Do you hear the cast exercising? Keeping in shape with 'Les Mis'

Trinity Wheeler, production manager for the show now at the Academy of Music.
Trinity Wheeler, production manager for the show now at the Academy of Music.
Posted: January 04, 2013

There's a moment in the musical Les Misérables when Jean Valjean, who had spent the last 19 years imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, narrowly escapes being sent back after snatching silver from a kindly bishop. It's a turning point for the protagonist, who uses the reprieve to launch into a song - "What Have I Done?" - and a new way of life.

It's kind of like what happened to Trinity Wheeler a few years back. The production manager for the touring company of Les Misérables (currently at Philadelphia's Academy of Music) has been on the road with musicals for the last 13 years, originally as a performer. Eating out every night and hitting the gym infrequently, Wheeler soon realized he wasn't the man he was before.

"I looked at myself and said, 'What has happened?' " says Wheeler, who started taking his health more seriously and dropped 35 pounds.

Now the 32-year-old, whose role is to oversee the show and the 89 people traveling with it, is obsessed with making it easier for everyone to stay in shape. It's critical for the members of the ensemble to be able to hoist their bodies around the massive student barricade set piece, which Wheeler describes as "a giant jungle gym."

That's why he and a few cast members organized an in-house boot camp they bring to a gym in whatever town they happen to be touring in.

Curious members of the public have joined in, so for its recent Washington visit, Wheeler and a few pals from the cast came to the Vida health club to lift the curtain on their workout, called Guns at the Barricade.

The "guns," in this case, are your arms, Wheeler says. But the class is a total-body workout that won't leave any muscle feeling abandoned. The exercises are standard boot-camp fare - jumping jacks, push-ups, lunges - with an emphasis on moves connected to choreography in the production. So the squat presses are performed with body bars, a decent stand-in for the prop rifles used onstage.

"There's marching like in 'One Day More.' But we do it a lot quicker than in the show," Wheeler says.

What really makes it a revolutionary routine is the music, which comes directly from the Les Misérables sound track. To keep the energy high, he's tracked down a few dance remixes by DJs, including an upbeat version of "I Dreamed a Dream."

"And, of course, everybody is encouraged to sing along," Wheeler says.

Les Misérables continues in Philadelphia through Jan. 13, but you can also turn to YouTube, where Florida fitness instructor Sean Vigue posted " The Les Misérables Broadway Workout" last year.

"I like to be creative. It's me singing, some scenes with my parents, and there's a workout in there," Vigue says of the humorous eight-minute video inspired by his favorite musical. Although he's never been in Les Misérables, the 38-year-old can't stop himself from belting out the sound track, so he came up with a few moves based on the characters.

For example, because Inspector Javert raises his arms a lot to assert his authority, Vigue created the Javert Pendulum. Lift your right arm up, lift your left leg back, and lean over until your torso is parallel to the ground, then come up - without letting your foot touch the ground. To make it harder, just add music.

"If you're singing while you're exercising, your breathing is where it needs to be," Vigue says.

There are four moves altogether, but if that's not enough at the end of the day, Vigue is prepared with additional theatrics. He's also filmed and posted a "Sweeney Todd Boot Camp," and a Phantom of the Opera video is in the works.

Friday in Weekend

David Patrick Stearns reviews the show at the Academy of Music.


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