News Column

'Les MisÉrables' a big challenge at two theaters

July 24, 2014

By Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll, Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.

July 24--The musical of "Les MisÉrables," based on Victor Hugo's sprawling novel, has been a theatrical staple on professional stages for nearly 30 years, and an audience favorite in both its award-winning stage and film versions. That almost completely sung epic is tough to pull off on a smaller stage, but there are two chances for audiences to experience the show this summer at different ends of Cape Cod.

In Orleans, the Academy of Performing Arts has brought back its acclaimed and well-attended production from last year, with all but six of the 34 cast members returning for a show that runs for 28 performances. In Falmouth, College Light Opera Company is staging "Les Miz" for the first time, with six shows Tuesday through July 26. The "At last!" in the CLOC brochure announcement hints at how much and how long the all-musicals group has wanted to produce this show: Officials say they've been trying to get the production rights for 10 years, but only finally got the OK this year.

The Claude-Michel Schonberg/Alain Boublil musical is based on Hugo's novel about a 19th-century French peasant, Jean Valjean, who is jailed for stealing a loaf of bread. He then escapes and seeks redemption through a better life while a dogged police officer pursues him and revolutionaries rally against an oppressive government.

Academy artistic director Peter Earle, who's also director of "Les Miz," says part of the reason for doing the show again is because he had to turn away so many people from sold-out houses last summer -- houses that included people who returned four and five times.

"The audience response was just so overwhelmingly good, but there were so many people who didn't have the chance to see it," Earle says. In addition, accomplishing what "is basically an opera" with an all-volunteer cast was "a bit of a watershed musical for us," he says, and he wanted to give the actors another chance to be part of it while so many were still available and right for the parts.

Not that he or the actors are resting on the 2013 success. Earle has been making tweaks in staging and choreography while working in the new Marius, Fantine and ensemble members. "If we're going to do it, we're going to make it even better than it was," Earle says he's been telling his actors. "We're trying very hard to make things pop and sparkle. ... If people heard about the show and expect wonderful things, we need to deliver."

CLOC officials see the music as the biggest challenge for their production, especially because the company presents a new musical each week so the "Les Miz" score must be mastered by singers and the live orchestra in only a week. "Before any staging is done, there is an entire day dedicated to teaching and developing the choral sound upon which the rest of the show is built," they said in an email.

Part of the musical's fame in the 1990s was a giant turntable that helped to create numerous locations and keep the complicated story moving. CLOC officials say they are contractually prohibited from using the barricade revolve "so there will be plenty of creative innovations used" to achieve the same effect, with a set design focusing on "timeless pieces" -- such as chairs, benches, stools and cables -- that can represent a variety of time periods and settings.

Earle found that using visual slide projections to set scenes was the key to being able to stage the show in the 162-seat, second-floor arena stage in Orleans.

"There are very few places that you can see a show of this magnitude in such an intimate setting," Earle says. "You feel like you could reach out and touch Jean Valjean from your seat. Most of the productions of this are big, sprawling productions ... (but) with the people sitting there, you feel like they want to get up to be part of the barricade."

The deep emotions of the story are also enhanced in the smaller venue, he believes. "All of our voices are top-notch, and when you hear the finale of Act 1 ("One Day More") sung with those voices in this theater, it's magical," he says, noting he still gets goosebumps at that moment every night. "You are just absorbed by the sound, and I don't know any other theater around here that you can get that."

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Among the new shows on the summer calendar:

-- -- Chatham Drama Guild has a family-oriented show this summer with a new work by Cape playwright Steph DeFerie: "Froggie Went A-Courtin'." This is another collaboration with director Karen McPherson, who has worked with DeFerie to debut several shows with Chatham Middle School students -- who have gotten credit as the original cast when those plays have been published. "Froggie" continues at 10 a.m. Wednesdays and Fridays through Aug. 8. Tickets: $10 for children and $5 for accompanying adults. Reservations: 508-945-0510. Information: www.cdgonline.org.

-- -- Sapphyre Sky Productions is presenting "The Wish, the Art of Judy Garland," starring Lisa Jason, starting Friday at Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St. A press release describes the show as celebrating "the true essence and artistry of Judy Garland through her songs and poetry, creating a new understanding of her timeless interpretations."

Because Garland's poetry is far less familiar than her music, this portrait, for many patrons, will be the "first opportunity to hear (Garland's) words alongside her famous musical interpretations," the release says. The show paints "a lyrical, colorful portrait of a profound human being striving for love and recognition," celebrating Garland as both influential musician and movie icon.

The show was originally conceived by Cape actor/director Richard Jay Sullivan, who directed the show at Harwich Junior Theatre in 2002 as "Meeting Judy." This incarnation is directed by Joshua Morgan, artistic director of No Rules Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. It opens at 8 p.m. Friday, then runs Aug. 1, 8-9, 16, 29-30 and Sept. 5-6.

Jason, a singer/songwriter, has performed one-woman cabaret shows as tributes to legendary women of song. She has previously opened for the original cast of "The Jersey Boys," Huey Lewis and the News, KC and The Sunshine Band, Otis Day, the Bonnie Raitt band, John Cafferty and many more. Jason has sung with the Cape Cod Symphony and performed the national anthem at Fenway Park. Her award-winning song "Beautiful Child" has been adopted by the March of Dimes.

Tickets: $25 and $35. Reservations: 508-487-7487 or www.provincetowntheater.org

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There's theater again in downtown Hyannis: New Classics Company, a "nomadic" theater company established last year, has set up residence in the Guyer Barn, with plans to produce three shows over seven weeks, as well as other programming.

The group was co-founded by Cape native Matt Kohler, Brett Burkhardt and Justin Jay Gray, and its first season, in cooperation with the HyArts Cultural District, will include two world premieres, as well as a staged reading series, open mic nights, poetry readings, improv performances, concerts and workshops.

In a press release, New Classics says the company is "devoted to the reinvigoration of arts in America," priding itself on producing "revitalized and reimagined classic works, as well as workshopping brand new plays" as it seeks to create a network of artists from various disciplines.

The theater season: "Georgie's Full Swing," written and directed by Kohler about a sixth-grader intent on achieving playground greatness, continues through Saturday; "Greater Tuna," a two-actor, multiple-character satire of small-town values by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard that will be performed by Burkhardt and guest actor HJ Pierce, Thursday through Aug. 10; and the original comedy the three founders wrote, "I've Got a Bad Feeling About This: A Tribute to George Lucas," about three friends attempting to create the ultimate tribute video to the cinematic genius responsible for such hits as the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" movies, Aug. 21-30.

Information on the group's full schedule and tickets ($10): www.newclassicscompany.org. All shows are at the Guyer Barn, 250 South St., Hyannis.

For more theater news, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com/stagedoor.

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(c)2014 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

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Source: Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA)


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