Woodford residents entertain in ‘Les Miserables’ at Eastlight

Adam Larck
Woodford County residents performing in Les Miserables at Eastlight Theatre. Back row, from left: Jessica Duffy, Jason Morris and Roger Roemer. Front row, from left: Jenny Baer, Kurtis Downs and Curt Rowden. Not pictured is Anita Rowden.

Woodford County residents will have strong representation at Eastlight Theatre this week in “Les Miserables.”

Out of a cast of 52 people, seven people come from Woodford.

While the opening was Friday, the musical continues at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday at the Byron Moore Auditorium at East Peoria High School.

Tickets are $19 each and available at www.eastlighttheatre.com or at the door.

Director Robin Hunt said that, beside the strong Woodford influence, cast members are coming from as close as East Peoria to as far as Macomb and Springfield.

Casting call

Hunt said more than 100 people showed up when the musical was first announced for Eastlight.

“It was a very difficult process. We had extremely talented people, but unfortunately we could not use everyone,” she said.

Curtis Downs, 16, of Metamora said that he got involved through musical theater at the high school before his grandparents suggested getting involved in the musical.

He plays a student.

“(The audition) was really good,” he said. “They were pretty cool about it. They said hi to me and were really nice.”

Meanwhile, Jenny Baer, 40, of Eureka, said she got involved with the musical after her friend that she taught with convinced her to audition.

“She and I have a drama club that we direct at the grade school in Eureka. When this came up, this is my favorite show, so she talked me into auditioning for it,” Baer said.

Even though she helps direct plays at Eureka Grade School, she said the audition was “incredibly nerve wracking.”

“I think mostly because I wanted to do it so badly, plus I haven’t done it in so long,” she said.

Baer plays a factory woman, turning woman and innkeeper.

One of the more interesting auditions, though, may have been for Javert, the arch-nemesis of the musical.

Jason Morris, 40, of Germantown Hills, was actually on vacation while auditions were going on.

“So, I requested an early audition and Robin Hunt very graciously granted that audition and let me come sing in her living room,” Morris said. “I brought along a friend who’s an accompanist and sang in her living room. I was nervous. I was shaking in her living room, I was so scared.”

After the living room audition, Hunt cast the rest of the show except for Javert, which was left unfilled until Morris got home.

“I got a call back the day I got back from vacation,” he said. “I flew in to town from Florida and dropped my kids off at home and drove over to do the call back the night after the first rehearsal. Then they cast me in that role, which is pretty exciting for me.”

Rehearsals

Leading up to opening night, Hunt said that rehearsals had been going great.

“This cast has been fabulous to work with. They’re very dedicated and passionate about the show,” she said.

Curt Rowden, 60, of Metamora, echoed her sentiments.

He also added that, unlike some plays, no one in the cast tries to be a prima donna.

“Everybody is good to everybody,” Rowden, who plays Thenardier, said.

Morris added that, on June 17, the cast held Tech Sunday, using the revolve on the set for the first time.

“The revolve is the stage,” he said. “It’s electronically moving on a circle so you’re walking on it. They bring scenes to you.

“I’ve never done a show that’s this technically advanced. It’s exciting because it ups the show to a whole new level.”

Hometown crowd

A big advantage to many of the members of the cast from Woodford is that they already knew each other before the show.

“Most of the people in Woodford County that you’re talking about, most of us live in Metamora and all went to Metamora at one time or another,” Roger Roemer, 43, of Metamora, said. “Jason Morris, who plays Javert, he and I were in high school together. Then Curt and Anita (Rowden) also work at the high school. One of our young men is a student there. So, it’s just real neat to see a lot of people you know and get reacquainted. It’s just awesome.”

Roemer plays Jean Valjean, one of the three main characters played by Metamora residents. The other two are played by Morris (Javert) and Curt (Thenardier).

“I don’t think it was planned that way,” Morris said. “I mean, I’m auditioning for the first time in 20 years and Roger is coming back to community theater recently.

“Roger and I went to high school together. He was class of ‘87 and I was class of ‘89 so we were in choir together at Metamora, so it’s just so funny to be doing this together. It brings a certain personal history to the show that people don’t know and it creates a whole dynamic and relationship as we work together on stage.”

Morris added that he hopes the Metamora connection that many of the actors share will help bring out hometown support in the crowd.

“We encourage people to come and see it,” Curt said. “They won’t regret it.”