Urbana High Freshman Has Lead Role in Young Artists of America’s ‘Les Misérables’

Photo | Submitted Spencer Whims will appear as Marius in “Les Misérables” at the Strathmore on March 16.

Photo | Submitted
Spencer Whims will appear as Marius in “Les Misérables” at the Strathmore on March 16.

Despite his surname, there is no time for whims in the life of the Urbana High School freshman who will take the stage of the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda on Saturday, March 16.

Instead, 15-year-old Spencer Whims has been steadfast in his commitment to music since he was a baby. Now, he is tackling a lead role in the Young Artists of America’s (YAA) production of “Les Misérables.”

YAA, based at the Music Center, trains middle- and high school-level performing artists in collaboration with professional artist-mentors to present fully orchestrated productions. The “Les Mis” cast features more than 300 performers—including 80 singers, dancers and actors from YAACompany and YAAjunior; a 60-piece youth symphonic orchestra and a 150-member guest chorus from Seneca Valley High School in Germantown.

Spencer is a busy guy. In addition to regular classes including pre-calculus, algebra-based physics and American studies at Urbana, he sings in the school’s chamber ensemble and its concert and show choirs, as well as the Frederick Children’s Chorus and Strathmore’s Young Men’s Chorus.

Getting her talented son back and forth from lessons and rehearsals makes Ellie Whims busy, too. In “merely supporting his interests,” his mother said, “I spend a lot of time in my car.”

The “Les Mis” rehearsals alone, Spencer said, take about 11 hours a week—plus, they are all the way in North Bethesda. For his part, Spencer is well are that “none of this would have been possible without the loving support of my parents.”

Spencer was whistling tunes at 10 months old and singing along—on tune—with the radio as a toddler, said Ellie Whims, acknowledging that “it sounds unbelievable.” When she noticed her 12-year-old “was always singing,” she offered him voice training. “As soon as he started lessons, I realized he had a special talent. He’s usually labeled a bari-tenor (baritone-tenor), but he has a huge range—about five octaves—and can sing any male voice part from bass to counter tenor. We also discovered he has perfect pitch and a talent for learning music and has amazing musical recall.”

Spencer considers himself “primarily a singer” who “recently started branching out into musical theater.” So far, he has had roles in two Fredericktowne Players productions; he was a sailor in “Cabaret” and Zebulun in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Last fall, Spencer auditioned for YAA’s “Annie Get Your Gun” and sang in its ensemble. This year, he has the role of Marius, a student revolutionary who falls in love with Cosette. He has found YAA “an amazing organization,” he said, “and as a young artist, they provide me with a lot of guidance and support.”

Spencer is a big fan of Rolando Sanz, describing YAA’s cofounder and artistic director as “a truly amazing person, leader and teacher.” He added, “Working with him has had a huge impact on my confidence, especially when it comes to musical theater.”

And Sanz has a high opinion of his student. “Spencer is a bright young talent who was cast as Marius as only a freshman in high school. It’s been wonderful to see him grow and mature as a young artist at each rehearsal,” he said.

Having seen one live performance and a video recording of “Les Mis,” Spencer thinks “they have guided my thinking in a way that underscores exactly who Marius is.” He noted that his first lead role is “vocally demanding and keeps me on my toes.”

The camaraderie inherent in putting together theatrical productions enhances Spencer’s experience. “Performing with people with whom I have a common interest forms a bond I haven’t been able to find anywhere else,” he said.

The Young Artists of America present the School Edition of “Les Misérables” at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 16 at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. A pre-performance concert by YAAjunior will begin at 2:15 p.m. in the Strathmore Lobby.

Tickets, ranging from $18 to $58, will be available at www.yaa.org/tickets sometime next week. Call 301.272.8604 for information.

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