By Peter Filichia on May 23, 2019

"Be afraid. Be very afraid."

That was the advertising slogan for The Fly in 1986.

Don't let it apply to Les Miserables School Edition.

You may be intimidated by the challenges that this behemoth of a musical would seem to pose. And yet, director-choreographer Lindsay Maron recently got a bunch of tweens and teens together and staged a fine and successful production of this shortened (2:45) Les Miz.

Is "Seriousness of Purpose" still a category on report cards? If so, give all of these kids A-pluses.

If these "Pixie Dust Players" in Rahway, New Jersey can pull off such an extraordinary achievement, you can too. This town of 27,000 can't be the only place in the world where there are extraordinary kid actors.

Be apprised, though, that just because it's the "School Edition," some ribaldries remain. The language doesn't shy away from the three-letter word for gluteus maximus or the four-letter one that begins with "S." Both the "Lovely Ladies" and Madame Thenardier refer to the size of a man's genitals. Men interested in those not-so-lovely ladies of the evening mutter a crude remark or two.

You might worry that you won't be able to find enough boys to play the many male roles. Well, what's often said about West Side Story is that boys crave to be in it because they can play Jets or Sharks - tough guys -- which appeals to them more than portraying Kurt and Friedrich von Trapp. Similarly speaking, Les Miz allows them to portray student revolutionaries. They get to express the unbridled exhilaration that young men display before a battle that they're sure they'll win.

The young men are sadly unaware that their high hopes - and lives -- will soon be squashed. And that's only one of the incisive lessons that Les Miz teaches.

Considering the fate of Eponine (the sensational Olivia Ruhnke), we see that today's pampered lass isn't necessarily tomorrow's, for Marius (the amazing Andre Marana) doesn't even seem to notice that she cares so much for him. Even at this age, kids understand the throes of first love - and the lack of it. Many girls will identify with her unrequited love; they too have had boys whom they've liked relegate them to Good-Buddy status. Yes, Les Miserables School Edition turns out to be an education in itself.

You're wondering - and doubting - that you can find a Jean Valjean and a Javert who can sing Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's now-classic score. True, you might not have a Mike Mags and Vincent DeMeo, who respectively displayed pipes as strong as those in Paris sewers. Only auditions will tell, of course, but don't dismiss the possibility out of hand.

Girls aren't neglected, of course. As Fantine, Sara Bartoszek suggested that Susan Boyle needn't be the only one to become a star by singing "I Dreamed a Dream." Because Fantine dies early in the show, you hoped that Maron would have her doubling just so we could see her again.

And you must have at least one character actor and actress who'll relish the chance to play the scalawag Thenardiers. Max Rodriguez and Karenna Breslow superbly tore into their roles with more relish than you'll find on Coney Island's Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.

West Side Story doesn't offer a tween a chance to shine, but Les Miz does, thanks to Gavroche, whom Robbie Crandall definitely made "a member of our crusade." You could have cut a baguette with the force with which he sang the lyric "We will not be slaves again."

Too bad that Les Miserables isn't playing Broadway right now; he and the other age-appropriate kids - Greta Rebecca Kleinman (Little Cosette) and Sidney Pollock (Little Eponine) -- would have been welcomed to play the parts they had here.

For a set, Sean Puzzo got by with a pair of two-level staircases divided by a platform on which actors often stood (and from which Javert committed suicide; DeMeo jumped behind it onto -- we presume -- many mattresses).

You could, however, go a more ornate route. Hold a "Les Miserables Furniture Drive" which will get you items for your barricade at no real cost. Not only will you be helping people get rid of chairs and couches that have been rotting in their attics, but you'll also make them aware of your show. They just might buy tickets to see what you've done with great-grandma's divan.

So don't be afraid. Don't even be a little afraid. Your kids may welcome the challenge when tomorrow comes.

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