POST: LaGuardia High School's 'Les Misérables' - why did I suddenly feel old?
What's it about?
Les Misérables is an almost entirely sung-through musical based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. The musical is set in an early 19th-century France, and it tells the story of Jean Valjean, who at the start of the show has been imprisoned for nearly two decades for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving son. The musical follows the life of Jean Valjean and the people he comes into contact with as he goes on an incredibly transforming personal journey over a span of many years.
What'd I experience?
When I attended LaGuardia High School from 2008 to 2012, getting tickets to the many performances was never a problem because the box office was IN my school. The process was as simple as walking up to a desk and picking a date. BOOM. But in the years since I've graduated (going on 5!), I've come to realize that ticket purchasing for LaGuardia shows is not as easy for those who do not attend the school. So for those individuals, here's a word to the wise: Buy tickets in advance online. But note, two days prior to opening night and later, tickets can only be purchased in person at the box office. Don't do what I did. I missed the deadline to purchase tickets online for Les Misérables and then had to reach out to two former teachers over Facebook to see if either of them could wrangle me a ticket. Ultimately, one teacher came through (Thanks, Ms. Kingham!) and reserved tickets under my name, but it could have very easily not gone my way.
I decided to take my boyfriend (at the time), Andrew, to see Les Misérables at my old high school, because I wanted him to understand the caliber of the performances I had come to know as a student there, both on stage and in the audience. He was aware that I sang and performed, but until he actually saw a LaGuardia production for himself, he couldn't really get how much the place meant to me.
During our walk to the school, it seemed like the wind was working against us. I tried to use Andrew's body as a shield from the bitter gusts that left me crying involuntary tears. Finally walking through those doors that I had walked through too many times to count felt right, but at the same time, surreal. This was no longer a place that I could call my school... How weird, even after all these years.
We found our seats, and immediately picked up on the gossip that some sort of famous person was among us in the audience. This didn't surprise me. Word on the street was that Sigourney Weaver had come to a showing of Les Misérables sometime earlier in the week.
I had seen my fair share of performances starring high schoolers over the past few years, and I had come to appreciate more and more the talents that young people had to offer. I took note of the ushers bordering the Concert Hall, all students dressed in a uniform black, polite, and ready to help. I recalled the times I had spent as an usher as a teenager, and it made me smile.
During intermission, there were SO many kids freaking out over the presence of this celebrity that I just blurted out, annoyed, "Who IS he?!" A girl whipped her head around like she was in a trance, informing me that Ansel Elgort was in the audience. Now THAT took me aback. Ansel was my age, and in my graduating class at LaGuardia. He was a Drama major and basically the lead in all of LaGuardia's major productions. Now he was on billboards and talk shows and in the film adaptations of popular Young Adult novels. Fame was funny. To these kids, Ansel was like Brad Pitt. One girl said that she had been waiting her whole life for this moment. JEEZ. It also occurred to me that most of the people currently attending LaGuardia were born in 1999 and later. Why did I suddenly feel old?
There were some scenes in Les Misérables that honestly made me feel like I was watching a Broadway show, which was saying something considering this was a cast comprised of high schoolers. Master of the House made me laugh so consistently that my face started to hurt, but in a good way. Drink with Me brought tears to my eyes, but not even my familiarity with the show and its story could prepare me for how upset I'd be during the scene of Gavroche's death.
After the show's final standing ovation (we had already participated in one towards the end of intermission), the actors who had played Monsieur and Madame Thénardier stepped to the front of the stage where they sang, in the tune of Master of the House, lyrics asking for donations to support the arts at LaGuardia. The actress who had played Madame Thénardier then came out of character to ask again, as a child lucky enough to have been raised with good arts programs, for donations to support her school. It meant more to hear it coming from her own voice. Lastly, the actor who had played Jean Valjean came forward to dedicate the production to Kyle Jean-Baptiste, a 2011 graduate of LaGuardia and fellow Vocal major. He was only one grade above me, and he went on to become the youngest person ever and the first African American person to play the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway. He was only 21 years old when he died, after tragically falling from a fire escape. At 22, I was older than he would ever be... Rest In Peace, Kyle. I am proud to say that I shared a school with you for three years.
As Andrew and I dodged the giddy fans hoping to snag Ansel's autograph, and made our way back out into the bitingly cold air, I resolved that I would not again wait years before returning to LaGuardia. There were too many brilliant performances being churned out, and I was happy to say that I was at least partially connected to them all simply by having been taught there and having called the school my home for four years.
What'd you experience?
Let PXP know in the comments below...