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With "Les Miserables" Opening, NKY Company for Students Prepares to Grow

The biggest musical ever brings together a company of 100 high school actors, designers, musicians, and crew this week when the Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.) in Fort Thomas presents Les Miserables School Edition July 21-30.

Noble Jean Valjean is sentenced to prison and hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. Years later when he is released to a cruel world, he breaks parole in hopes of starting a new life and is relentlessly pursued by police inspector Javert.

Victor Hugo’s classic features students from 19 area schools, including Anderson High School, Newport Central Catholic, Cincinnati Country Day, Seven Hills, Highlands, School for Creative and Performing Arts, Covington Catholic, Wyoming High School, and more.

Now in its sixth year, C.A.S.T. will undergo a major change at the end of Les Miz, starting with a name change: the initials will remain the same when a newly named Commonwealth Artists Student Theatre returns next season. The new logo will be unveiled at a dress rehearsal preview Thursday.

C.A.S.T. founder and stage director Jason Burgess, theatre instructor at Fort Thomas Independent Schools, created the summer program to offer high school students an expanded summer theatre experience including expanded opportunities and even master classes.

Now Burgess and C.A.S.T. are ready for more. “I have a lot of ideas of what I want to do with high school-aged kids,” he says.

His vision includes a musical and a play next summer, and over time expanding to both sides of the river and offering year-round programming. Amy Burgess will be executive director and a board is taking shape, as are relationships with large theatres in the area.

For now, the young stars of Les Miz are ready for opening night.

Timothy Belton is the obsessed Javert. An incoming senior at Covington Catholic, the Crescent Springs resident is a serious young actor and says the best part of the Les Miz experience “has been taking on the challenge of this show with the guidance of my directors and my peers.”

Fort Thomas resident Noah Moore plays nefarious innkeeper Thenardier and the new Highlands High grad is loving it. “Since my character is so big and over the top, it helps for me to really put it all out there and go outside of myself and kind of forget any nerves I have about being too big or loud, because that's what his character is.

“It's super cool to play him because I have done my share of comedic roles, but Thenardier is a comedic villain which is super intriguing and challenging but so worth it!” 

Valjean’s adopted daughter Cosette has been a dream role for Margaret Siebert since fifth grade, when she saw Les Miserables for the first time. It’s her favorite show.

Siebert, who lives in Fort Thomas and will be a junior at Highlands, notes, “I connect with my character in that we are both young and naive and have not seen too much of the world. Cosette's character choices are purely driven by emotion, which I see in myself quite often.”

Payton Epperson plays Cosette’s love interest, young revolutionary Marius and he says relates to Marius’ internal struggle of having to choose between his emotions – his love for Cosette – and his passion to take a stand for a better society for all.

The Ludlow resident is also newly graduated from Highlands. He agrees with Siebert that one of the best things about the show and C.A.S.T is making lasting friendships.

Siebert laughs as she thinks back to a moment in eighth grade. The show was The Music Man and moment when I was involved in The Music Man and “I was talking to Payton Epperson about that summer's upcoming C.A.S.T show, Ragtime, when I said how cool it would be if the summer of his outgoing senior year, C.A.S.T did Les Miserables and we were cast as Marius and Cosette.

“This was such a specific hypothetical, but it came true, which makes this show one of the most memorable of my high school theatre career. I have met some of my closest friends through C.A.S.T and I'm sure many people involved in these summer productions could agree."

Moore is a huge fan of C.A.S.T. and Les Miz. “I'm a high school kid who works during the summer so I needed something fun to do, and this was exactly that, which is why I think CAST is so important to high schoolers missing that theatrical outlet during the summer. 

As to being in an iconic show, he says, “for once you don't have to explain to your relatives what show you're in. Everyone knows Les Miz and everyone loves Les Miz. Now with that comes some pressure to live up to the expectation, but that's the fun of it. The music is gorgeous and the characters are super fun to portray, what's not to love!

Siebert sums it up, “One of the many things that sets C.A.S.T apart is that there are so many opportunities to get to know the cast and crew on a personal level, which makes for stronger connections during the rehearsal process and in performance.

“I have met some of my closest friends through C.A.S.T and I'm sure many people involved in these summer productions could agree."

The entire cast and crew list can be found at www.castnky.com.

Les Miz School Edition, July 21-31, Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre. Froday and Satirday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. Performing Arts Center, Highlands High School, 2400 Memorial Pkwy., Fort Thomas. Tickets $12, RESERVED SEATING only. Purchase tickets in advance online at www.castnky.com. Remaining unreserved tickets may be purchased at the door one hour prior to each show.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
Photo: Jake Moses, of Seven Hills, as Jean Valjean and Maggie Seibert, of Highlands as Cosette (provided)