News Column

'Les Miserables' closes out LCT season

May 5, 2013

YellowBrix

May 05--You've listened to your kids sing these songs in show choir. You've heard Russell Crowe mangle them in the movie version. Now it's time to see the big, bold musical that drew nearly 200 hopefuls to audition.

La Crosse Community Theatre's production of "Les Miserables" opens May 10 at the Weber Center.

It's 19th century France, and Jean Valjean is released from years in prison and begins a lifelong struggle for redemption, relentlessly pursued by police inspector Javert.

And, oh yeah, they sing about anything and everything. And just about everybody and their mother wanted to be in the LCT production.

"I really think it was fate that we were meant to do this piece in this space," said director Greg Parmeter. "When I was first brought on board in 2008, we were kicking around what shows we'd love to open the new theater. It really is one of the few shows that's really worthy of opening a facility. I think this is one of those rare pieces of theater that just hits all the right notes -- literally and metaphorically. It's an epic story about characters you come to care about. Jean Valjean is a legendary character."

Because Valjean is chased relentlessly by Javert, it's tempting to think of Javert as the villain, Parmeter said. But the real villain is the circumstances under which these people live. Both men are trying to do what they think is right.

"It's a story of redemption and faith and hope and love of other people. One of the beautiful sentiments is that to love another person is to see the face of God," Parmeter said.

Javert chases Valjean out of a sense of righteousness, Parmeter said. "But they both are righteous. Javert doesn't understand mercy. He's very much black and white. When he discovers mercy at the end of the play, it's so shattering that he can't carry on and he takes his own life. So there's no villains in this piece. They're doing what it takes to get by in a very difficult time and place in history."

Parmeter said this show offers an embarrassment of riches.

"Most shows are blessed to have one or two songs that are memorable," he said, but in this show, "every single song is memorable, so it's nonstop."

And the audience will know this music.

"People have been listening to this music for 25 years. I fully expect we'll have audience members singing along. It's going to feel like the show is an old friend."

And that's why more than 180 people auditioned for the show, he said. "We saw so many talented people. It was so hard to cast this show," he said, which only required 35 to 40 people.

"This is everybody's dream show. This is the show they always wanted to do. The vast majority were all talented enough to be in the show. We could have cast the show two or three different ways."

Those who did snag roles are cherishing them, he said.

"There's an intensity to the cast, a sense of hard work and need in this cast that gets brought into the rehearsal room every night. They're keeping me on my toes."

It's Music Director Diane Foust who gets to harness that embarrassment of vocal riches.

Foust, who is retiring in May after 28 years at Viterbo, has been musical director for several LCT musicals, but she calls working on "Les Miserables" a once-in-a lifetime experience.

"There's a lot of good music with themes that help tell the story, and we absolutely have the voices to do this," Foust said. "We didn't know if we would have the voices to do it, but we had choices for every part."

Foust said she likes the mix of actors from the community, Viterbo and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

She said the cast includes two strong main roles. Ken Lauer, a Viterbo student who has starred in university operas, plays Jean Valjean. Kevin Laumbach, a community theater veteran who studied music theater at Viterbo, plays Javert.

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(c)2013 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)

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