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The Artistry of 'Les Miserables' at Segerstrom Center

DEEN VAN MEER

Les Miserables
Through June 24
Tuesday-Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Reservations: 714.556.2787
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa
:: scfta.org

The prolific romantic painter, Eugène Delacroix, once wrote to Victor Hugo, that, had he chosen to be a painter instead of a writer, he would have surpassed the artists of their century. Hugo’s art inspired the newest production of Les Miserables, which runs at Segerstom Center for the Arts through June 24. This 25th anniversary show presented by Cameron Mackintosh features new staging and scenery, and uses state-of-the-art technology to enhance the telling of this classic novel.

If you are any kind of theater buff, odds are good that you have seen Les Miz, maybe more than once… in 2006, the West End production celebrated the show as the longest running musical in the world, and it continues to fill houses to date. There have been 36 cast recordings, it has been seen by nearly 60 million people in 42 countries and in 21 languages, and over 2,500 Les Miserables school editions are in motion in the UK, US and Australia. The original national tour ran from 1987, visiting 150 cities before closing in 2006; some impressive musical theater milestones for Hugo’s classic tale of prisoner 24601.

A quarter of a century later, the vision of Mackintosh and major advancements in stage technology have brought Les Miserables to the United States for its first US National Tour and it rightfully has been receiving rave reviews. Using advanced technology and a fresh approach to the material, Mackintosh’s retooling works brilliantly, sans the turntable stage.

The staging of Matt Kinley is surreal, inspired by the dark paintings of Hugo himself. Partnered with the lighting of  Paule Constable, musical staging of Michael Ashcroft and the amazing projections realized by Fifty Nine Projections, the technical aspects of this grand production are just part of this recipe of perfection.

Here are some interesting technical facts, just to give you an idea of how big this touring production is. Traveling with the show are a cast of 38 actors, including five children, seven managers, 15 technical experts, 15 musicians in the orchestra, and three folks selling Les Miz merchandise. There are 55,000 pounds of scenery – huge set pieces that feature 16 automation effects travel in nine semi-trailers; while 80 local stagehands are hired to load in/out the massive show, and they need at least 16 hours to accomplish this at each stop. Things were a bit stressed opening night, as a couple of the trucks had broken down outside Albuquerque, putting that crew into overdrive to get the set up in time for curtain.

Over 5,000 props are used in the show; over 5,000 costume pieces are worn by the large cast, including 57 unique brown shawls. It is a wonderful thing that Segerstrom Hall is spacious backstage, as there are over 30 quick changes in the first 15 minutes of the production.  

And let’s talk tech – it takes 1600 amps of power to run the lighting effects, which include 350 lights, 250 of those are programmed and move throughout the show. There are over 400 lighting cues and it takes nine computers to manage all the amazing effects. There are 10 foggers that produce four different kinds of smoke; weekly, 500 pounds of C02 are needed. There are 42 wireless mics, 32 onstage monitors and 60 mics are wired for the orchestra.

Add in the new orchestrations of Chris Jahnke, conducted by Kevin Stites, performed by a powerful 15-piece orchestra and brought alive by an amazingly talented cast, and you have an unforgettable theater experience. The music should be hauntingly familiar to most theater-goers, as the show produced many hits: “Castle On A Cloud,” “I Dreamed A Dream,” “One More Day,” and “On My Own” are all musical theater standards often included in Broadway’s greatest hits compilations. And as far as the cast performing these iconic songs, there really isn’t a weak link in the lot of them.

Headed up by the incredible voice of Peter Lockyer, whose Jean Valjean is better than could be imagined; the vocal range, power and control Lockyer utilizes is absolutely remarkable. Several times during the show, I had goosebumps; I wasn’t sure if it was the air conditioning in Segerstrom Center or the incredible voice of Lockyer; I am confident it was the latter. His performance affects the core of your emotions. Don’t forget the tissue – you are going to need it.

Valjean’s nemesis, Javert is brilliantly performed by Andrew Varela, who has one of the greatest suicide scenes in theater, thanks to innovative staging and tech. Betsy Morgan’s Fantine will give you chills (NOT the air conditioner!) while Lauren Wiley’s Cosette will leave you breathless. Fantastic performances from Chasten Harmon as Eponine and several show-stealing scenes from Shawna Hamic (Madame Thenardier) and Timothy Gulan (Thenardier), who add a bit of levity to this sad but inspiring tale. Joshua Colley is a spunky Gavroche and Max Quinlan’s Marius is caring and committed. The entire cast is under the capable direction of Laurence Connor and James Powell.

Les Miserables is a classic that appears to get better with age. Sometimes you can improve on a masterpiece with creativity, inspiration and state-of-the-art technology. Next up for this tale is the film version of the musical, which will hit the movie theaters in December. It will be interesting to see how it compares; with this production,  the bar is set very high – somewhere up there in Hugo’s dark and ominous clouds with all those castles…



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