RALEIGH — When Ravenscroft senior English Bernhardt auditioned for North Carolina Theatre’s production of Les Misérables, she was ready to accept any role that came her way.
Then she got the call that she has been cast as Eponine, a pivotal role in the sweeping musical set in 19th-century France. The experience of being cast and preparing for the show has been “unreal,” she said.
For years, Bernhardt, 17, had sung Eponine’s “On My Own” in auditions. Now that’s she is performing the role, she said the music resonates in a whole new way for her.
“I understand it, and I can really feel it,” she said.
Bernhardt is just one of more than a dozen local students, from young children to high schoolers, who are performing alongside Broadway veterans in the show, which runs through Feb. 23.
Whether they’re playing principal roles or in the ensemble, the students describe the chance to be in the musical, which is based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, as a gift.
“It’s just fun,” said Riley Campbell, 9. “The cast is like a family.” Campbell, a fourth-grader at Lacey Elementary School plays the role of young Cosette, while her mother, Lauren Kennedy, will play Fantine.
Many of the students are part of the NC Theatre Conservatory, a training program that offers classes in acting, voice and dance.
Collin Yates, 16, a junior at Millbrook High School said it’s inspiring to be around professional actors who love what they do and have made a career out of it.
“It’s like taking a look at my future in the present,” he said.
For all the fun of performing, playing a role in the show is also hard work, with a sometimes grueling schedule.
Bernhardt said it can be tough to strike a balance between school and the theatre, but it’s worth the long nights of homework and rehearsals, especially for students considering a career in theater.
“It’s the real world. It prepares you,” she said.
Morgan Goodman, 16, is a junior at Sanderson High School and a member of the show’s ensemble. She said another benefit of working alongside professional actors offers a chance to learn about colleges, auditions and other opportunities.
The students say they can’t wait to get on stage and perform for an audience in a show with timeless, relatable characters .
For Yates, that’s part of what makes the hard work worth it.
“You get so much pleasure out of being able to tell people you’re part of this amazing thing,” he said.