The lead female actors of Picketwire Players’ production of “Les Miserables” portray love, happiness, despair, loneliness and hope. Each character teaches a lesson about overcoming adversity, protecting those we love, and living the life you are given the best you can.
Fantine is played by Natalie Summers. Natalie is no stranger to the Picketwire stage, but this is her first lead role. She felt she was at a point in her life where her children are a little older and she is able to take on something extra. In fact, it is quite the family affair for the Summers. Three-quarters of her family are in the play. Her daughter Lexie is in several scenes with the chorus, daughter Teagan plays young Cosette and Noah is Gavroche. She is thrilled they all will have the memory of this experience together.
While, at first, the character’s life choices were difficult for Natalie to support emotionally, she realized that every choice Fantine made was done because of her love for her daughter. Once she realized that, she understood her character differently.
She said she relates to this character because, as a mother herself, she understands the concept of doing whatever it takes to keep your child safe and protected. Fantine makes the ultimate sacrifice, her life, but not before she is assured that her daughter will be cared for by a good man.
Natalie cannot say enough about “Les Miserables” director, Tracey Salzbrenner, and the rest of the cast and crew. “It has been a wonderful experience for me and my children. We have gotten to know people we may never had been able to spend time with in everyday life.” She is especially pleased to be acting with Joe Trainor who plays Jean Valjean. “Joe fits the role so perfectly. He gives it his all every time he is on stage and that makes me want to do better in my performance.
Natalie commented that she feels “so honored that Tracey gave me the role of Fantine”. Moreover, she feels very blessed that her husband is so supportive of her doing this play. “The cast and crew work hard, but the families take on extra work at home so we can be here every night. “But my family and I have the bug now and want to do more shows. We can’t wait to see what Picketwire does next summer.”
Another seasoned performer – at the ripe age of 18 – is Leeanne Roath, who plays Eponine. She is part of a “love triangle” with Marius, Cosette and herself. This character is on Leeann’s bucket list of roles she wanted to play. She had seen the Liam Neeson movie while an eighth grader and various versions of the story since then. “I saw Eponine, who took a bullet for Marius,and really connected with the character.”
She thinks that is why the play is so popular. “Everyone has been in an experience where they give more than the other person. Unrequited love is hard, but part of life. And the whole idea of Marius and Cosette is so Shakespearean. They fall in love so quickly and are consumed by that love.”
This is the first year she feels accepted as an “adult” with this play. Almost all her scenes are with adults and she feels quite proud of that. Of course, the fact that she loves her character and her solo, “On My Own” fills all her creative juices. “I practiced the song so many different ways. I practiced when to cry, when my voice should crack with which phrase. I even practiced my facial expressions in front of a mirror. I hope the audience appreciates my performance. We all have been working so hard.”
Leeanne also thinks that the public connects with “Les Miserables” because the music is wonderful. “In other musicals, there may be one or two
songs that people connect with, in ‘Les Miserables’ every song is more powerful than the previous one.” She loves music and singing and she is working hard 3 on her role and with scenery or whatever is needed because she wants “this show to be the best show ever.”
This is Katie Lagergren’s seventh musical with Picketwire. As Cosette, Katie is challenging her vocal range. “I hit a high ‘C’ twice and ‘B flat’ three times. I not only have to hit them, I have to sustain them. There are no breaks. The orchestra is playing and people are singing very difficult music constantly for three hours. It’s a wonderfully challenging experience. Even though ‘A Heart Full of Love’ changes keys eight times, I love singing the song.” While self-taught in much of her music training, she does credit Dean Rees and Sally Kappel with helping her improve her vocal talent. She worked with the two of them for twelve years as a community choir performer. Katie prepares for a role by doing a lot of research so that she understands her character and how her character relates to the others. She says Cosette is a woman who embodies light. She represents rebirth and redemption. “She teaches her adopted father, Valjean, how to love and he rescues her from an abusive life. Their relationship is almost celestial as he protects her, saves her, and she lights his way to love and God. If the two would not have had each other, their world would have been very dark.” She does the same for her new love, Marius. While he is in deep despair, she gives him a reason to keep living. “Even though there is unhappiness and evil in life, there is also much good – otherwise, redemption doesn’t make sense. This play shows us that if you throw love to people, it brings out the best in us.”
Katie is a mother of five. Two of her children (Evan and Kaydence) are in the play and her husband, Eric, is the stage manager. “I’m so excited to share my love of music and theatre with my children and instill in them the same thrill I get when I’m on stage.”
We asked her what the difference is between singing in concerts and singing for musical theatre. “Oh, it’s a huge difference,” she exclaimed. “In theatre, you not only have to memorize the songs, you have to memorize your blocking, change costumes quickly so you can make your cues, have your props ready, and relate to the other actors. And, if the other actors change the dialog or blocking, you have to improvise and get on with the scene. It’s a lot to deal with. With ‘Les Miserables’ everyone is so familiar with the play and the music, there is a lot of pressure on us to get it perfect.”
Being perfect is something the cast and directors worry about as soon as auditions start. Katie thinks of the theatre experience as the seasons of life. When you audition and get the role, it is like being born. Those first weeks of learning your character, being taught the blocking, are your toddler years. The first time you are off book and have to have the dialog and blocking memorized, you are tentative and awkward like your teenage years. As you approach production dates and actually perform the play in front of an audience, you are ready and become an adult. “You are ready to fly as Tracey [the director] kicks you out of the nest. Then, when it is all over, you feel like someone died because you don’t get to see your play family anymore.”
“Les Miserables” is the most musical play Katie has ever done. “For the actors who do not read music, I have such compassion and admiration for them. As I said before, this music is challenging for even the most seasoned musician. Everyone is doing a wonderful job. The audience will love it. Emotions will run high because it is a very sensory show.” Picketwire’s production of “Les Miserables” is sponsored by the Otero County Health Department Tobacco Program.
Production dates are July 31st, August 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 at the Picketwire Center for Performing and Visual Arts, 802 San Juan Avenue in La Junta, Colorado. The play begins a half hour earlier than usual – at 7:00 pm. For tickets, call 719.384.8320. You can also purchase tickets online at www.picketwireplayers.org. Ticket prices are $15.
Article Written by Susie Sarlo