News Column

Dramatic energy powers intimate 'Les Miserables' [Evansville Courier & Press (IN)]

October 17, 2013

YellowBrix

Practically from the moment he announced "Les Miserables" would play in Evansville Civic Theatre's 2013-2014 season, Christopher Tyner has repeatedly answered the same query: "How are you going to do this show on that stage?" Tyner, Civic's managing artistic director, understands the question.

Cameron Mackintosh's production of Alain Boublil and Claude- Michel Schoenberg's musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's 19th century novel "is seen as one of the big spectacle musicals," he said.

From its opening scene, traditionally staged with actors stepping on and off on a hidden, continuous turntable, to its climactic battle at a massive street barricade, Broadway's "Les Miserables" has embraced large spectacle in a big way.

The musical opens in 1815, following Jean Valjean, sentenced to 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Unable to find work, he breaks parole, adopts a new identity and moves through almost two decades of turmoil in post-revolutionary France, trying to redeem his life and avoid recapture by Inspector Javert.

The musical played on Broadway from 1987 to 2003, and again from 2006 to 2008. And another revival waits in the wings to open in 2014. Meantime, touring companies have taken the show around the world for more than a quarter century.

When "Les Miserables" finally became available for community theater productions, however, Tyner leapt to secure the rights.

Seeing the 2012 movie adaptation featuring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway helped Tyner overcome any trepidation about staging the show in a small, community theater, he said.

"One of the things I liked about the movie, compared to the stage productions, was how you got more in touch with the emotions of the characters," he said. "Watching the film made me realize how really intimate the show could be."

He knew the community theater couldn't put up a large, lavish spectacle. With its small stage and its intimate, 222-seat auditorium, however, "I felt we could really focus more on the characters and on the music, and not have to worry about all the big special effects."

Any remaining doubts about the challenge vaporized at open auditions, which drew more than 100 actors and singers.

"I was blown away by the amount of talent," Tyner said.

Tyner wound up with a 32-member cast led by seasoned veterans of high school, community and professional productions. Landon Sholar, a University of Evansville student Tyner has worked with since Sholar played in high school shows, made his professional debut this year playing "Les Miserables"' lead role of Jean Valjean in a summer stock production in Woodstock, N. Y.

Tyner cast Sholar in the "more age appropriate" role of Marius, the idealistic Parisian college student who falls in love with Cosette, Valjean's orphaned ward.

Mike Kelley, a longtime community player who teaches math at Harrison High School, plays Valjean and Jeremiah Kenoyer plays Inspector Javert, the policeman who's spent his life on a self- righteous quest tracking Valjean.

Tyner cast Amanda Gellhaus as Fantine, the doomed single mother who entrusts Valjean to raise her daughter, Cosette.

Brandon Eck and Susan Zink play the Thenardiers, the scheming couple who find and seek illegal opportunity throughout "Les Miserables."

The production opening Friday will play to rented, recorded music by a 20-piece orchestra, without the continuous, motorized turntable that opens big Broadway productions.

Scenic designer Charles Julius has employed a turntable for the show's most essential scenic element, a massive street barricade, however.

"It doesn't rotate on its own," said Tyner. Like the dramatic story in this intimate production, "it's moved by actors."

IF YOU GO

What: Evansville Civic Theatre presents "Les Miserables," Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg's musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel.

When: Friday through Nov. 3, playing at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.

Where: Evansville Civic Theatre, 717 N. Fulton Ave.

Tickets: $18 for adults, $16 for those 65 and older and $12 for students 21 and younger, available at www.evansvillecivictheatre.org or by calling 812-425-2800.

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