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Lodi Musical Theater prepares for ‘Les Miserables’

Lodi Musical Theater prepares for ‘Les Miserables’

Community theater group is among the first in the country to perform the longest running musical of all time

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Jean Valjean

Spencer Borup, 23, is so dedicated to his role as Jean Valjean that the numbers 24601 are now tattooed on his chest. That’s ex-convitct Valjean’s prison number.

“It’s a tattoo I was looking for an excuse to get,” he said. “‘Les Miserables’ has always been my favorite book.”

Like many of the core cast, this is on Borup’s list of dream roles. That spirit of gratitude lends a familial tone to the relationships among the cast, who now feel like brothers and sisters to Borup.

Challenge: “Aging my voice. I’m almost giving an accent to the words, and finding roughness. And all those high notes.”


Jenna Kroff, 21, has less stage time than many of her castmates, but her role as Fantine is often the most remembered in the show.

“In the movie, Anne Hathaway played Fantine. She won an Oscar,” said Kroff. “I knew I had to take a different approach.”

Kroff’s Fantine is less sweet and innocent. Instead, the character is a proud and flawed young mother whose pride breaks down through attempts to protect her daugter.

Favorite scene: “The first confrontation between Valjean and Javert. When they duel, it’s so intense you can feel the testosterone flying.”

Inspector Javert

Erik Catalan, 34, got his first brush with ‘Les Mis’ in at Woodland High School, when his chorus sang a medley from the show. That’s when he bought the soundtrack and began to memorize every song.

Since then, playing Javert has been in the top spot of his musical theater to-do list. He’s sporting richly made coats with fringe, sashes and gold buttons to reflect Javert’s rank as an officer.

“I admire Javert’s intensity,” he said. “He’s unwavering. Almost to the bitter end, he does not give up on what he believes in, and his mission.”

Challenge: “It’s really against my own character to be so mean. I have to pull from every mean fiber in me to pull this off.”


Colin LaValley, 21, plays Marius, a French student who is torn between his love for Cosette and his desire to stand with his fellows in the revolution.

His costume is made of fine cloth and silk to show the wealth of the young rebels. LaValley also wears bright blue contact lenses to make his eyes pop onstage.

“The show is vocally demanding,” he said. “There’s solos, duets, chorus numbers. It requires perserverance, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Favorite song: “‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.’ I’m thinking of the friends who laid down their lives for the rebellion, and I’m the only one left. I want to show the audience what that feels like.”


Janelle Chaney, 24, wears a pale pink gown dotted with rosettes and white lace boots to play Cosette, the daughter of Fantine, ward of Jean Valjean, and love interest of Marius.

“This is one of my dream roles. It’s something very close to my heart,” said the Morada woman, who studied Victor Hugo’s book for two years in high school.

“It’s not a fluff piece. It’s dark, it’s heartfelt, it’s human. I’m blessed to be given the opportunity to perform this role.”

Challenge: “Cosette is such a high soprano, she can sound like a princessy bird. I want to bring a grounded humanity to it.”

Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013 7:27 am

“I need a bigger throw on that. You really have to huck her.”

“I need a scarf on this man; I can’t be seeing his white cravat.”

“Really listen to me. Listen to yourselves.”

In bright red workout pants, Nicole Howten barks commands into a silver microphone over the sound of speakers blasting a rehearsal soundtrack. She’s energetic and determined, surveying her cast of 60 performers for any mis-folded pant legs, a too-long hemline on a dress or a shawl that doesn’t hang quite right.

It’s the first full dress rehearsal for the Lodi Musical Theater’s fall production of “Les Miserables,” and there is no time to waste.

The cast is preparing for a two-week run at Hutchins Street Square. Director Howten has worked tirelessly to ensure her sets, costumes and actors are as historically accurate as possible.

“There are all these details you can’t miss,” she said. “If you miss one, it loses authenticity.”

Lodi Musical Theater prepares for ‘Les Miserables’
Cast members rehearse scenes from the musical “Les Miserables” at Troupe Cabana Studios in Lodi on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. Ian Jonsson/News-Sentinel

Costume pieces and props were made, rented, purchased or borrowed from across the country. Replica guns were sent in from the New York production. Several of the young students’ jackets were rented from the film studio in Los Angeles.

The largest set piece is a 12 feet talll, 28 feet long barricade made of scraps of wood, broken furniture and thrift store finds.

The music was orchestrated for this production in New York City, then tweaked for timing by Howten and her crew. A 30 member chorus will fill the back few rows of the theater to sing along in the group numbers, creating a surround sound effect.

All of it comes together with a sense of authenticity that allows the audience to fall completely into the story.

“The chorus is invaluable. It gives you a feeling like you are one of the citizens,” she said.

Lodi Musical Theater prepares for ‘Les Miserables’
Cast members rehearse scenes from the musical “Les Miserables” at Troupe Cabana Studios in Lodi on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. Ian Jonsson/News-Sentinel

Directing this show has been a goal of Howten’s for 28 years. She was among the first to see the American tour in New York City in the weeks after it opened.

But to protect the integrity of the show, the rights were not available to any theater companies outside of Broadway and the Royal Shakespeare Company. This year, from January to September, the rights were open to community theater groups, and Howten snatched them up.

Seeing the cast running through scenes in their final costumes has brought a sense of reality to the rehearsals.

“See what happens when you put them in costume? They transform. They completely transform,” said Howten. The last bit of emotion Howten was searching for can now be seen in Cosette’s smile, Marius’ eyes, and Valjean’s strong baritone.

With the pieces in place, it’s easy to get lost in the compelling story. Each character is desperately wading through his or her own sense of misery, and viewers will find more than one relatable actor.

“This play is about how life is horrible for everyone,” she said. “But if you love each other, you can get through it.”

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