TRAVERSE CITY — Susan Johnson's evenings are full of drama, and not the typical kind that comes along with family life.
She packs dinner several days a week, bundles up her toddler and infant, picks up her other two kids after school and makes the grueling drive from Frankfort to Traverse City.
There, she drops off daughter Hannah, 8, and son Jaden, 10, at the Old Town Playhouse for a Young Company rehearsal, after which she and the kids join her husband, their dad Brian Johnson, for a picnic in the park. Then the whole family heads back to OTP for an evening rehearsal of the musical “Les Miserables.”
It’s a hectic schedule, but one Johnson believes is worth it for the family to participate together in the blockbuster show. And the long commutes give them time to rehearse their music to a CD they crank up in the car.
“We feel it’s an amazing opportunity for our children and us,” said the former entertainer at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland, and Fantine in one of two OTP “Les Mis” casts. "We feel it’s something we’ll always remember.”
The community theater bug tends to bite families, members of which often work behind the scenes while others take to the stage. But even by community theater standards, “Les Mis” boasts an unusual number of families — eight — including father and daughters; father, mother and daughter; husband and wife; and two sets of brothers.
“This is a show that community theaters have been waiting for for years,” said OTP business manager Carly McCall, adding that licensing was opened to community and semi-professional theaters for just 19 months before closing again. “It was a big moment to get it. To have 170 people come for auditions for a show is unheard of.”