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Howard County Summer Theater stages 'Les Miz' [Ellicott City]

Howard County Summer Theater stages 'Les Miz' [Ellicott City]
Members of the cast of the Howard County Summer Theater's production of "Les Miserables" are, from left, Justin Moe, Carey Whittenberger, Stephen Fleming and Christina Mattera. (Submitted photo)

The 290 actors auditioning for 104 coveted roles knew the odds weren't in their favor. But for the rare chance to perform in the iconic "Les Misérables" musical, that until recently only graced professional stages, it was an opportunity of a lifetime.

Thanks to the leadership of Howard County Summer Theater, who acquired one of the first community theater rights in the country to stage a full-length Broadway version of the show, "Les Miz"  as its commonly known, will open on the Mt. Hebron High School stage Wednesday, July 2, at 7 p.m., with additional shows on Thursday, July 3, Saturday, July 5, and Wednesday, July 9, through Saturday, July 12, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, July 6, at 2 p.m.

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The choice of "Les Miz" is a noteworthy choice to mark HCST 40th birthday this summer.

It's fitting that the excitement surrounding the "Les Miz" production is helping HCST to celebrate their four decades of outstanding community theater in Howard County.

"I've never seen such passion in our cast and crew. People want to find a way to be involved in this show," said veteran HCST director Tom Sankey.

For some of the actors, the excitement of "Les Miz" began in their childhood.

" 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables' was the first song I ever learned as a 13-year-old voice student,"  said Justin Moe who plays Marius. The 25-year-old Ellicott City native explained that he "carried the song with him all these years" and sang it in public for the first time at the HCST auditions.

Both Carey Whittenberger, a 2012 Centennial High School graduate, and Christina Mattera, a 2013 Mt. Hebron High School alumni, who share the role of Eponine, feel the same.

"I've been literally obsessed with the show," said Mattera.  She previously performed in the choir for the 2009 Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts teen theater "Les Miz" production.

Eponine is Whittenberger's "dream role" and stems from growing up in a musical family where siblings and friends would gather around the piano to sing "Les Miz" songs played by her mom.

It was in middle school that Marloe Lippert, who shares the role of Fantine with Tina Toner, first read the classic "Les Misérables" novel. For this mom of three, the show has been on her "bucket list" for a long time.

In fact, not only will Lippert perform in a musical she's long treasured, she will do so with her 9-year-daughter, Bellow Springs Elementary School third grader Camden Lippert, who plays young Eponine.

Marloe's character Fantine spends her entire life fighting to support her only child Eponine, eventually giving everything she has — even her life — to help her daughter.

"My daughter is my muse. It's so real. My tears on stage come a lot easier when I think of what I wouldn't do for my own children," remarked Lippert. "Everyone just pours themselves into this show because the theme — you can be redeemed in the end — is so powerful."

This sentiment is echoed by Mattera, " The show is inspiring. It speaks to everyone. No matter who you are. It has universal themes and qualities that never die."

"It's unlike any other musical I've ever directed," said Sankey, who plans to "put our flavor into the story — a story about redemption - without losing the essence of Victor Hugo's story."

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Under the direction of Sankey, choreographer Amanda Tschirgi and musical director Chris Hettenbach, the 104 member cast includes John Day (Jean Valjean), Matt Scheer (Javert),  Megan Crampton and Shelby Hettenbach (Cosette), Stephen Fleming (Enjolras), Kay Washington (Madame Thernadier),Todd Hochkeppel (Thernadier) and Chuck Bagley (Bamatbois), In addition, the acclaimed musical score will be performed by a 22-person-live orchestra that includes many award winning professional and community musicians.

Tickets are $17, with a discounted price of $13 for seniors and children under 12. Tickets are on sale now at http://www.ticketleap.com, Ellicott City's Music and Arts at Chatham Station or from a cast member. If available, tickets will also be sold at the door. As tradition, proceeds from HCST shows will benefit local charities. This year's proceeds will support Prepare for Success and the American Heart Association. Mt. Hebron High School is at 9440 Old Frederick Road, in Ellicott City.

Don't miss HCST's Junior Show, which returns this year to stage "Guys and Dolls", Thursday, June 26, and Friday, June 27, at 7 p.m., at Long Reach High School, in Columbia.

This  one-act Junior version of the iconic Broadway musical features performers in grades 5 through 9 singing show favorites "Adelaide's Lament," "Guys and Dolls," "Luck Be a Lady" and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat".

"This show has everything, humor, romance, and more humor," said 11-year-old Centennial Lane Elementary School fifth grader Lizzie Stroud, who plays Martha the Mission Worker.

Tickets are $7 for all ages and are available at the door or from a cast member.  Proceeds from the show will also benefit Prepare for Success and The American Heart Association.

For more information about HCST, go to the website at http://www.howardcountysummertheatre.org.

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