More fun than 'Glee'


Forget ‘Glee’ or ‘High School Musical’ – there’s more laughter and romance in the CBC/Loreto production of ‘Les Miserables’, writes PETER McGUIRE

A LAVISH school production, healthy rivalry, extravagance, and on-off romances: it sounds like an episode of Glee, the American musical comedy-drama that’s become a cultural phenomenon for teens on both sides of the Atlantic.

But the Transition Year boys of CBC Monkstown and girls of Loreto Foxrock, two private schools in south Dublin, have been acting, dancing and singing long before Gleewas ever conceived. For over two decades, the schools have come together to stage a Transition Year school musical. This year, CBC teacher Brian Dooley, who has produced and directed the plays for over 10 years, chose Les Misérables, a period epic.

One volunteer parent is now watching her third son take part in the CBC/Loreto school play. “They’ve all loved it, and the school has always pulled out all the stops,” she says. “Of course, they make new friends and have romances. But it’s also the first time they’ve had a chance to work closely, and as a team, with the opposite sex.”

Preparation could exhaust even the most experienced professional theatre actor. Rehearsals were held on most days, including weekends, for over two months before the play started. When it all began, the girls were on one side of the room, the boys on another. “It was like an old school dance, only there was no priest policing it,” remarks one student. But relations soon thawed, say Elva Aruchelvan and Laura Moriarty, two of the female leads. Before opening night, there had been several romances – and at least one break-up.

Les Misis a lavish production, sung through from start to finish. Based on an 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, the action follows an ensemble of characters in early 19th-century France, a time of great upheaval. Les Mishas been running for a record-breaking 25 years in London’s West End, and it’s now one of the best-known musicals in the world. For the CBC/Loreto production, at least 12 mothers worked on makin an average of two costumes for each of the 170 characters, encompassing everything from big ball gowns to top hats and tattered rags.

ALTHOUGH EVERY student had a role in the play, rivalry for the lead parts was fierce. “There was a fair bit of healthy competition and tension,” admits Darragh Casey, who played the comic villain Thernardier. “Some people were sure that the roles would go a certain way. And there was more competition than you’d think with the boys, where it was sometimes a matter of pride.”

Every student was auditioned and, after three rounds of callbacks, the final cast was selected. Some of the girls got the acting bug, quietly attending the open auditions for the Blackrock College school play.

Ciarán McLoughlin surprised everyone when his powerful voice secured him the lead role of Valjean. “I’d never sung or acted or danced and, to be honest, I’m not a big fan of musicals,” he says. “I didn’t even know I could sing. I’d be more into sports. Then I thought an all-singing musical would put me to sleep, but I changed my mind when I saw Les Mis.”

Every year in Ireland, thousands of TY students take part in plays. For many, it’s the highlight of their entire time in school. Students often post videos of the production, as well as their own little tributes, on YouTube. Meanwhile, social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo have enabled young people to publicise their school plays to a wider audience, giving them greater control over their own production and enabling them to maintain contact with the friends they make.

Kieran and Elaine, both aged 30, first met at the CBC/Loreto production of Oklahoma!in 1995. They married last May. “The boys and girls would meet at lunchtime, and at weekends,” says Elaine. “I was still friends with many of them when Kieran and I got together at the age of 21. I’d never have known him without the school play. CBC Monkstown? Sure, they weren’t even that good at rugby,” she jokes.

Amy Huberman, now a successful Irish actress, cut her teeth in the Loreto/CBC school play, as did Rory Nolan, who played Ross O’Carroll Kelly in The Last Days of the Celtic Tigerat the Olympia and is currently starring in Macbethin the Abbey.

“I took part in two musicals – Oklahama!in Transition Year and Greasein fifth year,” Nolan recalls. “As well as being a great way to meet girls, it sparked off my interest in acting. I loved the performance, the chaos backstage, the smell of the theatre when we opened, the hubbub of the audience. Once in UCD, I gravitated towards Dramsoc and later graduated from the Gaiety School of Acting. I’ve been lucky to have roles ever since.”