NEWINGTON - Broadway star Richard Vida has returned to his hometown to help teens tackle one of his most famous shows.
Vida toured with the original 1987 Broadway production of “Les Miserables” - playing brute antagonist Monsieur Thenardier. Now he’s back at Newington High School, where his performing career first began, and guiding students through their upcoming production of the musical. The play premieres this weekend, March 14-16, at with shows at 7 p.m. each night and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.
“I teach all over the world, and I can tell you that this cast is stellar,” Vida said this week.
As a Class of 1981 NHS graduate, he can recall fond memories performing at the school, where he starred in “Annie Get Your Gun” and “West Side Story.”
“That’s where it all started,” Vida remembered. “At that time, Francis Dillion was choir director. He was the first person who forced me to sing. The show was “Bye Bye Birdie” and I was a freshman. They were looking to fill the Randolph MacAfee role. I said, ‘I don’t sing.’ He said, ‘Oh I bet you do.’ Then he brought me into the choir room and made me sing ‘Put on a Happy Face.’ That’s how I found my voice.”
Vida now lives in New York City, where he’s worked as a stage and screen actor, producer, director and choreographer. His credits include “The Drowsy Chaperone” (George); “The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public” (Senator Trifle); “Busker Alley” (Charlie Baxter); “Langston Hughes’s Little Ham” (Louie “da nail” Mahoney); “42nd Street” (Andy Lee); “Anything Goes” (Captain) and “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” (Proteus).
NHS Drama Director Thomas Connolly happens to be his brother-in-law. He proudly welcomed Vida back to the school to work with the “Les Miz” cast over the last few months.
“We’re lucky to have him bringing that intimate knowledge to our stage,” Connolly said. “He’s also worked with the kids to keep the broader ensemble engaged in each scene.”
Over 100 students are involved in this production, which they’ve called their most challenging yet.
“It’s probably our most technically difficult show we’ve ever done,” senior Lindsey Forauer said.
She’s playing Madame Thernardier. Working with Vida has helped.
“The background he brings - he gets all the ins and outs of theater,” Forauer explained. “He can understand the connection that actors should have and knows how to build that connection.”
Caroline Lynch is playing orphan lead Cosette, another challenging role.
“It’s a really unique show in terms of how hard it is vocally,” Lynch pointed out.
The plot follows 19th century French peasant Jean Valjean, who breaks parole to start a new life as adopted father of Cosette. While being relentlessly pursued by policeman Javert, he and other idealists attempt to start a revolution.
Senior Matthew Plourde is playing Javert.
“I’ve told all my teachers this is going to be my number-one priority over the next few weeks, because I’m pursuing acting after high school,” Plourde said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to do a show you care so much about when some people don’t take it as seriously as you’d hope,” he added. “The principals (lead actors) are really dedicated this year and it’s been great to work with them.”
Revolutionary character Marius is being played by Nick Fittz and Kyle Tinker-Palaia. Vida has helped the student-actors understand their roles.
“He’s brought a new dynamic,” Fittz pointed out of their mentor. “Everyone is more attentive during rehearsal. There’s more energy.”
Vida credited NHS with the launch of his career, saying, “I was very well supported those days by the music and drama department at Newington High. It was an exceptional school.”
He also spoke highly of the current staff, including Connolly, Producer/Music Director Chris Clark and Band/Orchestra Director Stephen Brookes.
“They’ve brought these students to a place I have not seen before,” Vida said. “They sound exceptional. To come in and see how excited and prepared they are and to see them blossom is just extraordinary.”
He’s working with them on aspects of “Les Miz” that come from his own personal experience with the production.
“He’s brought such professionalism and a high level of expectation for the kids to rise to and they have,” Clark said.
Tickets can be purchased at the Charles A. Bowes Auditorium Box Office at NHS, or online at nhsdrama.booktix.com.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or email@example.com.
WHAT: NHS production of “Les Miserables”
WHEN: March 14-16
WHERE: Newington High School, 605 Willard Ave.
HOW: For tickets, visit nhsdrama.booktix.com