The website for last year’s movie version of “Les Misérables” calls it a “beloved global stage sensation seen by more than 60 million people in 42 countries and in 21 languages around the globe.”
Thabang Masango and Bongani Ndhlalane fit right in with the international concept. The Pretoria, South Africa, natives will be among a young diverse ensemble in Central Piedmont Community College’s production of the epic French musical that begins Nov. 15. The event will mark the first time in the college’s history that CPCC Theatre, CPCC Dance Theatre and CPCC Opera Theatre are joining forces.
The historic occasion continues CPCC’s celebration of its 50th anniversary, which was highlighted by several community events at the college’s six campus locations in April.
CPCC has been associated with inclusiveness since its inception. The college was a product of the 1963 merger of Mecklenburg College, which opened in 1949 to serve black veterans of World War II, and the Central Industrial Education Center, which was originally called Charlotte College and operated in Central High.
Masango and Ndhlalane, who have been in the United States for three years, will play several roles and sing as part of larger pieces involving other performers in “Les Misérables.” They’ve been studying at CPCC, taking music and general education courses and appearing in productions with the goal of transferring to a four-year college for a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance.
“We both want to be opera singers,” said Ndhlalane, 23, who has auditioned for UNC Greensboro and the University of South Carolina. “The show will be a big opportunity for us.”
He downplayed being a performer from another continent: “Audiences in the United States aren’t that different. There are more black people in the audiences in Pretoria, but they respond basically the same. They want to be entertained.”
Ndhlalane and Masango are being sponsored by Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and staying in a Cotswold-area apartment. The 25-year-old Masango will play Joly, an eccentric but kind-hearted revolutionary student who tries to call back Gavroche when the young street urchin makes a fatal attempt to fetch ammunition for the revolutionaries.
Gavroche will be played by 9-year-old Wyatt Johnston of York, S.C., who is appearing in his first theater production. Eric Johnston said his son has shown a passion for performing “ever since he was in a talent show in the third grade at his elementary school. He did ‘I Want You Back’ by The Jackson 5 to karaoke. He could sing the Michael Jackson high notes. Everybody loved it.
“We went to see the ‘Les Mis’ movie in December, and Wyatt took a real shine, ironically, to Gavroche. This was before he knew anything about CPCC doing the show. We asked him if he wanted to try out. He’s really having a ball with this.”
Jennifer Ware of Charlotte said the same of her 8-year-old daughter Jeannie, who has another meaty children’s role as Little Cosette – featuring a solo and a duet. She didn’t mind the months of practice and rehearsals for the cast, building up to a few hours a day, several days a week as opening night neared.
“She always wants to do more than we allow her to,” Ware said. “She’s a bundle of activity, for sure.”
Like her young counterpart Wyatt, Jeannie said she likes the singing the best. She said she’s not nervous about performing the softly powerful “Castle on a Cloud,” although she admitted “It’s a little sad.”
Wyatt sounded like a veteran when he mentioned one of his self-reminders.
“I’ve got to keep my voice up during my death scene,” he said.
Reid Creager is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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