Redemption, forgiveness, love: three of the values on which the Fredericksburg region’s Christian Youth Theater is founded.
They are also the three greatest themes of Victor Hugo’s work “Les Misérables.”
The group is putting on the musical created from the novel—the school version—June 15-24 at King George High School.
Art director Josh King said, “There’s a lot we can learn from ‘Les Misérables’ and especially a lot our teenage actors take from it. Though this is the school version of the musical, it doesn’t take a whole lot out. This version doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of the play.”
King was part of the group when it began, and was in its first play.
He has stayed with the group because of the strong sense of community it has created among the families who participate.
“We do five shows per year,” he said. “And these families build sets, they make costumes. There are 150 costumes in this show.”
The production features a cast of 75 young actors, who have spent 10 weeks getting into character and taking to heart the lessons of the play, he said.
Among all this preparation have been moments that illuminate why this show was chosen.
“There’s the line ‘to love another person is to see the face of God,’” he said. “We talked about what that means: to forgive and love. To reach the audience, they have to believe in this message.”
He said the actors participating have tension in their own lives, with social media, “with everything that goes on day to day.”
He said they came to a realization that if a person wronged them, maybe they need forgiveness. Perhaps they are the ones who need love. He called it “one of those great moments with a cast” when everyone comes together in tears.
He also wants the cast to dig into the reality that labels aren’t forever.
“So much in this culture is based on titles. Who you are is a teacher, a lawyer, a librarian. But we are all so much more than a title. Like Eponine is more than depressed, Javert is more than a perfectionist and Jean Valjean is more than a thief.”
Taking on the role of Valjean in 18-year-old Zachary Short, who recently graduated from Riverbend High School.
He’s accustomed to challenging characters, having recently played Tevya in CYT’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
But getting into this character was more challenging.
“In ‘Fiddler,’ Tevya is a father,” he said. “There’s interaction to cling to and understand who he is. In ‘Les Misérables,’ my character does a 360, and in beginning I’m all alone with myself, angry with God.”
He said he picked out the “moments of grace” Jean has, from receiving it early on from a bishop to extending it later on to Javert.
“He comes to the mindset, and I did, too, that the world needs more people giving grace and forgiveness than giving grief,” he said.
He said the whole cast understands how important this story is and is working hard to show the audience that “people society views as dark can have a change and extend their heart for forgiveness.”
He started with CYT 10 years and 13 plays ago and keeps with it because he feels “everything we’re doing comes back to Christ. As a kid that was important to me and it still is.”
But just starting with CYT is Fiona Scripps, 9-year-old, who plays little Cosette. After seeing the CYT production of “The Little Mermaid,” she asked her parents to be a part of the group, her mother April Scripps said.
This is her second production and to prepare she works with rehearsals on the weekend, private voice lessons and practicing at home.
“I like it a lot,” she said. “I just love the feeling of being onstage.”
She wants to be on Broadway one day. Her mother said this first step has been made easier by the community of actors who look out for her daughter, the youngest on the stage.
For King, family-friendly entertainment sometimes mean harder issues need to be brought up.
“The audience struggles with the same thing, but these are issues adults don’t like talking about it,” he said. “They may come in with baggage, but I hope their load is a lot lighter when they leave. I may not know your story, but it’s going to be OK.”