La Jolla actress to play young Cosette in ‘Les Mis’

By Ashley Mackin

The California Youth Conservancy will produce the first amateur production of the Broadway version of “Les Miserables” in San Diego. Playing the young Cosette in the premiere is 7-year-old La Jolla resident Emma Ragen, daughter of Amy and Frank Ragen, and sister to Taylor and Tommy.
Emma Ragen, 7, practices her confused, happy and scared faces for her role as young Cosette in California Youth Conservancy’s production of ‘Les Miserables.’

“I love the show and I thought it would be a great opportunity, because I would get to know the show a little better,” Ragen said. “It’s my dream to be on Broadway and be in ‘Les Mis’ when I’m older.”

Based on feedback from director Shaun Evans, it could happen.

“When she came into the audition, she sang a really grownup song and she outscored every single other child auditioning for the part,” he said. “So when she came in for the call back, she had the top score of every child under 16 who auditioned — and there were over 100.” He added that the music is much more challenging in the Broadway version than the abbreviated school version.

“Up until now, it’s been the case that if you were performing this version of ‘Les Mis,’ that meant you were either in the National Tour or on Broadway or one of the resident companies with the Broadway rights,” (Tokyo or London), thereby requiring “serious” actors for each part.

“The show is so heavy and has so much bite, so much meat; sometimes young actors don’t have the frame of reference to understand the themes and meaning of what’s going on.”

This is not the case with Ragen, a third- grader at All Hallows Academy. “She works as hard as any other adult actor to capture the essence of the character and deliver it to our audience.”

Ragen and the actress with whom she shares the part (the two alternate nights on which they perform) “know what kind of responsibility it is play a part like that, where she symbolizes the whole story and the whole story revolves around her character,” Evans said.

“It’s not a big part as far as how much she’s on stage ... but the role is iconic. When you think about it, the branded (promotional) artwork of ‘Les Mis’ is young Cosette. It’s one of the most recognized (theater) icons in the world.”

To prepare for the necessary stage presence, Ragen said she practices singing by herself every day, rehearsing her scared, happy and confused faces in the mirror.

“Those are three faces that I’m going to use during the show,” she said.

In addition to singing her “Les Miserables” songs, she said she likes pop and country music, especially Carrie Underwood, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. In her downtime (of which there isn’t much), she likes to write short stories and draw.

As soon as “Les Mis” wraps, Ragen said she plans to audition for the annual production of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at The Old Globe Theatre.

“Les Miserables” opens June 6 at the Lyceum Theatre and is co-directed by Thomas O’Leary, who played the title role in “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway for more than 1,000 performances. “That’s about as legit as you can get in musical theater,” Evans said.