Behind the scenes of Les Misérables

Student characters in Les Mis rehearse the scene of dying at the barricade on March 7th, 2023 – Riyad Rolls ’26

On Friday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m., Haverford’s production of Les Misérables premieres in Centennial Hall. The show will feature profound acting, a detailed set design, and eye-catching costumes. It has been a long time since Haverford performed this show. 

According to director and Performing Arts Department Chair Mr. Darren Hengst, what makes Les Misérables stand out from other productions that the school has done in the past is that “it’s a completely sung-through show, so there is no moment in the show without music.” 

Mr. Hengst also mentioned the large and impressive set design.

“It takes place in a lot of different locations, so the stage crew has been working hard trying to deliver them for us,” Mr. Hengst said. 

Mr. Hengst gave a preview of the show’s plot. (Warning: some spoilers ahead). 

“In the first scene of the play, we see a chain gang,” Mr. Hengst said. “A prisoner is freed that day, his name is Jean Valjean, and he tries to transition back into life after he has been away for nineteen years on the chain gang. He is on parole, tries to get work, and tries to contribute. Because he is on parole, he has to show papers, so it is difficult for him to get a job or find a place to stay. What he decides to do is break his parole and change his identity, and try to live life. Ten years later he is the mayor of a town, and he runs a lot of the businesses in the town, the police officer that let him go, Javert, is still after him. And so he is always trying to create a life for himself, and he is always chased by this police officer.”

“The amount of vocal training that is needed outside of rehearsal is tremendous”

Mr. Hengst

Mr. Hengst describes how this year’s performance of Les Misérables will be different from previous year’s performances. 

“The technology that we have brought in, in my time over the past ten years, is pretty significant, the enhancements in lighting and sound, and we will be using projections in this version,” Mr. Hengst said.

The students were cast into their roles in December and have been practicing ever since they returned from winter break. 

“The amount of vocal training that is needed outside of rehearsal is tremendous,” Mr. Hengst said. “The way students practice for the play, they have to learn the music first, they need to understand the music and the story of the screen, and they work with Mr. Mastronardi [the show’s music director] on the music of the scene. And after the music is down, then I stage it.”

Every interaction between actors onstage is important. 

Theater captain Thomas Pendergast ’23 and Music Director Matt Mastronardi discuss during a rehearsal on March 7th, 2023 – Riyal Rolls ’26

“One of the themes in this is a type of brotherhood that they carry with them from the beginning of the show. For me what is interesting is seeing the actual relationships on stage with these guys, and making sure that comes out to the audience.” 

Both Mr. Hengst and the students agree that the scene of community is in the show and behind the work of the show. 

“There is this week called tech week where we have rehearsal every day and we get to work with each other every day and see everybody every day, and that is when the fun happens and we get to build this community that everyone likes each other,” Sixth Former Jack Squillaro, who plays Inspector Javert, said. 

“It’s really nice performing, and the supportiveness of the bigger kids really helps me when I perform,” Leo Sides, a lower school student who plays Gavroche, said. 

The costume department is run by Fifth Former Jai Bonaparte. 

“It is really easy to portray elements of the story through fabric choices and colors and patterns. A lot of the fabrics are red, blue, and white because it is [set in the early nineteenth century],” Bonaparte said.

Many fabrics are distressed to show the age of the clothes and social class. 

“With a lot of the newer costumes, what we do is we pick from older costumes, and we’ll take them apart and use them to make something else,” Bonaparte said. 

Sixth Former Jonathan Carillo serves as stage manager. He participates in a variety of jobs including set design, sound and lighting cues, and cast movement. For the set, he has worked on the barricade and the towers along with other objects and set pieces. 

“The main thing that the set is supposed to be there for is the [early nineteenth century], so we have cobblestone flooring, we have a rustic barricade thrown together with piles of trash that we use,” Carillo said.

Like in the costumes, set design also uses colors to express the mood. 

“It’s like mainly dull and dreary colors, like brown, gray, and black, since at the time things weren’t the best,” Carillo says. “There is also a group of slaves that got branded, who are working throughout the show with a few other pieces during it, and that gives you the historical context of how prisoners were treated more like slaves than people.”