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"Les Mis" Takes to Leon's Summer Stage

Tom Flanigan

For years, Tallahassee’s Leon High School has hosted a summer stage presentation, featuring the county’s top high school performers. This summer is no exception, with Leon Performing Arts’ offering of “Les Miserables.”

It’s a production that veteran local director Naomi Rose Mock has tackled before in this venue.

“This was actually the very first show I did with Leon back in 2012, we did Les Miserables and we decided to do it again because we felt that we had the talent. It’s one of the shows you do if you have the talent to do it,” Rose Mock recalled.

This need for talent is especially important because, with a total of 8 grueling performances over a two-week stretch, the show needs two sets of principal actors so as not to blow out their voices due to the production’s daunting demands in the singing department. There are two actors playing the male protagonist Jean ValJean. The first is Nate Caldwell. He admitted it’s a demanding role in a number of ways.

“They have to age us throughout the show with, not just makeup, but we have to take on older personalities gradually as the show goes on. At the very beginning, we’re broken and scarred from 19 years in prison. But then 5 minutes later, we have to act like we’re totally put together,” Caldwell said.

Playing the Jean ValJean role in rotation with him is Cody Whiddon. He noted that these summer productions essentially feature an all-star cast and crew from almost every school in Leon County.

“You get to see something that you don’t see with a lot of other schools, because yes, this is a Leon show, but it’s not just Leon kids. We have kids from Chiles, Wakulla, John Paul II, all over the place,” Whiddon said.

Having a big talent pool is critical for this particular production, said Director Rose Mock, because the show depends so much on its choral numbers. To illustrate, she played a recording she made from an actual rehearsal. Although the audio was phone sound, the vocals were Broadway-quality.

“They are humble-ingly talented! They sound amazing and we’ve really worked on them being integral to the action,” she said, marveling at the performance.

Cast member Cody Whiddon called the show the best ticket in town.

“It’s Broadway in your backyard! It’s a really good experience that you really only get once a year because Leon Summer Shows only happen in the summer. It’s such a big deal because so much time and effort and energy goes into it that you can’t miss it!”

The opening night preview of Les Miserables happens this (Thursday, July 12) evening in the Leon Auditorium at 7:30p.m. That’s also the show time for this Friday and Saturday’s performances with a 3:30 p.m.matinee this Sunday. Next week’s Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday shows are all evening performances at 7:30. It’s best to go online to get tickets in advance as sell-outs tend to happen a lot!

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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