By Laura Bardin
In 2012, Tom Hooper’s film production of the French novel Les Misérables drew audiences across the country. Now, the musical is coming to Furman as the Pauper Players seek to link the stirring story of the past with the contemporary struggles of those on this side of the ocean.
Alex Mason, a voice major at Furman, will play the role of Jean Valjean, a former prisoner whose life is the focus of Les Misérables. A graduate of the South Carolina Governors School for the Arts, Mason discovered his singing talent as a high school freshman and has been performing publicly ever since.
Mason said he expected the upcoming Furman production to be truly special. He said the sets are fantastic, the cast’s chemistry powerful, and the character roles well-rehearsed, making the experience of this interpretation one to rival the many other productions of the musical in theater, film, and literature.
These elements work with a rich storyline to create an experience that often compels its audience long after the actual encounter.
“Les Misérables will make you cry, give you chills, give you a sense of pride, and a sense of shame,” Mason said.
The wide array of emotions evoked by the story itself also impacts the performers bringing the narrative to life. For Mason, the transition from sitting in the classroom to embodying the pain, sorrow, and transformation found in the life of a man like Jean Valjean is a task to approach intentionally. Mason prepares himself by taking 20 minutes prior to the show to sit in silence, centering himself. The arduous rehearsals, which lasted up to 13 hours before classes resumed, also provided time for Mason to study the complexities of his character.
One of Mason’s challenges in relating to his character has been to try to understand the lens through which Valjean saw life and the world around him. After leaving his imprisoned past behind, Valjean finds renewal in a personal discovery of the Divine. This turning point leads Valjean to seek to embody his sense of God in the world around him, as a vessel through which the grace, forgiveness, and redemption he received can flow freely.
Yet the pain surrounding him constantly brings a depth of struggle to this task, driving him to act on his most genuine convictions and beliefs. Mason’s understanding of Valjean’s internal passions and wrestling are enacted in his portrayal of Valjean as a man who lives with the past but in the present.
Supporting its emotional layers are themes in the musical that speak to members of the audience differently. The religious, political, and historical currents raise larger questions that have given the play resonance beyond its particular historical moment; this transcendence presents a look at humanity in both the light and the dark, explicating but not answering.
The themes are emphasized through the complexity of the characters, who remind viewers to never take a person at face value. Mason provided examples: the woman who serves as a prostitute for a time is only doing so for the sake of her child’s well-being, the leader of a peasant revolution who is secretly rich, the police inspector who was born in a jail.
It is within these juxtapositions that the beauty of Les Misérables is revealed. The musical challenges circumstances and labels, allowing only one defining factor to remain: the force of love, be it divine or human, a beckoning to a new life or to a better way of being. Performances will be Feb. 7-8 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 9 at 3 p.m. Tickets will be sold in the Trone Student Center the week before.