Accomplished 5th grader plays Young Cosette in Encore Rep’s ‘Les Mis’
At 10 years old, Warwick’s own Aidan Desjarlais is already a star on the rise, and set to play Young Cosette in Encore Repertory Company’s production of the musical, “Les Miserables” at Stadium Theater in Woonsocket.
Desjarlais, who is in the fifth grade at Greenwood Elementary School, has been acting in plays since she was 4 years old but she truly loves performing in musicals and being able to sing. She has performed in productions with the Rhode Island Youth Theater, Court Theater, Community College of Rhode Island and All Children’s Theater. “Les Miserables,” which runs from Nov. 1 to Nov. 3, will be her first production with Encore Repertory and a group of about 40 “die-hard” “Les Mis” fans.
“They truly love this musical and that’s why they were selected to be part of this epic production,” said producer Sue Vieira about her cast in a press release from Stadium Theater. “We only wanted people who were passionate about ‘Les Mis’ because we knew their passion for the show would translate into the passion that ‘Les Mis’ requires on stage in front of an audience.”
Desjarlais says that she loves everything about the production and cannot wait to see how many people will be in the audience.
It was Desjarlais’ mother, Robin Cary, who learned about the auditions for Encore’s production of the widely popular musical. Her 17-year-old son, Andy, who has also been acting on stage since he was 4, is a big fan of the musical, so Cary approached both of her children about auditioning.
Desjarlais knew of the play but had never seen it. So Cary and Desjarlais watched the recent movie version.
“The first time, I didn’t get it,” admits the 10-year-old. But she watched it again, and is now a huge fan.
Looking at Desjarlais, with her small frame, blonde hair and big eyes, Cary admits she thought about having her young daughter audition for the part of Young Cosette specifically.
“She has the look,” admitted Cary.
She also said her daughter has a naturally beautiful voice, but she was unsure if the casting directors were looking for trained voices for their production.
“I told her, ‘This is Young Cosette; this is a big deal,” said Cary about discussing auditioning for one of the biggest roles Desjarlais has had to date. “Aidan said, ‘Mom, I want to do whatever it takes.’”
So about six months ago, Desjarlais began to take voice lessons with Rhode Island’s own Fred Scheff. Ironically, Scheff is starring as Jean Valjean in the Ocean State Theater Company’s production of “Les Miserables,” giving Desjarlais the opportunity to work with someone who truly knows the material.
“She took whatever constructive criticism he gave,” said Cary about her daughter’s experience with Scheff. “She took everything he said and she worked her butt off.”
And when Desjarlais took the stage to audition for the role, Cary says she knew her daughter would get the part.
“In my opinion, she nailed it,” said Cary of the song “Castle on a Cloud.”
Cary recalls her daughter tearing up after getting the call from the director that the part was hers, followed by jumping and screaming.
“I was lucky number 13,” jokes Desjarlais, referencing her audition number.
In another interesting twist, Desjarlais is the third young girl from Warwick to play the role of Young Cosette in a production of “Les Mis” this season. Laurel McMahon and Grace Truslow are alternating the roles of Young Cosette and Young Eponine in the Ocean State Theatre Company production.
So how has Desjarlais been preparing for her role as the young girl rescued by Jean Valjean to be raised as his own daughter?
“My mom made me sweep the floor,” said Desjarlais [the first time the audience finally meets Young Cosette, she is sweeping the floor].
Desjarlais has been learning one full song and four parts in other songs to prepare for her role, and has found a friend in Jason Denton, who plays Jean Valjean to her Young Cosette.
“He is so much fun to work with and really nice to me,” said Desjarlais. “And he has a beautiful voice.”
Cary says Denton and her daughter have a great chemistry on stage, and you truly believe that he cares for her like a daughter.
Desjarlais says she is enjoying her time with the cast; they are all fun to work with and have formed a small family. She is visually disappointed when she learns she doesn’t have rehearsal.
Desjarlais admits that she feels she is becoming a part of the vibrant theater world that exists in Rhode Island because she has performed in so many productions with so many different companies. Desjarlais estimates that she has been in 15 productions since she started acting only six years ago.
“We lost count,” said Cary with a laugh.
“Its fantastic,” said Cary about the experience her young daughter and son have been able to have, pointing out that the world has the typical Rhode Island mentality of knowing everyone. “If you don’t know them, you know someone who knows them.”
In addition to her plays, Desjarlais is in advanced chorus at Greenwood Elementary, which she explained is a select group of students who are mature singers and not shy about singing solos.
Shy is certainly not a word that comes to mind when describing Desjarlais, especially when she is talking about her previous roles.
Her favorite performance yet was when she was the Ugly Duckling in the Rhode Island Youth Theater’s production of “Shrek The Musical” this past summer. Desjarlais explained that in the musical, the Ugly Ducking is one of the main fairy tale characters.
“She’s a diva,’ said Desjarlais, complete with accompanying snap, explaining she often gets put in roles with attitude and “shimmying.”
So what inspired Desjarlais to take her spot on the stage? She claims her mom, who was a theater major in college, influenced her but Cary says a lot more of it came from big brother Andy.
“From the time she was 2 or so, Aidan was always going to shows to see Andy,” said Cary. “She would say, ‘I can’t wait to be on stage and do shows like Andy.’”
Of course, Cary also admits that music may just be in Desjarlais’ blood.
“Aidan is just a very musical kid. She always has been,” said Cary, recalling her infant daughter humming along to a child’s toy, following the complex melody exactly.
While she doesn’t know if performing will become her career, Desjarlais does want to continue performing in productions for the time being. Her dream role is to play the character of Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
“It’s just a fun role to play,” said Desjarlais. She also hopes she will have the opportunity to work with Encore again in the future.
Desjarlais and the rest of the cast take the stage at Stadium Theatre for Encore’s “Les Miserables” on Nov. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale now for $19 by calling 762-4545 or at www.stadiumtheatre.com.