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FOR CANDESE MARCHESE, who plays Eponine, the tragic gamin of the spectacular musical version of "Les Miserables," the production's two-week stop at Salt Lake's Capitol Theatre beginning Tuesday will be a homecoming of sorts.

Marchese was the queen of another homecoming - Brigham Young University's during the 1984-85 school year, the year the football team was ranked No. 1. She is also a graduate of one of BYU's premiere performing arts groups: the Young Ambassadors.The Florida native is not, however, quite yet a graduate of BYU itself, but she's working on that.

Opening night will be eventful for another reason, too: When the curtain goes up Tuesday night it will mark the 1,000th performance by the productions's third national company (also known as the "Marius" company).

"I feel like I'm coming home," Marchese told the Deseret News during a telephone interview from Seattle, where the bus-and-truck company was in the middle of a seven-week run at the 5th Avenue Theatre. (Her friends call her Candy; her name is pronounced Can-desseMar-KEH-zee.)

"I'll never forget my first day in Utah. My cousin, Denny Crockett (of Sandy), dropped me off at the BYU campus, and I didn't know a single person. Now it seems like I have an entire family there, and I feel just as much at home in Utah as I do in Florida," she said.

Marchese has also built up another "family" of friends and colleagues in the "Les Miserables" companies. She could be the only performer to have worked in all four of the United States touring companies.

During her two outings with the BYU Young Ambassadors, she first toured the Middle East and the Mediterranean, with performances in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Greece, then the next year traveled with the group to India, including stops in Nepal, Calcutta, New Delhi, Jodhpur, Sri Lanka and Katmandu.

"It was like boot-camp training for the rest of your life," Marchese said of her involvement with the Young Ambassadors, "especially if you want to get into musical theater. You learn about costumes, sound, lighting, building a stage, how to gauge different audiences, public relations, etc."

If it hadn't have been for some extraordinary perseverance on her own, Marchese might not have been involved in the "Les Miserables" production at all.

After her third year at BYU, she want back to Florida and, after auditioning (for her third time), got a job with Walt Disney World in Orlando. Not just a job, but the opportunity to perform with the resort's No. 1 group in "Broadway at the Top" in the Top of the World Restaurant on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Hotel (that's the one where the monorail glides right through the lobby).

"Broadway at the Top" is the only all-live show at Walt Disney World. It's a fast-paced musical revue with only five performers, and Marchese got to belt (and that's BELT as in the best Ethel Merman meaning of the word) some great Broadway tunes, such as "Don't Rain on My Parade." She worked in this show for about a year and a half, then flew to Los Angeles (on her own) to audition for the L.A. company of "Les Miserables."

"This was a real cattle call," Marchese said.

There were some 4,500 performers auditioning, first in groups of 40, where they'd just look you up and down and pick you out on appearances alone. She made that cut and was one of about 130 who were re-auditioned during the callbacks. She flew back the next week and sang music for the role of Cosette.

"It was fine and I could sing it, but I really wanted to do Eponine. At the end, they asked me to sing a high C. I choked up, but it finally came out - and it was stifled," she said.

Marchese didn't make the grade that time, so she went back to Orlando. One year later, the bus-and-truck company of "Les Miserables" came through Florida.

"I put a demo tape, photograph, resume and a letter inside an envelope and dropped it off at (director) Richard Jay Alexander's hotel. I didn't even have the courage to go inside. I just handed it to the busboy at the Omni Hotel.

"A week or so later, Andy Zerman (of the casting agency in New York) called to tell me they had a vacancy in the first national company. I had just been on the phone with Randy Boothe (musical director for the BYU Young Ambassadors), and I thought it was Randy calling back and playing some kind of a joke."

After a couple of somewhat embarrassing moments, they got the Andy/Randy mix-up straightened out and that next week Marchese flew to New York to audition again. She was hired for the ensemble and understudied for the roles of both Eponine and Cosette.

