One Last Hurrah

One Last Hurrah

BHS buddies battle it out in ‘Les Miserables’


“Who am I? Who am I? I am Jean Valjean!”

In this case, Jean Valjean is Sam Ellgass, and it won’t take much suspension of disbelief to see him as the tragic hero of “Les Miserables.” Although he and his co-star Utah Courtney as Javert are Bentonville High School students — as are the members of the orchestra accompanying them — the “school edition” production opening April 25 at Arend Arts Center lives up to the bold, timeless, sweeping drama that took Broadway by storm 32 years ago.

“I’ve worked hard to make this as student-driven as possible. We have a full creative team of student assistant directors, acting coaches, choreographers, who have contributed in major ways,” says Justin Scheuer, the play’s director and fine arts chairman and director of theater at BHS. “It requires an enormous amount of time and energy. The kids learn how to balance their social lives, school, families, with rehearsal. It’s good practice for the many plates you have to spin as an adult.”

For the two actors in the pivotal roles, both of them seniors, it has been a journey nearly as epic as the tale they’re telling.

“Since I knew I’d be doing the show with so many of my friends, it was easy to want to commit the hours from the start,” says Ellgass. “On top of that, I’ve always been a fan of musical theater.

“I had experience with theatrical summer camps and outside programs before this, but ‘Les Mis’ is my first time putting on a show with Bentonville High School,” he adds, explaining he is a “music kid” — a member of the Bentonville High School Chamber Choir and a published composer who plans to pursue music composition alongside physics next year at Duke or the University of California at Berkeley.

“We didn’t know that much about the show before starting, but after a lot of research and months working on it, we were excited,” Ellgass says. “The complexity of the story is baffling with ‘Les Mis.’ Because it’s based on a book of more than a thousand pages, every scene is packed with plot, and the story never stops moving forward at a breakneck pace, which is super exciting. It makes every scene feel important.”

“I love singing, and I love acting, and I love musicals, and ‘Les Mis’ was the perfect opportunity for me,” says Courtney, who plays the villain of the piece. “I had not known about this musical until it was announced, and when I heard about it I bought a complete boxed set of CDs for my car — and when I watched the movie the first time, I bawled. It has come to be my favorite musical and movie of all time.”

Courtney is involved in Chamber Choir and Wind Ensemble Band at BHS and has committed to Middle Tennessee State University to major in music industry.

“This was my first theater experience but not my first performance experience; I have done so many choir and band performances, and I consider myself quite good at dealing with a stage,” he explains. “Javert is a character that is quite contradictory to my beliefs and nature. He is all about order and accountability and regimentality, and I’m very rebellious in nature. But having to understand a character who thinks differently has been a very powerful thing to me — and I love it.”

The two — who are, by the way, the best of friends — have one more hurrah to share with Maren Bayles, who portrays Fantine, after the curtain closes on “Les Mis.”

“To be honest, this hasn’t really hit me yet,” Bayles says of the end of high school. “As a choir, we are traveling to Europe in June this year, so that seems like the tipping point of my emotions.”



‘Les Miserables’

WHEN — 7 p.m. April 25-27; 2 p.m. April 28

WHERE — Arend Arts Center at Bentonville High School

COST — $10-$15

INFO — 254-5161

BONUS — See video of a “Les Mis” rehearsal on the NWA Democrat-Gazette YouTube channel.

Categories: Theater