Editor’s note: As theatergoers continue to marvel at the quality of the Naples Players’ production of the mammoth "Les Miserables," the music director tells what the experience was like for him. Charles Fornara, who conducted the 14-piece, professional orchestra for five shows a week for a month, ending this past week, plus rehearsals and a children’s theater version on tap, answered questions from Daily News editorial page editor Jeff Lytle, who reviewed the epic musical in the middle of its successful run at Sugden Community Theatre. Fornara brought special insight to the challenge: as an actor he has played both lead roles, of Jean Valjean and Javert. His wife, Dawn, worked as the choreographer for the "Les Miserables’’ triumph.
Lytle: With such complex, intense and constant music, is that exciting for the musicians or a chore? Fun or work? And does it ever get old — playing the same music so often?
Fornara: The complexity and intensity of the music, coupled with the fact that it practically never stops, make the show a unique experience for the pit players. Normally, they have dialogue scenes during which they complete Sudokus, check e-mail, read books, nap, etc.; with this show there is no "down time." Especially with this new orchestration, where 14 players do the work formerly done by 25 or more, players who in previous versions had a whole number in which they did not play at all are all counting measures of rest, waiting for their next entrance.
I think it is fair to say that if we ran the show for six months or a year, some players might begin to become bored, let their minds wander, or even play on auto-pilot, but the concentration required to pull off this show is exciting for players; I’ve heard no one say he is pleased that this run is coming to an end, and that is rare indeed. Players are often anxious to be on to the next gig or show.
This is without question the best orchestra I have had at The Naples Players (TNP), and I feel that they enjoy each others’ company as well. While we are maybe not "family" to the extent that the cast has become, we have definitely bonded and everyone down there truly cares that the show be the best in can be.
For me, already having done the show for over a year, I could spend the rest of my life doing "Les Mis" and be thoroughly satisfied, artistically.
Lytle: When did you know you were amid something very special, very good? Was there an aha moment?
Fornara: We knew already at auditions that this cast was going to be stellar. Never, in my experience at TNP, have we had every position in the cast being fought for at callbacks.
Normally, we plug the ensemble positions in without any need for callbacks, but for this one, people came in fighting for every slot.
I would say that only two roles were clear how we were going to cast them after the first round of auditions. With the level of talent that came out for this show, we knew right away it would be very well sung.
What we did not know until maybe the second week of rehearsals was how they would bond and really get what "Les Mis" requires — heart, communication, listening and incredible commitment.
Almost everyone came into the first rehearsal having learned all their music, so we were able to start right away with the drama of the piece.
My director, when I did the show, told us that doing "Les Mis" changes your life. It was true then and I’ve seen it with these people.
It is not uncommon to make new friends doing a community theatre show (or a professional one, for that matter), but these people have truly become a family, and that is the explanation for the power that the production had.
Lytle: What is it like to stand in front of 14 skilled musicians and lead them on such a journey, and hear it so "up close’’?
Fornara: Conducting this show was certainly my best experience conducting at TNP. As I mentioned before, it is the most talented orchestra I’ve had, perhaps the best arrangement (everyone should get to sit where I stand and hear these players master this difficult score. I feel that the show was well-mixed by our excellent sound man, but there is no substitute for standing where I do), and it is my favorite show of all time.
The difficulty and constant focus required to conduct this show well (correctly and musically) make it a joy that is not likely to be topped. And I am so grateful that we have another weekend with our terrific teens, who are also really going to impress.
Our reviews of the show: