, Muskogee, OK

September 24, 2013

‘Les Miserables’ challenges students

By Cathy Spaulding
Times staff writer

— Fort Gibson drama teacher Melanie Wicks is out to prove the naysayers wrong.

This year’s all-school musical, “Les Miserables,” will be completely musical, involving almost no spoken dialogue. It is based on the hit Broadway play, which later became a movie.

“This year, several people have questioned whether or not we can pull this off,” Wicks said. “My reply to that is that we will not only pull it off but that our students will learn and be a part of something that was bigger than themselves. We will pull it off with ease.”

Fort Gibson theater students are no strangers to such challenges, Wicks said. Over the past few years, FGHS has presented such contemporary hits as “Seussical,” “Footloose” and “Legally Blonde.”

“I guess I want to take a more modern approach to the theater,” Wicks said. “I want to introduce the students to more modern roles.”

FGHS senior Josh Daniel says he knows the work and the rewards involved with the school’s theater department.

“It’s putting forth all the effort you can into becoming your character,” Josh said. “Hard work and dedication never hurt anybody.”

Josh said he has been involved with every play since he was a freshman. This year’s production poses an added challenge as the lead character, Jean Valjean, he said.

“In most plays, you have lines to develop character,” he said.

“You have to figure out how to put your emotions into a song, a continuous song,” said senior Gracie Vanlandingham, who plays the orphaned Cosette. “Its not only just lines but lyrics and how to interpret those.”

Though “Les Miserables” won’t run at Fort Gibson until Dec. 12 to 15, students already are rehearsing after school.

“It’s a couple of extra hours,” Gracie said. “It doesn’t really feel like work when you’re actually doing something you love.”

Wicks said she works with vocal music instructor Andrea Denison and English teacher Beth Brannon to choose each year’s musicals.

“We all get together to talk about it,” Wicks said.

She said she had considered “Little Shop of Horrors” for this year’s play.

“But for some reason, my heart told me to go with ‘Les Miserables,’” she said.

The drama students’ work is not done when the musical ends in December.

Students spend the second half of the school year at speech contests.

“Last year was the third year in a row we won state in dramatic duet,” Wicks said.

She said four FGHS students qualified for the state tournament. The school had two dramatic duets, two monologues and two dramatic interpretations.

Wicks was Fort Gibson district Teacher of the Year in 2012. She said speech and debate help students develop their interpersonal communication skills.

She attributed the program’s success to students.

“The biggest thing is the students’ willingness to accept a challenge,” she said. “And I work for a school administration that supports the arts. In this day and time, that’s unusual.”

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or