Last Friday, five young actors from Spokane Civic Theatre walked onto the stage at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. As they took in the space before them – the gorgeous art deco ceiling, the 1,600 seats – their eyes got wide. Smiles broke out across their faces. One young woman wept tears of joy.
The reason for the visit? A quick look at the venue where they’ll be reviving Civic’s production of the epic musical “Les Misérables,” in tandem with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra. The two-show revival this weekend is a fundraiser for Civic, the symphony and the Fox.
Then their Jean Valjean, Jim Swoboda, joined them on stage. The six actors launched into an a capella version “Do You Hear the People Sing,” from Act I of “Les Misérables,” and listened as the room’s marvelous acoustics carried their voices all the way to the back seats.
“That sounded great,” said Don Nelson, the symphony’s general manager,
“How did it feel?” asked Tia Wooley, who stage-managed the fall production and is directing the Fox shows.
“Really different,” said ensemble player Aubrey Davis. “The acoustics are different from anything we have heard. We can hear each other.”
Fellow ensemble player Whitney Huskey chimed in with her thoughts. “Exhilarating. Glorious.”
Missing from last week’s excursion, of course, was the other huge piece of the puzzle: the musicians of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra.
Those who saw Civic’s sold-out “Les Mis” last year experienced the show in the 339-seat Civic main stage auditorium, with a 13-piece orchestra playing in the pit. This time? The Spokane Symphony will number about 40 and will be behind the actors on stage. Making all this work together, Wooley said, has been her biggest challenge. They’ve had to change how the actors stand on stage, change entrances, change how the sets are arranged, coordinate the sound systems. “It’s been getting used to the new things, while not forgetting the old,” Wooley said.
One of the biggest things to get used to? Singing with the orchestra behind them. Swoboda said he asked the cast how many had performed in front of an orchestra and five or six people raised their hands. Swoboda, of course, is one of them, having been a longtime member of the Spokane Symphony Chorale.
This is the first time these two longstanding Spokane arts organizations have collaborated on a project. While no one was ready to say they’ll do it again, both symphony executive director Brenda Nienhouse and Civic’s managing director Jim Humes marveled at how seamlessly things have come together.
“We’re just so thrilled about this collaboration, that we’re working together. It’s so wonderful,” Nienhouse said. “I think we’re both just waiting to see how this one goes, but we’ve been delighted so far.”