Les Miserables was one of my favorite productions we did at Rangeview. The show we did in 2003 still ranks as one of the best high school productions I have been a part of or seen. We had exceptional actors and the set was a thing of wonder. It transported you to Victor Hugo’s Paris. There were little nuances that Tammy Strouse added that made it a top-notch musical. She wanted things to be realistic and make the audience feel a part of the show. One such detail was how Javert committed suicide by leaping off of the bridge. While most schools have a small bridge and the actor falls backward onto a pad hidden behind the bridge. Tammy thought it was important for Javert to go forward toward the audience. It was much more powerful and gave a unique look. There was no gymnastic pad on stage for him to fall into. Javert was rigged with a harness and was lowered as the lights dimmed. It gave the audience the feeling of authenticity and the drama of the scene.
Javert wore a harness under his cape. We had worked on this many times for timing and hooking him up while he sang and with nobody seeing. During the course of the song Spencer, who played Javert, would go behind the curtain to scale the bridge. During those 5 seconds out of sight behind the curtain and at the edge of the stairs we hooked him up. The production had already handled adversity in the form of a massive snowfall making preparation difficult. We had maneuvered those challenges but one that could have never been anticipated arose on the date of the opening show. We had a technician very specifically assigned to this task. If it wasn’t done right Spencer would fall 12 feet with nothing to protect him. The student assigned to hook him up found himself in trouble resulting in being suspended from school for several days. He was not allowed on campus, even for this task. Somehow in the panic, I was assigned to be the new person.
Spencer and the student had practiced over a hundred times to get it right. I had three rehearsals. The key was to hear the click of the carabiner on the harness. I was scared beyond belief that I would mess it up and try to explain to Spencer’s family that we broke him. As the time neared I stationed myself in the wings and cleared the area so I would have no distractions. It went like clockwork and it was gratifying to hear the audience gasp as Spencer fell forward and the lights snapped off. It went perfectly so I felt better but I knew I had a couple of more attempts coming and to not let my guard down. Friday night was a triumphant repeat. Saturday was another story. As he came backstage we got caught up in his cape. I got it on but I didn’t hear the all-important “click.” I was frantically trying to get his attention but I couldn’t. I finally heard that life-saving click as he was falling forward. I have never been so relieved in my life. It was closing night so the adult group went out afterward and I can honestly say that I really needed that Pina Colada so badly in my life. I am not sure if Spencer knows about this story but if he is reading the blog he now knows how close he came to landing face-first on the stage.