Neptune’s Youth Performance Company Are the Masters of this House

It has become something of a joke within the theatre community in Halifax that while Neptune Theatre is producing High School Musical in the spring, its Youth Performance Company just ended its run of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s Les Misérables [School Edition]. The show was directed by Mary Lou Martin and was comprised of 24 extraordinarily talented students between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. The Youth Performance Company (YPCo) is an auditioned company that rehearses from August until December every year at the Neptune Theatre School and seeks to give practical training to students in acting, singing and dancing. Even in its “School Edition,” Les Misérables is a gigantic and difficult show, but with the guidance of their highly expert teachers, the Youth Performance Company presented a poignant, professional, and hugely impressive piece of theatre.
It is a definite challenge for any director to stage this epic show, not only with teenagers, but also in such a small space and with limited means for spectacle. Mary Lou Martin does a wonderful job of creating pictures, especially with the ensemble members, and keeping the stage moving. Often there are tableaux where each person onstage is doing his or her own thing, and they are all very interesting to watch. “Master of the House” and “At the End of the Day” were two particularly fantastic numbers to watch. It was also perfectly charming to see the waltzing in the Wedding scene, which showed off Martin’s competence as a choreographer as well.
Like an opera, Les Misérables is entirely musical and YPCo’s musical director Matthew Amyotte has a tour de force playing the entire show by himself. Even more impressive are the students’ voices, especially in the ensemble numbers, and I am sure that it was with Amyotte’s guidance and his brilliance as a musical director and a teacher that was able to elicit such big, gorgeous, sounds from the company. The ensemble members seemed to be just as strong in their singing and acting as the leads, which provided great balance to the show.
At the same time, Amyotte did the very best he could playing the entire score on a keyboard, and I wonder if it would be possible in future for there to be a piano in the Studio Theatre. I know there are significant issues of finding space for it, but, I think the Youth Performance Company shows demand it and that a creative solution could be found. Ideally, it would be nice for Amyotte to have a small band accompany him. For now, however, I’d settle for a piano.
The stars of the evening were without a doubt the 24 actors from the company, and while they were all very impressive, there were a few who I think particularly deserve mention. Sarah Boyle played Little Cosette with a striking balance of strength and vulnerability and her clear, strong voice belted out “Castle on a Cloud” just as well as any child on any of the show’s recordings. CJ Seaman is equally strong as Gavroche, her physicality really paints a striking image of the urchin too young and cocky to fear death. Julia Topple, who played Adult Cosette, has a beautiful soprano voice and when she sings, it seems like the most utterly effortless thing in the world. Torin Vigerstad and Caitlyn Parsons gave every ounce of energy, confidence and flair to their portrayals of the Thénardiers. Vigerstad has particularly shrewd comic timing and a delightfully mischievous physicality. Taylor Long was fraught with charm as Marius, and his voice is beautiful, especially in “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables.” Vicky Houser shone brightly as Fantine, her voice is lovely and strong, and she is bursting with stage presence and magnetism throughout the show. Mitchell Court was amazing as Javert; his rendition of “Stars” made me forget that I was watching a student production. The show stopping moment of the entire show, however, was Colin Jones as Jean Valjean singing “Bring Him Home.” Wow. Jones’ voice is stunning and so heartfelt. It is difficult to believe that he is still in High School.
Les Misérables, and Neptune’s Youth Performance Company, stands as a testament to the fact that Halifax produces talented performers en masse. A large percentage of Toronto’s theatre community is made up of generations of performers, who once would have been Nova Scotian High School students just like the cast of this show. It disheartens me to know that it is probable that these extraordinary teenagers, if they want to pursue a career in the arts, will most likely follow the path of their predecessors, and leave our province to seek training and theatrical opportunities elsewhere.
That said, I am also hopeful. Perhaps with Neptune’s new Artistic Director there will be more jobs available for local actors, and hopefully we will keep investing in training programs like Neptune’s Pre Professional Training Program and Dalhousie University’s Theatre Program until they shine on the national stage with reputations like that of Sheridan College, Ryerson University, and the slew of other schools many of our talented teenagers flock to. I hope that when the stars of Les Misérables finish their post-secondary education and/or training, that the Halifax they return to is thriving with exciting theatrical opportunities, healthy, diverse, theatre companies, theatre spaces that are conducive to play, regional playwrights workshopping new shows, adequate funding, and opportunities for them to work and collaborate with world-class theatre artists from across the country and around the world.
That is the Dream I Dream.

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