Its hard to believe that Les Miserables has been out for more than 25 years, but it has.
In honor of the 25th anniversary, the show was completely restaged, the sets were redesigned, and the drama was restructured by former stars of the show with the input of show creator, Cameron Mackintosh.
This reporter has a visceral connection with the show---over the years, he has seen the show 13 times and as a result had grown completely familiar with the production. Of all the various performances however, none of them had the same emotional impact as the first time.
Victor Hugo's mammoth work had always been (and continues to be) one of those classic works of literature that most people find easier to simply nod and claim to have read, rather than actually labor through--the writer was no exception. As a result most people who have never seen the show, are generally clueless as to the emotionally rich and passionately enacted themes of the show, all of which revolve around the concepts of Grace and Integrity in the midst of Suffering. The first viewing of the show, for most people is a revelation.
I could not imagine spending the 40 dollars per ticket that the Artist Series was demanding the first time I saw it. I was working at the Landing with my cousin Brice Gailliard at a restaurant called Silver Spoons. I had discovered a gap in the security of the old Civic Auditorium and my cousin and I snuck into the building, clambered up onto the rafters and tech area above the auditorium, covered ourselves with black curtains and settled in to see the entire show from above.
What followed was one of the most spiritually moving experiences of my life. The profound reminders of everyday cruelty and nobility actually caused me to reconsider some of the more spartan opinions of my younger Republican self in fact. Needless to say, both myself and my Gailliard cousin cried our eyes out, despite the fear that we might be discovered by security at any moment.
Les MisÚrables has been translated into 21 different languages:
English, Japanese, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, German, Polish, Swedish, Dutch, Danish, French, Czech, Castillian, Mauritian Creole, Flemish, Finnish, Argentinian, Portuguese, Estonian and Mexican Spanish.
Productions have played in 43 countries and over 300 cities:
The production has played over 47,000 professional performances giving a total audience figure of more than 60 million people worldwide.
125,000 people attended the 1989 Australia Day concert in Sydney, which has been the biggest single live audience for Les MisÚrables to date.
400 million viewers in 197 countries created the biggest broadcast audience for Les MisÚrables when the 1996 European Football Championship starring 250 cast members was televised.
The London production of Les Miserables is the world's longest running musical where it played 7,602 performances at the Palace Theatre before transferring to the Queen's Theatre where it opened on 3th April 2004.
Les MisÚrables has won over 70 major theatre awards including an Olivier, Tony & Grammy.
There have been over 40 cast recordings of Les MisÚrables including albums, singles and the symphonic. Both the original Broadway cast album and the symphonic recordings won Grammy awards.
Perhaps no other show except Phantom of the Opera has become so commonplace and well known in the past hundred years.
I don't know what I was thinking when people kept talking about the 'restaged' version. I guess I was thinking that there would be minor additions or stage props and a few extra flourishes.
Nothing could have prepared for the major differences.
It was mindblowingly better, which frankly I wouldn't have dreamed possible.
The closest comparison to this reimagined show is the difference between the modern day Battlestar Galactica, and the campy 70s version of the show. The second version is so much more human, real and approachable despite the epic majesty of the story that the loved original seems clunky and quaint by comparison.
I attended opening night with my sister, Bella Coley (she's in the pictures from the cast party) who for some reason or another had never seen any version of the show in her life.
The curtains went up and we commenced three hours of crying like little girls.
In this, we were joined by a giant audience of Artist Series regulars, who in every previous show this season have had the salt to wait at least until the second act before the tears began.
Not so with this show. Literally, the opening number of the musical elicited all manner of sniffling and silent tears.
All the way throughout the show, Bella kept reaching over and grabbing my hand at the particularly heart rending spots. By the time we got to "I dreamed a dream" even the men had stopped pretending that they weren't sobbing from raw emotion.
The first of the noticeable differences is the sets. The revolving set is gone. Just gone. In its place is an unimaginably effective digital video composite of the paintings of Victor Hugo that create articulated backdrops of Paris and France.
The open blackness of the backgrounds of the original show are gone.
