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Broadway pro surprises Stage Notes group, will direct ‘Les Miserables’ musical


WATERTOWN — The “Les Miserables” production cast from Stage Notes — a theater group with students from grades 7 through 12 — sat patiently together at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Patrick’s Church before their rehearsal.

The group was told a surprise announcement would be made Saturday at the church, 123 S. Massey St. But details weren’t disclosed by Ticia K. Marra, director of the nonprofit theater production company.

The secret was spilled about 10:15 a.m., though, when Broadway professional Stanley J. Joseph unexpectedly walked into the church, facing the group to make an announcement: “The surprise is that I’m actually conducting your show,” he said, watching the faces of teens light up with elation. Wowed by the news, several girls cupped their hands over their mouths in shock.

The group was taken aback by the sudden appearance of Mr. Joseph, who had met students when they attended a theater workshop April 5 at a Broadway studio in Manhattan. Stage Notes has been practicing since April for its musical performance of “Les Miserables,” which will be put on at 7 p.m. July 9 through 12 in Jefferson Community College’s Sturtz Theater.

Mr. Joseph, who will conduct an orchestra that will be hired for the production, said he was impressed by the “incredibly talented” group of students who attended the “Broadway Classroom” workshop in April. As an experienced musical director, Mr. Joseph and other Broadway professionals host workshops offered by for high school students in New York City.

The 30-year-old has been hired as a music director, vocal coach and conductor for Broadway companies that have put on some of the nation’s hottest shows, including “Wicked,” “Chicago,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Addams Family.”

“It’s inspiring when you get students like this who want to do the work to get better,” Mr. Joseph said Saturday, taking a break from conducting the group. “I couldn’t ask for anything more inspiring.”

While not working on Broadway productions, Mr. Joseph carves out time to mentor and teach high school students. He is the musical director for Statement Arts, a nonprofit in the Big Apple that is dedicated to making the performing arts available to students from low-income and underserved families.

During Saturday’s rehearsal, Mr. Joseph gave directions to the Stage Notes members while they performed a song from “Les Miserables” titled “At the End of the Day.” He taught them how to modulate their voices to get louder for emphasis during certain sections of the song.

“What you’re doing now is going to be about 60 percent of what you’re going to do in the show,” he told the group.

“It’s about learning how to emphasize the significance of the words,” he said, adding that lyrics sometimes need to be sung as loudly as possible. “That’s what make it a Broadway production — the little things.”

With practice, Mr. Joseph said, he believes the Stage Notes group has the talent to bring a Broadway-level production to Watertown this July. The group’s 18 students attend six different school districts across the region: Watertown, Immaculate Heart, South Jefferson, Carthage, Indian River and LaFargeville.

“These kids will blow the lid off this community,” said Mr. Joseph, a native of Kenosha, Wis. “They will give nothing short of a Broadway-caliber performance. I think this show is going to set the bar high for performances to come.”

Kyle D. Anders, a senior at Watertown High School, said he was impressed that Mr. Joseph has decided to coach the group. Mr. Anders will star in the lead role as Jean Valjean in the production based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, which is set against the backdrop of the Paris student uprising of 1832.

“It’s incredible that someone with as much experience as he has is coming to work with a group in a small community,” he said, joking that some of the girls likely have a crush on the Broadway expert. “Not only will he bring technical expertise, but he will improve our confidence and get us perfect because he knows how everything is done on Broadway.”

Rachel E. Wilson, a sophomore at LaFargeville High School, said she thinks the talent of cast members made a lasting impression on Mr. Joseph when they visited Manhattan in April.

“I think he’ll bring our company to a whole new level,” Miss Wilson said.

She will play the character of Cosette in the musical, who is the daughter of Fantine, a young orphan in Paris who becomes pregnant by a rich student. As a victimized child, Cosette is rescued by Jean Valjean.

Mrs. Marra said it will cost roughly $20,000 to put on the production. That budget includes the purchase of royalty rights to perform the musical, along with the rental of the theater, scripts, vocal scores, costumes and the hiring of an orchestra and sound technician. About $15,000 has been raised so far. To help make up the difference, a dinner with an auction is slated for 7 p.m. June 10 at the Ramada Inn, Arsenal Street. Admission is $30 per person.

Mrs. Marra said she was honored when Mr. Joseph asked for her contact information during the group’s April visit to Manhattan. She said he took the initiative to get involved.

“He’s been saying that we can do the same thing as Broadway here, even with a low budget,” Mrs. Marra said. “He is impressed that we have a group of students who are willing to work really hard and have the support of the community.”

All proceeds from tickets sales for “Les Miserables” will benefit the Watertown Urban Mission.

For more on Stage Notes and the production, follow the group on Facebook by searching for “StageNotesWatertown” and on Twitter at @StageNotesWatn or visit the group’s website at www.

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