New director begins new season at Jewish Community Center

11/08/2013 12:00 AM

11/07/2013 2:18 PM

For the first time since 2005, the curtain in the Jewish Community Center’s White Theatre will rise Saturday on a production by a new director.

Former director Mark Swezey and the center parted company in July after organizers said they wanted to bring in more directors. The change begins with “Les Miserables,” which opens the 2013-14 season.

Barbara Nichols, a longtime community theater director, is directing the production.

“I’ve seen shows at White Theatre over the years and have admired the facility,” Nichols said. “I’ve hoped to have an opportunity to direct there sometime and when it was offered to me last summer I accepted.

“White Theatre is a tremendous space and lends itself well to the power and expanse of a show like ‘Les Miserables.’ Directing a show in a new space comes with a challenge,” she said.

During her career Nichols has directed stage productions in venues including The Theatre in the Park, where she was named best director for her work in “1776” in 2000 and “Evita” in 2001. Most recently she directed “Chess” at The Barn Players.

Robert Hingula, who has the lead role of Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” was directed by Nichols for the first time in “Chess.” “It was a great pleasure to work for Barb and music director Martha Risser in ‘Chess’ and definitely a pleasure to do it again in ‘Les Miserables,’” he said.

In the play Valjean, a former convict on the run in a nation gripped by revolution, is pursued relentlessly by a policeman for breaking his parole. Though he tries to leave his past behind he has no choice but to sacrifice everything to protect the people he loves.

“It’s a dream role,” Hingula said.

“Playing Valjean is more difficult than I thought it would be when I saw it on stage and film. The music is challenging; the notes are harder to reach than I thought they’d be,” he said with a laugh. “I think anyone who likes musical theater would love to be in this show.”

“Les Miserables” is the fourth show that Hingula, who lives in Shawnee, has performed in this year. He played in three the year before. “I just love acting,” he said.

Jennifer Cannaday of Leawood, who also played in “Chess” at the Barn Players, portrays Eponine in “Les Miserables.”

“It’s one of my all-time favorite shows. I’ve seen it so many times. When I heard it was coming to White Theatre I was really excited. It’s on my bucket list,” she said.

“I like playing Eponine. She’s had a hard life, an unhappy life, and it shows. But I admire her strength. She’s had to be tough and she is,” Cannaday said.

Julie Kaul of Overland Park plays Fantine, which she said is her favorite in the play.

“For anyone growing up in musical theater this is a show they would want to do,” Kaul said. “I play a character I love and I get to sing “I Dreamed a Dream,” my favorite.”

Kaul was directed by Nichols in “Beauty and the Beast” in 2005 at The Theatre in the Park. “She’s a great director, I like working with her.” She said.

Paul Morel of Kansas City plays Javert the policeman who strives to put Vajean back in prison.

“Javert is an interesting character. He has an Old Testament sense of justice,” Morel said. “You have to know his sense of justice to understand his relentless pursuit of Valjean, his determination to capture him. He sees everything as black or white, right or wrong.”

After Swezey left the Jewish Community Center, he returned to Shawnee Mission South high school as director of theater, a position he had held for 25 years until 2005. He said he plans to continue directing in Kansas City area community theater.

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