"I did Cosette more than Eponine, even though Eponine was my favorite," she said.

Marchese joined the San Francisco company on Sept. 4, after driving across the country with her mother, Marian Cornette Marchese.

The actress noted her parents had sacrificed a great deal for dance and piano lessons while she was growing up in Merritt Island, Fla. Instead of regular high school for her senior year, she attended the College of Fine Arts in Palatka, Fla., which had small, intensive classes and "incredible voice and piano instructors, who really cared" about their students.

Her father, a NASA engineer, died in December of 1989. Her younger brother is serving a mission for the LDS Church in Costa Rica.

Marchese remained with the San Francisco company of "Les Miserables" until after Thanksgiving, then joined the current bus-and-truck company when it was in Schenectady, N.Y.

Marchese feels that "Les Miserables" has a positive message.

"I think that's what keeps it going and what keeps the people in the show itself going. Having to die every night takes something out of you. It takes a lot of energy and nearly everyone dies (the actress playing Fantine dies twice)," she noted.

The show's famous turntable stage and the way it's slanted can also be very stressful. (Try jumping off a moving turntable in the dark sometime; you'll get the idea.) But, Marchese added, the turntable is also an asset, allowing the ensemble to give the impression of marching and walking across the stage instead of walking in place.

"I'm still developing Eponine's character. Back then, people weren't as complex as we are today. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and let their emotions out. There was also no middle class. They were either dirt poor or very rich," she said.

"There's a lot of `animal response' in the people," she explained. "They were driven by their needs. They were hungry and had to look for food. Even the beggars in Paris find some sort of order in the chaos. Like the bag ladies today, even though they may look crazy, they have their own territory, and that's what we try to create on stage."

Marchese also plays several smaller roles in the ensemble in the early scenes, including an old hag. She dared me to pick her out in the crowd.

We discussed the fact that "Les Miserables" focuses on a time in France's history when social classes were battling. Values, especially among those on the streets and in the gutters, were considerably different from what we have today.

The "Lovely Ladies" sequence portrays how poverty-stricken Fantine, after being fired from her job, first sells her locket, then her hair, then sells her body and joins the other prostitutes on the streets of Paris.

"It happened and this situation existed. Pretending it's not there just because it's not `good' isn't going to help," Marchese said. "Eponine uses terminology I wouldn't use, but she was never taught about these things. She lived in a different culture."

Marchese credits Jan Sullivan, her voice teacher at BYU for one semester, with "changing the course of my life and my career."

"She teaches `pop belt' and `legitimate' singing techniques and how they're related to each other," said Marchese.

Marchese also points to BYU Young Ambassadors choreographer Mark Huffman as another key person in her development as a musical theater performer.

Charles Whitman, head of the BYU theater department, is assisting Marchese in working out a program so that she can graduate.

Marchese will be back in Utah this summer to perform as part of the entertainment for the Freedom Festival Ball on June 28, and she may record an album for Deseret Book.

Looking ahead at her career, Marchese said, "What I really want to do is record. I am trying to get a recording agent, and what I probably need is a personal manager or an agent."


(Additional information)

910421 `Les Miz' is set to run for 16 performances

The third national touring company of the Cameron Mackintosh production of "Les Miserables" is coming to the Capitol Theatre for 16 performances between April 23 and May 4. All performances are sold out, but a few tickets may be available the day of performance. For last-minute information, call the Capitol Theatre box office at 538-2259 beginning Monday, April 22.

Based on Victor Hugo's monumental classic, "Les Miserables" (Lay Mih-zer-awb) won eight Tony Awards in 1987. The stage version was written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, with music by Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer.

The production is being brought to Salt Lake City under the auspices of the Theater League of Utah as the final show in its 1990-91 season. ("Les Miserables" is tentatively scheduled for a return engagement in August of 1992.)

Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday of this week and Monday-Saturday the week of April 29-May 4, with additional matinees at 2 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. There will be one performance only on Sunday, April 28, at 3 p.m.