When I was in grade nine, a good friend of mine laughed at me when I was singing. In that moment, I made the adolescent realization that boys don’t sing. I left the junior choir at St. Andrew’s Church and stopped singing in public. It wasn’t until my Grade 13 year, and the chance to be in the school musical with friends, that I started singing again and discovered just how much I loved being in a show.
When I headed out to University, Les Miserables had just become a sensation in the theatre world. As the wheel of karma would have it, that same friend from grade nine treated me to seeing Les Miserables in Toronto…and I was overwhelmed by the experience. I still remember the sensations of crying at Fantine’s lonely despair as the turntable stage spun her back into the darkness, and of feeling stunned as Javert jumped off the bridge without realizing the optical illusion that was taking place before my eyes.
I got the Les Mis soundtrack and spent many, many hours singing the role of Jean Valjean in my living room until I knew every lyric by heart. A few years later, a colleague at Teacher’s College and I would sing large portions of the show every night as we washed the dishes in our apartment, alternating roles back and forth. I would see the musical a half dozen times over the course of that first Toronto run, and I immersed myself into the story and the selfless character of Jean Valjean. I had found my literary hero.
As I began singing in public more and more, especially when I returned to live and teach in Cobourg, the only true theatre goal I ever had was to play Jean Valjean onstage. When the rights were finally released for community theater, and the Players took up the challenge, the opportunity presented itself at last.
The cast and crew of the Players’ 2015 production were one of those dream teams that you occasionally get the chance to work with. Everyone going above and beyond to strive for perfection and make the difficult look effortless and compelling for the audience. This cast and crew rose to the challenge to tell that magnificent, uplifting story in all its brilliance and subtlety.
Even when I lost my voice without warning for the last four performances, I got to take my lifelong theatre goal to a level beyond what even I had expected. The cast and crew were so caring and loving during those final four, voiceless performances, but I don’t know if they fully realized that I was stoked to be faced with the challenge of having no voice. Once the vocal replacement was located (no small task on the part of the artistic team!), I got to play the character on a whole different level. Without really having to worry about the words coming out of my mouth, I could be present to the character in a way that I had never been able to before. Far from being scary, it was liberating!
All those elements, from grade nine to the stage in 2015, came together to give me the gift of telling that powerful story along with an incredible group of talented, committed people. It was the performance of my lifetime that truly was a lifetime in the making.