After an intensive eight-week rehearsal process, more than 65 students representing 23 area high schools will take the stage over the next two weekends for “Les Misérables.”
Indiana Musical Theatre Foundation and Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre present the show at University of Saint Francis’ Robert Goldstine Performing Arts Center, 431 W. Berry St.
Aaron Hawley plays Jean Valjean in the musical, which is set against the backdrop of injustice and rebellion in 19th century France.
Hawley is a 2021 graduate of Antwerp High School in Antwerp, Ohio, and has been a part of Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre six years.
He answered these questions via email. The conversation has been edited.
Q. What has that journey been like for you, in terms of the learning process and your growth in the theater arts?
A. I started in 2016 in the ensemble of “Beauty and the Beast,” and have since played roles such as Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Tony in “West Side Story,” and now Jean Valjean.
FWSMT has been integral in my growth as a performer. The production staff with FWSMT is the best in the city, hands down. All of them care so much about every single student and they make everyone better in every respect of the art form. FWSMT is truly the best theatre experience you can get in the area as both an actor and an audience member!
Q. What sort of research have you done to prepare for this show and the role of Jean Valjean?
A. Research has been a very important part of this process for me. Jean Valjean is such a hard role for anyone, let alone an 18-year-old. The show follows Valjean through his entire life story so there are events and themes that a person my age would never be able to understand completely without a lot of outside work.
Part of that has been studying the performances of other actors who have played the role. I’ve taken my main inspirations from John Owen-Jones and Ramin Karimloo whose performances really resonated with me.
The other part of my “research” has come from a lot of personal reflection and putting myself in these situations and thinking about how I would feel if I were in Valjean’s place.
Q. What has been your favorite part of working on “Les Misérables”?
A. My favorite part of working on “Les Misérables” and every FWSMT show I’ve been in is the people. I’ve mentioned how incredible the production staff is but I could never undersell how unbelievable this cast is.
Our stage manager, Kara Tharpe, said it best, “Every single one of you could be playing a lead role.” The audience will see it for themselves that every single person from my fellow principals to someone playing a villager is so immensely talented.
This really is the all-star team of Fort Wayne theatre. Not only are they talented but they’re also great people to be around. This cast has worked so well together and it’s one of the best theatre experiences I’ve ever had.
Q. What are you most excited for audiences to see?
A. I’m most excited for the audience to see how we will completely exceed all of your expectations of high school theatre.
The product that FWSMT puts out every year is miles above what you would see in a high school because we truly have the cream of the crop. And that is due to all of the hard work put in by the cast and our director.
Andrew Sherman, executive program director, has put countless hours in order to give not only the students in the program, but our community one of the best shows that the area will have seen in a long time.
Q. Now that you have graduated high school, what’s next for you?
A.I will be heading to Ball State University to study Music Media Production. It’s essentially a combination of Music Technology and Music Business.
I’m excited to stay involved in something that I love and set myself up for a career in something that I will enjoy. I also hope to stay involved in theatre as well in Fort Wayne and you can expect to see me back with FWSMT next year!
If you go
What: “Les Misérables”
When: 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday and July 30 and 31; 2 p.m. Sunday, July 31 and Aug. 1
Where: Robert Goldstine Performing Arts Center, 431 W Berry St.
Admission: $18 adults, $15 students; www.imtfinc.com