Thursday, April 19, 2018
Stage

Gaither High student quickly grows into 'Les Mis' role

TAMPA

Two years ago, Bailey Walman, 16, dropped out of Italian class at Gaither High School and asked to be put into anything else.

They enrolled him in theater.

Now, he is the lead, playing Jean Valjean in the Patel Conservatory's production of Les Misérables, which starts on Thursday and runs through the 17.

Talk about growing up fast.

Originally a novel, the musical portrays the hardships of the French Revolution. It plays on religion, romance, politics, human resilience and family, some of which is heady stuff for Walman and a cast which consists of students in grades 8 through 12.

"For the most part, a lot of the themes they seem to really understand," said director Suzanne Livesay. "The hardest scene for them was when they had to re-enact people being wounded by gun fire. They have a really close-to-home story with what just happened in Orlando, so it's tricky. People responded very emotionally to it, and I said, unfortunately, there will be a lot of that during the show."

Walman and Livesay agree that the show is a way to work through those emotions and serves as a way to release grief, both for the actors and the audience.

"At the end of Act 1, you're not emotionally drained yet, but you know you will be by the end," Walman said.

Though it is a school edition, the production stays pretty true to the original.

"There are edgy parts," Livesay said. "There's mild curse words in it, the bad people are bad, and they don't always use clean language. Then there's the people who stand for truth and goodness."

Walman could barely stand when he earned the role. Hospitalized during callbacks, producers asked him to send a video of a character he wanted to portray.

"From the hospital bed, I sent an old video of me singing Bring Him Home because that was all I had," Walman said. "It was all I could do."

Walman, who previously starred in only goofy roles, faced the next challenge of mastering the music and developing the complex character.

Jean Valjean struggles with creating an honest life for him and his adopted daughter after serving time in prison for stealing a piece of bread to feed his sister's children.

"He goes from being poor and sad and working hard to becoming a man by the end of the show," Walman said. "I'm feeling more of the pain this guy has been through, and it's called the miserable so it definitely gets me there."

The most emotionally taxing scene for Walman was the death of the little boy, Gavroche, who calls the streets of Paris home.

"Suzanne always says 'don't cry', but it's so hard not to," Walman said "I can't even look at the guy carrying Gavroche off."

Over the past four weeks they have had to put the show together, Livesay has taught the cast to connect with the material, but not to lose themselves entirely.

"One of my favorite lines is 'What have I done sweet Jesus.' It speaks on the fact like why did God do this to me. We always question that but we realize he always had a plan," Walman said.

Walman's plans for the future include pursuing Broadway.

"Basically every show I've seen has been at the Straz, and each show I've seen now, it makes me tear up because that's what I want to do," Walman said.

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