‘Les Miserables’ Comes to NHS

March 4, 2024
• Man the barricades!

Needham high schoolers are staging a revolution, but they’re not walking out of class or picketing for better lunches.

Sixty-eight of them will perform “Les Miserables,” the hugely popular musical set in 1800s France. The shows are slated for Friday, March 8 and Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m. and March 10 at 2 p.m. at Newman Elementary School.

The musical follows Jean Valjean, a former convict whose life intersects with those fighting for revolution and others impacted by the fight for freedom. The entire musical is sung, making it a vocal challenge but one director Kristen Mazzocchi feels her cast is prepared for.

It was the first musical Mazzocchi watched on Broadway as a child, and its messaging and music continues to resonate with students, judging by the cast’s excitement when she announced the show last fall.

Rehearsing “One Day More,” Needham High sophomore Miles Salerno (Marius), left, joins senior Jackson Bush (Enjolras) on stage for the big ensemble number. (Cameron Morsberger)

“Les Mis” was last staged at NHS in 2013 and involves iconic imagery — namely the barricade used in the later battle scenes.

“Obviously a big undertaking,” Mazzocchi said as tech crews built sets during February break. “But it just seemed to make sense this year. We have a really strong group of seniors.”

Senior Lucas Hererra plays Valjean, an intense and complex role with whom he doesn’t share much in common — Valjean is avoiding police capture, after all. But that stark contrast makes the character much more special for Hererra, who enjoys all the effort he puts into finding that person inside him.

As a sophomore, Herrera joined the theater program, playing Crutchy in NHS’s “Newsies.” His mother sparked his love of theater, enrolling him in community theater programs as a child.

“People are really interesting and talented. I love performing,” Hererra said. “The week before the show and the show are some of my favorite parts of the school year.”

Herrera accompanies nearly the entire cast on stage for “One Day More,” a powerful ensemble piece that ends Act 1. The student revolutionaries simulate a military march as they prepare for the fight to come, with the iconic red flag waving behind them.

Sophomore Mia Allen plays Fantine, a factory worker who struggles to provide for her young daughter. The musical is “a timeless, timeless story” that appeals to a wide range of audiences, theater nerds and non-theater folks alike, Allen said.

Tech crews work on sets for Needham High School’s production of “Les Miserables” at Newman Elementary Feb. 23, 2024. (Cameron Morsberger)

“At its core, it’s really a story about a bunch of poor downtrodden people… trying to push through this horrible set of circumstances,” Allen said. “Specifically for Fantine, it’s bad thing after bad thing after bad thing.”

At a low point, Fantine sings “I Dreamed a Dream,” an emotionally gripping song in which she longs for what her life could have been, but that “life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

Unlike previous shows, “Les Mis” delves into some heavy themes and violence, but the NHS production doesn’t shy away from those.

“It’s a lot of mature topics,” Mazzocchi said, “and so I do feel like I just knew we had the student group to handle it.”

The Newman stage transforms itself into 1800s Parisian slums, thanks to two-sided sets: one side features decrepit building facades, but turned around, the sets together form a barricade, which the actors fill in with other props.

With less than a week ago, the cast is in the final stretch. They’ll be conducting dress rehearsals until showtime.

“I think there’s a healthy amount of nervousness, because it always comes down to the wire,” said Ava Towvim, a lighting designer and NHS junior. “I think it’s tough with high school shows especially, but it always happens.”

Needham High senior Lucy Mazzocchi (Cosette) and sophomore Miles Salerno (Marius) play opposite each other in the school’s production of “Les Miserables.” (Cameron Morsberger)

Also featured in the show are seniors Aden Garf as Javert, Jackson Bush as Enjolras, Taylor Constantino as Éponine and Josie George and Henry McCue as Madame and Monsieur Thénardier. Sophomore Miles Salerno plays Marius and Mazzocchi’s daughter Lucy plays Cosette — the senior’s mom “very much stayed out of the casting process for that.”

Students put in hours after school to breathe life into the performance and showcase the centuries-old tale to a new audience.

“You have students who are giving so much of their time,” Mazzocchi said. “It is one place where I feel like everyone belongs.”

Cast and crew are hoping for a packed audience with no “Empty Chairs” at Newman.

“It’s just a great way to support the performing arts, to get more people into this really amazing community,” Allen said. “We have such great performing arts programs in Needham, and I’m so fortunate to be a part of that.”

Tickets can be purchased at nhsfriendsofmusic.org.

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