come up with the concept and experimenting with it,” said Cena, who has seven years of experience in creating digital backdrops for local school productions. “I like the subtlety of its importance to complete the scenes and the production as a whole. Hardly anyone pays attention to projections and I understand because it's not the main element that gets the spotlight. Only a few gets to appreciate backdrops but I hope to encourage and sense people's interest in digital backdrops and projections. I like learning how to animate and I hope to be in one Broadway production to be involved in the visual department. Just one.”