'Lez Miz' at Frost Fire
Paulette Tobin Grand Forks Herald
Published Friday, June 27, 2008
With its themes of redemption and revolution, the musical Les Miserables is one that Judith and Dick Johnson of Frost Fire Theatre have been trying to bring to their outdoor theater stage for about 15 years.
Last fall, they got the permission they were seeking, and Saturday Les Miserables, probably the most acclaimed musical written in the past 25 years, will open for a five-week run at Frost Fire seven miles west of Walhalla, N.D., on County Road 55.
Amy Jo Paukert of Michigan, N.D., who with her husband, David Paukert, is directing the show, has felt the power of Les Miz.
The first time I saw it, when the first act ended, I could hardly breathe, Amy Jo Paukert said. My mom had given me a Kleenex, and I had it shredded by the end of the first act. It is just very intense, very moving. It has an amazing musical score and because it touches so many different issues, so many people can relate to it.
Les Miserables will be on stage at 6 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Additional Saturday shows will be at 6 p.m. July 5, 12, 19, 26 and Aug. 2. Additional Sunday shows will be at 2 p.m. July 6, 13, 20, 27 and Aug. 3 and Wednesday shows at 2 p.m. July 9, 16, 23 and 30.
Tickets for the show, with an optional dinner and a special rate for groups of 10 or more, are available by calling (701) 549-3600. For more information, go to www.frostfiretheatre.com.
Les Miz was composed in 1980 by the Claude-Michel Schönberg with a libretto by Alain Boublil. Among the best-known songs of the Tony award-winning musical are I Dreamed a Dream, One Day More, A Heart Full of Love, Do You Hear the People Sing and On My Own.
Based on the 1862 novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo and set in early 19th century France, the story follows a convict, Jean Valjean (played by Joshua Gunderson of Devils Lake), who breaks his parole and tries to conceal his identity, and the police inspector Javert (Darin Kerr, Bowling Green, Ohio), who becomes obsessed with finding Valjean.
Fantine (Ashley Braxton, Grand Forks) is a single mother forced to become a prostitute to support her daughter, Cosette (Crystal Cossette, Eagan, Minn.) who is adopted by Valjean. Marius (Jared Kinney, Manvel, N.D.) is a student who falls in love with Cosette.
David Paukert plays a role in the show as well, as an unscrupulous innkeeper. Debra Berger, Grand Forks, plays his wife, whose daughter, Eponine (Misti Koop) is hopelessly in love with Marius.
They and the other main characters are joined by an ensemble that includes prostitutes, student revolutionaries, factory workers and others.
Its definitely one of the most challenging shows weve done at Frost Fire, David Paukert said. Its basically an opera and all of the dialogue is sung.
Paukert said they had a cast of casts with enough talent to meet the challenges. More than 50 people tried out for the show, with auditions beginning last fall. Les Miz is unlike many musicals that rely on a couple of leads and two or three secondary roles, because in it, all of the roles are extensive singing roles.
It really requires a special group of performers to pull off a show like this, he said.
Directing the show has been challenging at times, Amy Jo Paukert said, with her husband and co-director as one of its actors while she plays keyboard, and the musical director, Charles McCauley, plays bass. Directing, after all, requires someone to be in the audience to watch the action unfold. Again, a talented and experienced cast has been the key, she said.
Theyve been great to direct, she said. For most of them, they have so much experience that if you give them their blocking, they intuitively know what to do. And a lot of the cast knew each other (before Les Miz) so they gelled really well.
For Amy Jo Paukert, one of the best parts of the show is when the bishop tells Jean Valjean that he has to purchase his soul for God, which puts Valjean on this amazing journey to turn his life around. Javert, on the other hand, can see the world only in black and white.
It deals with so many, many human issues, she said. Theres poverty, theres war, theres love and unrequited love. Theres spirituality and what you make of the conditions that youve been given in life.
Amy Jo Paukert is a part-time teacher in Lakota, N.D., and a private piano instructor. David Paukert just retired from teaching at Larimore, N.D., and is a photographer. Dick and Judith Johnson, producers of the show, own and operate Frost Fire Theatre.
Frost Fire is one of the first companies (if not the first), David Paukert said, in North Dakota to perform the full version of Les Miserables. In summer 2007, Summer Performing Arts of Grand Forks and its teen cast performed the student version of Les Miz.
Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.