News Column

Peninsula Community Theatre tackles mammoth "Les Miserables"

August 2, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 02--Even for community theaters, which fearlessly take on the biggest musical projects, tackling "Les Miserables" is a daunting effort.

But Peninsula Community Theatre has done it. The mega-musical opens Friday, Aug. 2 at the PCT Village Playhouse in Newport News.

For a brief time late last year, the rights to the popular show became available, and the theater signed on. Jeff Corriveau, who directed "Big River" for the theater last summer, was tapped to bring it to the stage.

"I was supposed to take the summer off, but this is one of those rare opportunities," says Corriveau, who also designed the set.

Based on the Victor Hugo novel, "Les Miserables" looks at the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean leading up to a French rebellion in the 1830s. In 1985, producer Cameron Mackintosh opened a musical version in London with music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Alain Boublil. The Broadway production opened in 1987 and has remained one of the most popular musicals of all time.

In agreeing to the rights for the show, Corriveau learned they were not allowed to duplicate the giant turntable that's a signature part of the Broadway set. He decided to build the barricade that's a central element of the rebellion scenes and make it the focus of his set, with various pull-downs and other set pieces to augment it.

"We agreed that people know this show, and there will be a lot of scrutiny," says Corriveau. "So we've taken a different approach and cut the stage in half with the set."

Joining Corriveau are Betsy Forrest as music director and Dana Margulies Cauthen as choreographer. Jonathan McCormick of Virginia Beach plays Jean Valjean with George Revill of Poquoson as Marius and Tony Brach of Norfolk as Valjean's pursuer, Javert.

Cauthen and Corriveau have worked on 10 shows together.

"The show requires a huge amount of collaboration," says Cauthen. Working with the set "is a challenge, but it's incredibly beautiful and complex.

"What I'm doing is more musical staging than choreography,' she says. "Here, it's all about advancing the story."

As a former movie theater, the theater has no wing space so the cast of 35 works in tight quarters. Corriveau increased the rehearsal time from eight to 12 weeks to allow the singers time to master the difficult score. A pianist and a computerized score replaces the original orchestra.

"Jeff made the decision to devote the first five weeks of rehearsal totally to the music, so we could really delve deeply into it," says Forrest. "The voices are great, and everyone has worked really hard."

The show attracted a lot of attention, with 144 people coming out for auditions. "We hoped it would bring in fresh blood, and it did," he says. Many Peninsula actors are involved as well as ones from as far away as Hayes and Virginia Beach.

"The cast has been amazing," says Cauthen. "There's so much going on, and they've been incredibly patient.

"We've managed to adapt the show to our space -- it looks like it belongs there."

Want to go?

What: Peninsula Community Theatre presents "Les Miserables"

When: Performances Aug. 2-24 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays

Where: PCT Village Playhouse, 10251 Warwick Blvd, Newport News

Tickets: $18 adults, $17 students and military, $7 children, available by calling 757-595-5728 or online at http://www.pctlive.org.

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(c)2013 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

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