News Column

'Les Miserables' returns to Broadway Sacramento, retooled

May 24, 2013

YellowBrix

May 24--Andrew Varela admits there have been times during "Les Miserables" when he wondered, "Who Am I?" The veteran Broadway actor knows how easy it is to stumble into the wrong lyrics -- and the wrong role.

"When I originally auditioned for Javert, I found myself singing the wrong lyrics -- I was (singing) Jean Valjean," said Varela, who had performed Valjean more than 300 times. "Both sing the same tune, but very different words."

More than 1,000 performances later, Varela has no problems remembering his lines as Inspector Javert, whose relentless pursuit of hero Jean Valjean drives the musical's drama.

His question now most mornings: Where am I?

"We've been touring for two and a half years with this production," Varela said by phone from Ohio. "We're doing 10 cities this summer -- including Sacramento."

Capping off the 2012-13 Broadway Sacramento series, "Les Miserables" comes to Sacramento on Wednesday for a two-week run at the Community Center Theater.

"Les Miz" had been a staple of the Broadway Sacramento series. This is the touring company's sixth visit, but the first since 2003.

"This is the first time for this new touring production, ... created for the 25th anniversary of the show."

The "Les Miz" silver anniversary edition is unlike any other local audiences have seen. Completely retooled in 2010, the beloved musical went back to its source material -- Victor Hugo -- for re-imagined staging.

Gone is that trademark turntable that spun the barricades and onstage action. Instead, the new dramatic scenery is pulled from Hugo's own haunting paintings of early 1800s Paris.

The New York Times called this "Les Miz" "an unquestionably spectacular production from start to finish."

As the world's longest- running musical, "Les Miserables" carries high expectations wherever it goes. The 2012 Oscar-winning film version starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe also rekindled interest in its tale of brave survival amid the squalor of post-revolution France.

Born in 1802 into a military family, Hugo lived through the decades of extreme turmoil portrayed in "Les Miserables," which he wrote a generation later while in exile. His novel was published in 1862, but its central themes still ring true with modern audiences.

"The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves," Hugo wrote in "Les Miserables" (which translates as "the miserable ones.")

Varela sees that truth nightly play out on stage.

"It's drawn from the biggest issues of the human experience -- love, redemption, sex and revolution," Varela said. "This is really a show about man's position in the world, his relationship with God and trust in his fellow man."

Those universal themes resonate with audiences anywhere, he added.

"There are companies of 'Les Miz' right now all over the world," Varela said. "People are still moved by it."

Varela, who turns 45 on Saturday, joined the "Les Miz" family in 1997 on Broadway. He first gained the spotlight as Jean Valjean, Hugo's hero who forever faces recriminations for the theft of a loaf of bread.

"There's no more difficult role in musical theater for a man," Varela said.

But Varela gravitated to Javert, one of Broadway's most notorious villains.

"When I was growing up, I didn't like Luke Skywalker; I liked Darth Vader," Varela said with a chuckle. "Javert makes a fabulous entrance. I can't help but feel it's like the first time you see Darth Vader (in 'Star Wars') -- except I don't grab anybody by the throat.

"He's such a badass," he continued of Javert. "There's something so delicious about this role."

Another difference between Valjean and Javert: The hero is a tenor.

Varela smoked a cigar before the first time he sang Javert "so I could reach the bottom register," he said. "Now, I'd say I'm a lyric baritone."

Each night, Varela relishes "Stars," Javert's ode to justice.

"It's such a big, wonderfully rich song -- and it's just me onstage in the spotlight," he said. "I think to myself, this is pretty cool!"

Javert is not all bad. Hugo wrote of his anti-hero, "This man was a compound of two sentiments, simple and good in themselves, but he made them almost evil by his exaggeration of them: Respect for authority and hatred of rebellion."

In his portrayal, Varela keeps that in mind. "Primarily the notion that he's a just a cop trying to do his job," he said. "He truly believes society will fail without him. He's the teeth of society; he has to do his job no matter what.

"But he's forced to realize he's a bad guy. So, you can't make him gratuitously evil. He wasn't so much a bad guy but just another guy, caught in a bad situation."

And if somebody sings the wrong lyrics? Said Varela, "I learned a long time ago: Just keep going."

LES MISERABLES

What: Presented by Broadway Sacramento, the musical is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer from the original text by Alain Boublil.

When: Wednesday-June 9; showtimes, 8 p.m. except June 2 (7:30 p.m.); 2 p.m. matinees Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; dark Mondays.

Where: Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento

Admission: $24-$91

Details: (916) 808-5181, (916) 557-1999, www.BroadwaySacramento.com

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