Now the theater students at Interlochen Arts Camp have something even more special for their resume: performing in a full, original production of “Les Miserables.”
Auditions just to get in the six-week, $8,500 summer camp took place in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, and Detroit this past year. Even more would-be campers sent in videos.
When those who made the cut arrived on campus in June, they went through another round of auditions for “Les Mis.”
This year, the two male leads are actually graduates of Interlochen Arts Academy who elected to attend the arts camp in hopes of performing in the production.
Staged at Corson Auditorium under the direction of Bill Church and Greg Hellems, this “Les Mis” will add some modern twists to the familiar 19th century French tale.
Hellems and Church have the experience to make that happen. Hellems is an associate professor of musical theater and acting at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Church is head of the theater department at Interlochen Arts Academy.
Each summer, the two team up and immerse themselves and their students in that year’s production. Last year, it was “Oklahoma!” This year, Hellems says he and Church chose to present a production that would have greater familiarity to the cast as well as to the audience.
“We wanted to make sure to come back with something more contemporary,” he said.
The timeless story, the challenge of its non-stop singing, and its current fame have made “Les Mis” one of the most popular stage productions for actors and audiences alike.
“Almost every teen wants to be in Les Mis,” said Church.
Those familiar with only the film version will be able to follow the classic tale, which follows the lives and interactions of several characters, focusing on the struggles of hunted ex-convict Jean Valjean.
“People will recognize it, but it’s not exactly the same,” Hellems said.
The two men not only assist the students in learning their lines and singing the songs, but embracing the characters and the action.
“The material is very emotionally challenging. We deal with students who don’t have a lot of life experience,” Hellems said. “It’s a challenge for them to enter the world of the play.”
One of the challenges for the directors is keeping such a large ensemble on task.
“Sometimes I feel like an air traffic controller,” said Hellems with a laugh.
He says the goal is to introduce the students to the entire world of theater, from auditions to casting to rehearsal to curtain.
“I love the process of rehearsal,” Hellems said. “When we finally add the last component, the audience, we see how the actors adjust.”
While the journey is all about the students learning their craft, the end result is for the audience.
“I think people come to our musicals every year with high expectations,” said Church.
Even so, he says the entire team works hard to surpass those expectations.
“I think people will walk away thinking, ‘There’s no way they are high school students,’” he said. “That’s a common reaction.”
“Les Miserables” will be performed at Corson Auditorium July 31-Aug. 3. For more information, visit tickets.interlochen.org.