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Les Misérables at DPAC Will Breathe New, Glorious Life into Victor Hugo’s Larger-Than-Life Characters

During the Paris Uprising of 1832, Phoenix Best (center) as Éponine and Matt Shingledecker and Joshua Grosso as student revolutionaries Enjolras and Marius sing "One Day More" as they prepare to man the barricades (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Phoenix Best (center) as Éponine and Matt Shingledecker and Joshua Grosso as student revolutionaries Enjolras and Marius sing “One Day More” during the Paris Uprising of 1832 (photo by Matthew Murphy)

On Jan. 30-Feb. 4, the Durham Performing Arts Center will present eight heart-tugging performances of the North American Tour of the brilliantly reimagined 2014 Broadway Revival of Les Misérables, sans its trademark turntable set but replete with a host of unforgettable characters from French novelist, poet, and dramatist Victor Hugo’s epic 1862 historical novel and a sensational score that could thaw even the iciest heart. The 2014 Broadway Revival, which opened on March 23, 2014 at the Imperial Theatre, racked up 1,024 performances — and earned three 2014 Tony Award® nominations, including a nomination for Best Revival of a Musical — before closing on Sept. 4, 2016.

DPAC is presenting the 2017-18 tour of this 1980 Paris, 1985 West End, and 1987 Broadway musical — produced by Cameron Mackintosh of London and NETworks of Columbia, MD, and co-directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, with musical staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt — as part of its critically acclaimed SunTrust Broadway Series. The tour commenced on Sept. 21, 2017 at the Providence Performing Arts Center in Providence, RI, and is scheduled to conclude on June 17, 2018 at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, WA.

Josh Davis (left) as the self-righteous prison guard and later Inspector Javert makes life a living hell for Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean in <em>Les Misérables</em> at DPAC (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Josh Davis (left) as the self-righteous prison guard and later Inspector Javert makes life a living hell for Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables at DPAC (photo by Matthew Murphy)

“The original production, which is still playing in London, has a turntable design,” says the tour’s resident director, Liam McIlwain. “Our set designer Matt Kinley, reenvisioned the show in 2010. His new design uses a lot of projections to help contextualize the show. Many of them are based on the artwork of Victor Hugo.”

He adds, “We have a fresh, young cast, many of whom are brand new to the show[, which has been running over 30 years in London]…. Actors like to come back and perform in the show again and again. But for this production, we only have two actors who’ve done the show before…. [The new cast members] bring a fresh energy to the show. In rehearsals, we were able to start with a blank slate.”

Liam McIlwain is resident director of the 2017-18 tour of <em>Les Misérables</em>

Liam McIlwain is resident director for the current North American Tour of Les Misérables, now playing at DPAC

The tour stars Nick Cartell as parole breaker-turned businessman and village mayor Jean Valjean and Josh Davis as his implacable nemesis Inspector Javert. Their co-stars include Melissa Mitchell as Valjean’s unjustly fired former employee-turned-prostitute Fantine, Jillian Butler as Fantine’s daughter Cosette whom Valjean adopts when Fantine dies, Joshua Grosso as Cosette’s beloved the fiery student revolutionary Marius Pontmercy, Matt Shingledecker as Marius’ friend and fellow revolutionary Enjolras, J. Anthony Crane and Allison Guinn as the larcenous innkeepers Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, Phonenix Best as Thénardiers’ daughter Éponine. Zoe Glick and Sophie Knapp alternate as Little Cosette and Young Éponine; and Jordan Cole and Julian Emile Lerner alternate as the chimney sweep Petit Gervais and the impudent street urchin Gavroche.

Les Misérables — pronounced “Lay Miz-eh-rahb” — is French for “the wretched” or “the outcasts.” The musical is based on the 1862 novel that Victor Hugo (1802-85) wrote about former convict Jean Valjean, who was imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread and numerous escape attempts, and his relentless, insufferably self-righteous pursuer, Inspector Javert. Set between 1815 and 1832 in revolutionary France — on the mean streets and even in the underground sewers of Paris — this magnificent musical breathes full, glorious new life into Hugo’s colorful, larger-than-life characters.

The original French version of this magnificent musical adaptation of Les Misérables featured a brilliant book by Alain Boublil and Claude Michel Schönberg, marvelous music by Schönberg, and poignant lyrics by Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. It premiered on Sept. 17, 1980 at the Palais de Sports in Paris, where it ran for 107 performances.

