Young Actors Theater captures essence of ‘Les Miserables’

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Some stories are retold for the simple fact that they are timeless. 

Timeless in the sense that the struggle, the victory, the humanity (or lack of) mirrors the present. Whatever inspires Young Actors Theater director Jean Isaac to direct the play she describes as “close to her heart,” the current production at Cuyamaca College is a stirring showcase of young talent and dedication.

Some stories are retold for the simple fact that they are timeless. 

Timeless in the sense that the struggle, the victory, the humanity (or lack of) mirrors the present. Whatever inspires Young Actors Theater director Jean Isaac to direct the play she describes as “close to her heart,” the current production at Cuyamaca College is a stirring showcase of young talent and dedication.

Located in Spring Valley, Young Actors Theater offers classes and training at their facility as well as after school programs in local elementary schools. Young Actors Theater will do six musicals this year, with opportunity for actors from ages 7-26. Gerardo Flores, a theater student at University of San Diego, plays the leading role of Jean Valjean with depth and conviction. Flores began acting in Tijuana, where he resides. 

He said creating collaborative works in the theater, especially ones with themes and issues involving community, like “Les Miserables” is his passion.  At 22, he is one of the older cast members, but star quality is apparent in each of the cast.

Shannon Prendergast, 15, who is a self-described adrenaline junkie, hooked on the electricity-jolting feeling she gets performing, plays Fantine. Prendergast captures the sadness of the doomed Fantine like a seasoned thespian. Cosette’s character is brought to life by 18-year-old Isabella Lenhoff who has been singing and dancing since she was a toddler. 

Her love of the stage apparent like the other actors who stood and sang on the stage like their lives depended on it. Lenhoff will take on the role of the Sandy Olsson in Young Actors Theater’s August production of Grease. Steele Canyon senior and National Youth Arts award-winner Katee Drysdale, great-niece of Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale, animates tragic character Epoinine so melodically and transcendently, theater goers would not know she came from a sports family and turned to theater because, she said wasn’t good at sports and she felt theater was the only other option. The cast members, pre- and post-production, interact effortlessly like a family. 

“All my good friends are here,” Drysdale said. 

Her cast member nodded in agreement. Drysdale and other Young Actors Theater stars, participate as counselors in camps eight hours a day, then rehearse for productions for up to four hours more. 

Younger cast members like 10-year-old Ryan Singer, who played Gavroche in “Les Miserables”, agree that the work required ends up paying enduring dividends. 

“Young Actors Theater is such a great place,” he said. “The directors are nice and helpful, and I’ve made a lot of good friends. It’s fun to pretend you’re someone else.”

They sound a lot like other young people who have found, by accident or by intention, a group, a team, a purpose that fulfills them and powers their momentum toward a bright future.

A stark contrast to the characters they are playing, something that every member the Young Actors Theater “Les Miserables” cast and crew knows. As evident in the compelling performance, some connection to the characters exists, as theater productions will mean something different to everyone. Common threads in this production were undeniable as the audience stood in ovation immediately following the epilogue, when the entire cast sang in unison, on stage as well as flanking the audience on both sides of the theater.

The artists are on their way up, the stage could be bigger and there would still be talent overflowing it, and the production is impressive with the actors doing a profound job of moving the audience into empathy, melancholy, affront, and of course, hope.

With four more performances to go, this play is well worth watching and the young actors bring their all into the production of this award winning play and movie with the integrity and professionalism that it deserves. As challenging of a production such as this is, it is met head on by this group of talented young performers that will not leave you miserable.

“Les Miserables” runs from Thursday, August 1 to Sunday, August 4. Tickets run from $15 – $18. 

For more information, visit www.Young ActorsTheatersandiego.org.

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