On the Scene: At High Desert Opera’s ‘Les Misérables’

Jomas and Hazel Gibson




Karen and Naeve Glibride




What an abundance of talent we have in the Grand Valley.

It was fiercely evident in the final performance of “Les Misérables” by High Desert Opera on Saturday night.

As I walked in the back door at Grand Junction High School, the cast was in various states of pre-show preparation. I could tell the costumes were going to be stunning and appropriate for 19th century France ­— Terri Schafer played the major role in that.

Familiar faces were recognizable yet illuminated by the stage makeup and a look of eager anticipation of their last performance of this well-known musical based on a novel by Victor Hugo.

After the huge success of the recent Hollywood film version starring Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, “Les Misérables” was a bit more familiar to many than ever before, adding to the popularity of High Desert Operas’ version.

If Saturday’s turnout was any indication, all the performances were near sell-outs.

In costume and ready to go were Betty Bartoszek and Joan Palese, proclaiming their status as the oldest actors in the production. Joan shared that she also helped paint the set. Both Betty and Joan played various roles in the ensemble. Betty went from being a nun to a drunk, an act she was proud to play.

The green room began to fill up with principles and members of the chorus/ensemble as the actors made themselves ready for curtain call. Bill Monroe and Annie Deprey Murphy stood together for a photo. Bill is someone I recognized from my old Renaissance Faire days. He’s a geologist with Olson Associates and still in the Ren Fair business having hosted it at his place by the river a few years ago. Annie is an attorney with Dufford, Waldek, Milburn & Krohn.

I spotted Sabrina Jackman, not in costume but sharing some ear buds with cast members Dylan Cox and Bryan Carlson. Sabrina works for the town of Palisade’s recreation department.

Having worked with Sabrina at the Palisade Bluegrass Festival, I had no idea she possessed such an incredible singing voice. She played Eponine, a main character in the musical. I had to ask Sabrina if she was related to Hugh, she told me, “not close enough to be invited to family reunions.”

Dylan is a veteran of the local stage and recently starred in a film. He played two roles in “Les Misérables.” Bryan played two roles as well but shone in his principle role as Marius. Bryan acting/directing major at Colorado Mesa University and studied under High Desert Operas founder, James Werner.

Heading toward the auditorium, I spotted siblings Jomas and Hazel Gibson. I was taken aback by how gorgeous they were. Hazel is a senior at CMU and played one of the numerous ensemble prostitutes. Jomas, a CMU graduate, began performing just 18 months ago and landed a principle role as Enjolras.

Near the orchestra pit stood Karen and Naeve Glibride. Karen was explaining the concept of the musicians playing in the orchestra pit and having to watch the actors and conductor, Scott Betts, to stay in sync with the action.

Karen is a portrait photographer and accompanies Betts on piano at Redlands Middle School. The entire Gilbride family attended that night.

During intermission, I made my way to the lobby where guests were enjoying the concessions provided by Christian Community Schools. Previous performances featured refreshments by Kids Voting and Community Cat Care. The nonprofits provided the snacks and kept the proceeds.

During intermission I met Connor Dillon and Ryan Larsen. Connor, a student from Central High School, had just come from debating. His father, Jim Dillon played Combeferre in “Les Misérables”. Ryan is a freshman at Palisade High School and on the speech and debate team.

I then spotted a very handsome man and, to my delight, on his arm was my dear and darling friend Connie Rohrig McDowell. Tom Coffey was a bit reticent to have his picture taken because, as Connie put it, “he’s a bit shy and reserved.” I did in anyway.

The Kester ladies were looking fine for a “girl’s night out.” Suzi Kester and daughters Tessa and Daphne were enjoying their first High Desert Opera experience and for them it a really beautiful production.

Grand Junction High School Auditorium holds about 1,500 people. At this final performance of “The Miserables,” there were at least 1,000 people in attendance. The previous three performances, including the one on New Year’s Eve were attended by a few less.

Marnie Werner, box office director and co-founder of High Desert Opera with her husband James, attributed the attendance increase to the word of mouth advertising that goes along with a production this excellent. “Madame Butterfly” will be High Desert Opera’s next production and is set for July.

The only thing that could have made this “Les Misérables” a better experience? Being performed in a newly renovated Avalon Theatre with a glass of wine, new seats and a spacious reception area.

The high school works, but High Desert Opera deserves a venue with the elegance and class equal to the quality of its productions. Enough said.

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Get on the Scene

If you’re looking for another musical experience, attend Palisade High School’s production of “Hello, Dolly” at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in that school’s auditorium, 3679 G Road. Tickets cost $19 for adults or $5 for students and seniors. Info: 254-4800.

The Theatre Project also is offering a performance with “A Chorus Line” at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium of Grand Junction High School, 1400 N. Fifth St. This production is rated R because of language and content. Info: theatreProjectGJ.com, 241-5363.

Check out the calendar in Friday’s Out & About for additional entertainment events.


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