In their place is a series of claustrophobically constructed sets that serve to give a visual reminder of how closed in and limited the characters are against the backdrop of events. The looming stage constructions have a ramshackle appearance that permeates every view and underscores the poverty and gloom of the era.
Gaslight props, lanterns and the like take you right into the distant world of france before the Revolution. The are exquisite touches that set the grandeur of the score and the elaborate beauty of the costuming.
The video projections steal the show, giving the course of events a ghostly, spiritualist feel that adds a little spine tingly element to the event.
Jacksonville was very lucky to also have a traveling cast for this performance that matches the swagger of anything mounted on any stage in the world.
The vocals were electrifying pure throughout, the voices were literally sublime.
Peter Lockyer, playing the role of Jean Valjean, gave a star making performance using a voice whose complex emotionalism was executed with remarkable luscious clarity and beauty. His voice alone was enough to provoke moments of ecstasy that approached feelings of love. Perfectly controlled, versatile, sensitive and heartbreakingly expressive, Lockyer set a new standard for the ValJean vocals that its going to be almost impossible to ever better. He took songs that are so well known that they might as well be jazz from the 20s and totally reinvented them and made them his own.
I cannot go one enough about the strength of this one performer. Jacksonville is lucky indeed to be part of the tour in which he performed. If the restaged version weren't also so incredible, it would be worth the most expensive ticket just to see this one performer in this one role----he really is that magnificent.
But the outstanding vocals don't stop there.
Equally pure and sensitive were the fantastic vocals of Max Quinlan, who played the pat of irrepressible, romantic schoolboy, Marius. Normally, Marius is a supporting sidelight vocal performance, meant to support the drama between Eponine and Cosette, but Quinlans vocals were so sweet and bell clear that they emerged as some of the better performances of the show. Not the powerhouse performance that Lockyer put in, but still better than any other Les Mis vocalist that I personally have seen over the previous 13 performances.
For the night we attended the role of Fantine was played by Casey Erin Clark, whose sweet, dark vocals were amongst the most tear inducing of the show. She was simply amazing.
This show is a perfectly rendered version of what the show could have been since the very beginning.
The updated tech that made the sets and visuals possible are such a vast improvement that the difference it makes is a quantum leap in visualizations.
Every wrenchingly noble moment of the characters stories was excruciatingly lovely. So many of the audience were crying from the sheer emotionalism of the performance that you would have thought it was a memorial service for Princess Diana.
Friday, May 4th at 8:00PM
Saturday, May 5th at 2:00PM and 8:00PM
Sunday, May 6th at 1:30PM and 7:00PM
Tickets for the New 25th Anniversary Production of Les MisÚrables begin at $27.00 and are available at The Artist Series Box Office at (904) 632-3373 or online at www.artistseriesjax.org. Discounts are available for groups of 10+ by calling (904) 632-3228 or by emailing email@example.com.
To order by phone with Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover call
The Artist Series Box Office at
(toll-free outside of Jacksonville 1-888-860-BWAY)
Tickets are also available online with Instant Seat Selection by visiting the
The Artist Series website: www.artistseriesjax.org
Bella Coley with Peter Lockyer
Afterwards we were invited to the Sleiman sponsored cast party at the Blue Room of the Landing.
The spread was fantastic and it was disconcerting to see all the fresh faced 20 year olds (full of boundless energy despite having just performed for three hours) if only because the performances were so convincingly stultifying that you half believed that they had just experienced the prelude to the French Revolution.
Jax Native Alaska Distillery COO, Bella Coley dazzled at the party and we managed to get candid shots and speak to the cast and crew of both the landing and Les Miserables.
Janice Lowe, the General Manager and Blakeley Ainsworth were serving drinks at the bar, Mrs Sleiman and her lovely daughter greeted guests at the door and there was a pretty respectable spread of food from the Landing restaurants which was being voraciously devoured by a very hungry group of actors and stage crew.
Lots more photos on the Facebook page!
If you don't go see this show before it leaves town, you will have missed something absolutely worth seeing.
If you've seen the show already and you think it is going to be simply an updated show, then you are wildly mistaken.
It is literally like seeing it for the first time.