At the end of the day they’re a decade older, but cast members of Chippewa Valley High School’s 2002-03 production of Les Miserables say they’ll never forget the musical that shaped so many of their lives and friendships.
With the aid of Facebook, at least 20 members of the original cast have now reunited and plan to celebrate their 10-year anniversary with a viewing of the newly released film.
“The initial idea for a reunion was actually Meghan Curis' (Madame Thenardier), but I got the ball rolling with details and set up the Facebook event page,” said Jason Cooper, who played the role of Marius at CVHS. “We both thought this was a great idea because the movie coincidentally opens 10 years after our own Les Miserables experience.”
Now an elementary music teacher in Belleville, MI, Cooper said he traces many of his friendships, interests and even career to that long ago show.
“I knew what I had was special and even to this day, I feel the repercussions of having that role as it actually shaped my entire high school experience and therefore, my life,” he said. “This show was so special to me and it will always be my absolute favorite high school memory. I'm looking forward to reuniting with the cast and seeing where we've been and what we've done with our lives.”
Matthew Mandziuk, who stunned Chippewa audiences as the ruthless Inspector Javert, is now a senior procurement engineer at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, while Melanie Kahl, who captured the heart of Marius and Jean Valjean in her role as Cosette, currently works as a design and learning strategist for education.
More than a dozen other fields and industries are represented among members of the principal cast alone. But despite the diversity of their careers and even the physical distance now between them, Cooper and fellow cast mate John Strika say the cast of Les Miserables will always be a family.
“The show had so many different strong emotions, which made the cast bond as a whole,” said Strika, who played a number of supporting roles in the production. “We all appreciated one another, whether we were personally close or not, we all knew each other on some level, and I’ll never forgot how much fun it was to hang out both on and off stage during the three months of production.”
CVHS’ production of Les Miserables opened in the spring of 2003 under the direction of choir teacher Deb Barrows. Chippewa Valley was one of the first high schools in the country to perform this record-breaking musical.
A film version of the original show opened in theaters Dec. 25, and stars Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter.
Full disclosure: This editor was a member of the 2002-03 production’s chorus. She was one heck of a peasant.