Masters of the House

Opening night of 'Les Miserables' sets high standard for school performances

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"Les Miserables" finally got out of the boardroom and on to the stage Thursday night at Moffat County High School.

And the same high-school production labeled "trash" last month by a group of parents protesting to the Moffat County Board of Education left about 440 attendees standing in boisterous applause at the end, as a beaming cast took its bows.

"I haven't seen any mistakes, although Maggie said she lost her wig," said Amy Coleman, the play's pensive director, insisting nerves were under control.

Moffat County High School is one of four Colorado schools now staging a version of the classic, based on the Victor Hugo novel and set around the time of the French Revolution.

The roughly two-hour performance, with one intermission, appeared to run smooth aside from the occasional minor glitches. Crisp lines were backed up by spot-on music, as young actors hit most keys, inspiring everything from applause to laughter along the way.

Veterans of Moffat County theater insist Thursday was as good, or better, than any opening night in recent memory.

"I can't get over what a wonderful job these kids have done," said Sandi Johns, MCHS counselor and a 14-year observer of the school's theater.

But the audience's captured attention was perhaps even more striking, she said.

"I truly think they're trying to understand it," Johns said. "Everybody seems to be there ... they're listening."

They heard a high school version that Coleman secured permission to alter from Music Theatre International, which began issuing licenses for the play this summer.

Coleman, after meeting with parents in late September, sought changes to 12 individual words or phrases deemed objectionable.

Among them, "bitch" became "witch," - according to changes approved by MTI in a letter dated Nov. 11 while "think I'll drop" became "think I'll talk to that one in that harbor over there," "you little whore" was traded in for "you little wench" or "tramp", while "even a whore" was exchanged for "even a girl," and "nest of whores" turned into a "nest of crooks."

"Bargain prices" and "to be a whore" were deleted from the play.

MTI insisted on "blackguard" as a substitute for "bastard," according to the changes.

But a group of parents before the Moffat County School Board on Oct. 28 lobbied against the play moving forward, held their own children out of the production, and questioned whether Coleman had truly sought content changes.

Jane Krogman, MCHS principal, said nothing was rumored in terms of a possible demonstration for the night.

Still, the school's resource officer from the Craig Police Department was in attendance.

"It probably caused more people to come see the play," said audience member Seline Derick.

Tenth-grader Pete Stammler said he was curious to see it for the first time.

"I heard about it," he said. "It's their choice if they wanted to come to the play or not."

Amanda Szatkowski, in between sets getting a drink of water, said the controversy did weigh on the cast.

"Mrs. Coleman really helped us out and supported us," said Szatkowski, cast originally as one of the play's prostitutes.

"It's just a play," the 10th-grader said. "I don't think anyone should get hurt."

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 to at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

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