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Behind the SpotlightThe Play from the Pit
Written by Rebecca Kim | Published. 2020.04.08 14:36 | Count : 551
[Photo of the final scene of our school production of Les Miserables.
Photo courtesy of Ekat Tsygankova]

The last harmony lingers in the air as the spotlight fades on the three leading actors holding hands and looking forwards to an unseen future. The final note marks an end to the story of love, revolution, and hope in 19th century France: Les Miserables. After a few seconds of silence, the audience of 700 bursts into a standing ovation that rings over the auditorium. 3 meters below the stage, I sit in the orchestra pit with my instrument, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the final ending. 

This school year, our school put on a production of the world-renowned musical: Les Miserables. The story of Jean Valjean, a man branded as a criminal for stealing a piece of bread but given another chance at life through the compassion of a bishop, is timeless. Most of us are probably familiar with songs such as “I had a dream” or “On My Own,” especially after the musical was popularized by the 2012 movie adaptation of the novel. At the time of its closure at Broadway in 2003, Les Miserables was the second-longest running show in Broadway history. I had both read the novel and watched the movie a few years ago, and I was enthralled when it was announced that our school would be putting on Les Miserables as our annual musical. It was to no one’s surprise that I signed up to be a member of the pit orchestra almost immediately. As part of the pit orchestra, I was given the opportunity to play with other fellow student musicians, teachers, and even a member of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. 

At the center of this production is the music. Unlike other musicals that our school had previously put on, Les Miserables contains music nonstop from the beginning to the end. As part of the pit orchestra, the longest rest that I had throughout the entirety of the 2 hour and 40 minute production was less than a minute. I was completely exhausted after each 4 hour-long rehearsal which was every day after school and even on Saturdays leading up to the opening night. Some especially challenging aspects of playing in the pit orchestra were the numerous key and clef changes in the score as well as changes we had to make during rehearsal to accommodate the cast. I don’t think I had ever played through the musical once without making a mistake. We talked amongst ourselves a lot about the mistakes the cast and orchestra made each night, but the audience took away only the breathtaking story of Les Miserables. 

[Photo of the pit orchestra, the author is depicted bottom left.
Photo courtesy of instagram @sfs_arts]

In retrospect, I think that this experience was extremely rewarding. I really admire Claude-Michael Schönberg, the composer for this musical, for being able to create music that can “express that which cannot be said” as in the words of Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables. I had heard the music from this show over and over again in rehearsals, but would still sometimes feel myself move to the thumping rhythm of the march on the barricades or tear up during Eponine and Marius’ duet as she dies in his arms in Act III. 

[Photo of the cast, crew, and orchestra. Photo courtesy of instagram @sfs_arts]

It’s easy to forget those behind the spotlight who work to make the actors shine. What I realized through this production was that it takes a whole community to put together a production. From the set managers and the pit orchestra to costume designers, it takes the dedication of many members of the community to bring the romance and tragedy of the novel to life.


Rebecca Kim
Junior (Grade 11)
Seoul Foreign School

Rebecca Kim  student_reporter@dherald.com

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