By Kristen Miller
More than 2,300 people attended the six performances of the Dassel-Cokato Community Theater production of “Les Misérables,” making this the highest attendance in recent history, according to Colleen Compton, executive director of the DC Arts Association. The next two closest were Dave Metcalf’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in 2010, with attendance at 2,054; and “The Sound of Music” in 2011, under the direction of Randy Wilson, with attendance at 2,017.
There were even quite a few who attended multiple performances, said Compton, who received many positive comments on the show.
Sister Jan Kilian of Clare’s Well in Annandale commented “Wow! Thanks to all for the soul food this production was for me. What an excellent performance in a beautiful theatre. Congratulations.”
Bruce Williams of Apple Valley sent an e-mail saying, “I’m just writing to let you know how much my family enjoyed your current Dassel-Cokato Community Theatre production of ‘Les Misérables.’ We’d heard of only a few such productions over the years and were surprised a community theater would even try to tackle such a complex work. When we discovered yours, we decided right away that we’d make the 70-mile drive up from Apple Valley to see the show.
“We were amazed and delighted at the quality of the performances and the production. Great voices, strong acting, and even inventive staging. We had a wonderful Sunday afternoon and thank all the cast and crew,” Williams wrote.
Director Dave Metcalf directed a high school rendition of “Les Mis” in 2003, with cast from DC and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW), and has directed a number of community theatre productions over the years.
“I’ve been in theatre 50 years,” Metcalf said, noting he started performing in theater at age 15. “I’ve never worked with a group of people that have been so amazing in every respect, from talent, to the person, to the work they put in,” Metcalf said. “I have to say this has been the best production I’ve ever been involved with.”
The audience response has been overwhelming, Metcalf said. “I haven’t heard a negative comment.”
Pulling talent from the DC community and surrounding towns, Metcalf was surprised at the talent for singing. For example, Metcalf worked with Tom Langemo in past community theatre productions of “The Diviners” and “The Foreigner.”
Though Metcalf knew his talent for acting, he was blown away when he heard him sing during the rehearsals for “Les Mis.” As soon as he heard Langemo sing, Metcalf knew he was perfect to play “Javert.”
He was amazed by the dedication and talents from each of the cast and crew. “There wasn’t a weak link in the bunch,” he said, adding “I couldn’t be happier with the finished product.”
Set design and turntable
Though there were a few ideas that were unique to this performance, Metcalf tried to recreate the Broadway production as much as possible, including with the set.
As with the Broadway production, the turntable was incorporated into the set, just as it was in Metcalf’s first production of “Les Mis” 11 years earlier.
Back then, working on the concrete stage at HLWW, “we wondered if it could be done,” Metcalf said. Dan Kyllonen and Jami Berg were credited as being the masterminds who designed a turntable to fit that stage in 2003.
Following that production, Kyllonen saved the turntable, in hopes that someday there would be an adult production of “Les Mis,” Metcalf explained.
It was from that experience, that Kyllonen and Berg figured out how to reproduce it on the Performing Arts Center stage with the help of John Ryan, an engineer by profession.
Unique to the DC performance
Metcalf added a few ideas of his own to help to better explain the story of “Les Misérables.”
In the original novel, Thenardier, played by Jon Benson in this production, had been a soldier in the Napoleonic wars. It was on the battlefield where he stole possessions of the fallen soldier.
To make it more clear that Thenardier was doing this, Metcalf had him pop out of the stage that symbolized a sewer, and pulled one of the dead rebel students down to steal his possessions.
Also new to this production was the doll exchange between Eponine and Cosette as children.
This would then aid Eponine in recognizing Cosette after 10 years, when she sees Cosette giving the doll away to a girl on the street.
Rhea Langemo explained how other actors performed other characters in different scenes, but it was important for her to only play the role of Fantine.
“We, as actors, need to help our audience maintain the idea that Fantine is gone so the finale is special,” Langemo explained. “They haven’t heard or seen Fantine for so long, and then she comes back (in the final scene) to bring Valjean home.”
“There were other actors with lead roles that had other parts, but once they were in their main part, you didn’t see them as another character. It would diminish their credibility as that main character,” she explained.
Instead, Langemo hung out back stage. “I was able to help out with the aging of Valjean and Javert. I also got to help the Thenardiers with their wigs and makeup for the wedding scene, she said.
“The last show, I sat down with the pit and listened to much of the first act from their perspective. It was fun to have a few different jobs during the show!” Langemo added.
Better than the screen version
John Sandstede of Dassel raved about the musical, cast, and crew: “The quality of the performance was equal to or greater than anything one would get at the State or the Ordway. The staging was excellent, the costumes fantastic, and the singing outstanding.”
Sandstede was surprised to find out that the turntable wasn’t rented, as he suspected, but was actually built and operated from a switch backstage. He also commented on the construction of the barricade in the production. “What a crew,” he commented.
After the performance, he said he watched the DVD of the movie to see how the local talent compared to the “highly paid” professionals. “I thought the singing by the locals, Jox Metcalf, Tom and Rhea Langemo was far superior,” he said.
“We are very fortunate in this community to have such high-quality performances and performers,” Sandstede said, adding, “Dave Metcalf is a tremendous gift to the PAC.”