July 6, 2012
CEDAR CITY, UT – Eleven young actors from southern Utah will be on the Utah Shakespeare Festival stages this summer, with six of them playing major characters in To Kill a Mockingbird and Les Misérables. They were selected from 91 children who auditioned in January, and are now set for the biggest roles of their young lives.
For example, in Les Misérables the roles of Gavroche, Young Eponine, and Young Cosette will be played by Britton Jeffery Gardner, Corie Leigh Coash, and Sadi Weir. Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, Les Misérables is an epic and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit. It focuses on the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean as he searches for meaning, love, and redemption in nineteenth century France. The musical includes some of theatre’s most memorable songs: “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Bring Him Home,” and “Do You Hear the People Sing,” among many others.
Playing the role of Gavroche is Cedar City native, Britton Jeffery Gardner. Gardner is eleven years old and attends Gateway Prepatory Academy. When asked what he liked best about acting, Gardner replied, “It is very fun to act. It gives me a chance to go all out!” Gardner was one of many young actors auditioning for the role. Last year we saw him in the Festival’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He has also performed in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, Peter Pan, and Seussical the Musical through the Utah Shakespeare Festival Playmakers Program.
Gardner’s classmate at Gateway Prepatory Academy, Corie Leigh Coash landed the role of Young Eponine. Coash started acting with the Festival at the age of six. “My favorite part of performing is being on stage. There’s this vibe I love,” said Coash. Now thirteen years old, Coash says Playmakers has definitely prepared her for this role. “At first, I wasn’t sure about it, but I did it and I really liked it!” says Coash. “I’ve been auditioning for two years and this time I got something. I’m really excited!”
Sadi Weir, a newcomer to the Festival, will be playing the role of young Cosette. Weir is nine years old and is coming from Diamond Talent dance studio. “I used to watch Les Mis when I was little. I’ve always wanted to be Young Cosette. It is my dream to do this,” said Weir. When asked how she found out that she would be playing the role, she said, “I was in California. My grandma called. I was in shock! I said, ‘Oh really? Is this a joke? There were so many people auditioning!” It wasn’t a joke. Weir will be appearing in her “dream role” for the first time on Saturday, June 23 at the Randall L Jones Theatre.
In Christopher Sergel’s adaption of the Harper Lee novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jinger Axelson will play Scout, Nicholas Denhalter will play Jem, and Bailey Duncan will play Dill. Depression-era youngsters Jem and Scout are innocent witnesses to their community in a tense tug-of-war. Justice, dignity, tolerance, racism, violence, and hypocrisy are at the heart of this compelling American drama.
Jinger Axelson is ten years old and is home-schooled. Last year, she appeared as Marley in A Christmas Carol. This year Axelson is playing the role of Scout, the tomboy protagonist who spends the majority of her time with her brother, Jem. When asked what she was most excited about this season, Axelson said, “I get to be one of those people who bow last and everyone cheers!” Axeslon has been working with playmakers since 2009.
Nicholas Denhalter will be playing Jem. He is fourteen years old and will be a freshman at Cedar High School next year. Last summer, he played Oberon’s imp in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although Denhalter says he is “so nervous” about his big role, he explains, “My dream is to stick with the Shakespeare Festival and get as high as I can, like management. I think it would be cool to even be executive director. Now that’s a dream!” This season marks his fifth year working with the Festival through Playmakers and his second summer season production.
Bailey Duncan will be playing the role of Dill. Dill is Scout and Jem’s best friend who comes to spend each summer with them in Maycomb. Duncan is ten years old and attends Three Peaks Elementary School. Last year he had a role in the Festival’s production of The Music Man and The Winter’s Tale. Duncan tells us, “I first got involved with Playmakers after my third grade teacher Mr. Niles did a Reader’s Theatre in class. He told my mom I was pretty good and said we should try out for Playmakers. So I auditioned and I got in.” Duncan says, “This is the biggest part I’ve ever gotten. It makes me feel good!”
“The roles for young actors this season are some of the richest and most complex characters in all of literature,” said Artistic Director Brian Vaughn. “These actors have all of the talent and professionalism one would expect from the Utah Shakespeare Festival while still exuding all of the spirit and joy that comes with childhood. They are shining examples of why we chose these plays and the importance of why we should see the world through their eyes.”
The 2012 season runs from June 21 to October 20 and includes Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, Titus Andronicus, and Hamlet, as well as other classics from around the world: Mary Stuart, To Kill a Mockingbird, Scapin, Les Misérables, and Stones in His Pockets. Tickets are now on sale for the 2012 season at www.bard.org and 1-800-PLAYTIX (800-752-9849).