“Les Miserables,” a sweeping period stage musical about revolution, romance and redemption, will open the Omaha Community Playhouse’s mainstage season in September.
The show, which had one of the longest runs in Broadway history (1987-2003), is expected to be the most costly show ever produced at the Playhouse.
A large-cast musical set in France from 1815-32, it will require more costumes, orchestra players, soloist microphones, scenery and rehearsal time than a typical Playhouse show.
It will also have five more performances than the usual 23 over five weeks, running Sept. 20-Oct. 27.
While the Playhouse declined to give a dollar figure on the cost, which has not yet been finalized, it said “Les Miserables” is expected to cost 2½ times more than the typical season-opening musical, such as “Chicago” or “Legally Blonde,” and will be into six figures.
The most expensive Playhouse shows in the past have included “Ragtime” and “South Pacific,” large-cast musicals with guest professionals in lead roles. It’s not yet known whether a guest artist will appear in “Les Miserables.”
Playhouse President Tim Schmad has begun efforts to secure additional underwriting for “Les Miserables.” HDR architects and Kiewit construction firm, both headquartered in Omaha, have signed on as early producing partners.
The Playhouse has been trying to get the rights to “Les Miserables” for 20 years, said Susan Baer Collins, the Playhouse’s associate artistic director. The late Charles Jones, former Playhouse artistic director, thought he had snagged the show for the 1993-94 season, but a professional revival that year meant the rights were pulled, dashing his hopes.
“I thought I’d be dead or long gone before the Playhouse was able to do the show,” Collins said. The Playhouse was offered the rights as part of an exclusive group of theaters in March 2011, after the 2012-13 season had already been announced. “The soonest we could make it work was this fall.”
One reason was that the Playhouse committed early on to top production values, rather than cutting corners. That required more time to prepare.
The rights now are available more broadly. The Lincoln Community Playhouse is staging “Les Miserables” May 3-19.
Playhouse artistic director Carl Beck and Collins will co-direct “Les Miserables,” as they do with “A Christmas Carol” each year.
“We both love the show, and both wanted to do it,” Beck said last week. “It’s large and has many components. This way we can tag-team it and both have the experience without killing ourselves.”
Beck and Collins consulted with all Playhouse departments before signing on to the extra work and expense “Les Miserables” requires. They said enthusiasm for doing the show was unanimous.
“Les Miserables,” based on Victor Hugo’s epic novel, is the story of Jean Valjean, an ex-con who breaks parole to reinvent himself and live an upstanding life. Police Inspector Javert obsessively persues him over the years as Valjean raises an adopted daughter, Cosette.
Other featured roles include Cosette’s ill-fated mother, Fantine; revolutionary idealist Marius, who falls for Cosette; the Thenardiers, crooked innkeepers who abused Cosette as a child; and Eponine, their daughter, who secretly loves Marius.
“Les Miserables” won eight Tonys, including best musical, in 1987. Since then, Broadway touring companies of “Les Miz” have visited Lincoln and Omaha four times each. A new movie version starring Hugh Jackman as Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert and Anne Hathaway as Fantine is expected to become an Oscar contender when nominations are announced Thursday.
Beck attributed the blockbuster status of “Les Miserables” to how “it tells an epic story beautifully, with absolutely wonderful music.” Collins said themes of redemption and hope also resonate with a wide audience.
Auditions will be held early, likely in March, because actors will have to commit to an unusually long rehearsal and performance run.
Beck said he expects “Les Miserables” auditions to draw a large turnout, with some auditioners traveling farther than usual, because of the show’s many choice dramatic roles with solos.
“One of the most interesting things is the score,” he said. “It’s usually contained in one hefty book. In this case it’s four volumes.”
This show is performed entirely in song, with no dialogue, and performances typically run more than three hours.
Ticket pricing is not yet finalized, though typical price breaks available at the Playhouse may not apply to this show except for season ticket holders.
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