The English adaptation of Les Misérables premiered at the Barbican Centre in London on Sept. 30, 1985 and ran for 63 performances there before transferring on Dec. 4, 1985 to the Palace Theatre, where it ran for 18 years and more than 7,500 performances. The show’s phenomenal Palace Theatre run ended on March 27, 2004; then Les Misérables moved to the Queen’s Theatre and reopened in early April 2004. It’s still running.

Melissa Mitchell stars as the ill-fated Fantine in <em>Les Misérables</em> (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Melissa Mitchell stars as the ill-fated Fantine in Les Misérables (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Originally directed and adapted for English-speaking audiences by John Caird and Trevor Nunn and produced by Cameron Macintosh and the Royal Shakespeare Company, the English version of Les Misérables featured a terrific translation of the original French script by Alain Boublil and Claude Michel Schönberg, with additional material by James Fenton; Schönberg’s soaring melodies; and eloquent new English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer (based on Boublil and Natel’s original French lyrics).

Les Misérables made its Broadway debut on March 12, 1987 at the Broadway Theatre and closed on May 18, 2003, after 16 years and 6,680 performances. The show won eight 1987 Tony Awards® (including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score) and introduced “Bring Him Home,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” “A Little Fall of Rain,” “One Day More,” and “Who Am I?” to the show-tune repertoire.

The 2012 British motion-picture version of Les Misérables, directed by Tom Hooper (The Damned United and The King’s Speech) from a screenplay by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, and Claude-Michel Schönberg, starred Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, Samantha Barks as Éponine, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, and the original West End Jean Valjean Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne. The original West End Éponine, Frances Ruffelle, played a prostitute.

J. Anthony Crane (top center) as Thénardier and Allison Guinn (far right) as Madame Thénardier perform "Master of the House" in the current North American Tour of <em>Les Misérables</em> (photo by Matthew Murphy)

J. Anthony Crane (top center) as Thénardier and Allison Guinn (far right) as Madame Thénardier perform “Master of the House” in the current North American Tour of Les Misérables (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Les Misérables North American Tour resident director Liam McIlwain was born in 1983 in the Tarragindi suburb of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. He currently calls Melbourne home, but sheepishly admits that he’s hardly ever there.

When was he bitten by the “theater bug”? “I have a very, very vivid memory,” says McIlwain. “When I was 13 in Brisbane, Australia, my mother bought me a ticket to see the Australian touring production of The Phantom of the Opera. I think that I decided then [and there] that I wanted to pursue a career in theater.”

McIlwain says he studied musical theater for two years at the Central Queensland Conservatorium of Music in Mackay. Then he studied theater for another two years at a private institution in Melbourne.

The North American Tour of <em>Les Misérables</em>, playing Jan. 30-Feb. 4 at DPAC, stars (from left) Joshua Grosso as Marius, Phoenix Best as Éponine, and Jillian Butler as Cosette (photo by Matthew Murphy)

The North American Tour of Les Misérables, playing Jan. 30-Feb. 4 at DPAC, stars (from left) Joshua Grosso as Marius, Phoenix Best as Éponine, and Jillian Butler as Cosette (photo by Matthew Murphy)

“I first became involved with [Les Misérables] about four years ago,” says Liam McIlwain. After serving as a swing and dance captain for the show’s 2014 Australian tour, in 2015 McIlwain became resident director for the show, and worked on its international productions in productions in Manila, Singapore, and Dubai. He subsequently worked as assistant director/choreographer for the show’s Portuguese-language production in São Paulo, Brazil, and its Japanese-language production in Tokyo. “I’ve seen a lot of Lay Miz in the last couple of years,” he quips.

McIlwain adds, ” As [the North American Tour’s] resident director, it’s my responsibility to maintain the artistic integrity of the show on the road…. I go into that job knowing the show from several perspectives.” As dance captain and swing, he knows the show inside-out.

“As an actor,” McIlwain says, “The challenge is to keep yourself ‘show fit,’ so you can perform the show eight times a week. A show like Lay Miz is very demanding, especially vocally….

“As resident director,” says McIlwain, “the greatest challenge is maintaining the show at the level that it needs to be at. This show is incredibly high stakes. The characters are literally fighting for their lives in most scenes.”

Resident directors travel with the show, so that they can keep the touring cast sharp and work new cast members into the lineup, when needed. Moving the show every week presents other challenges Liam McIlwain says. He adds, “The shows that I’ve worked on in the past had longer sitdowns.”

Nick Cartell stars as parole violator-turned-respectable citizen Jean Valjean (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Nick Cartell stars as parole violator-turned-respectable citizen Jean Valjean (photo by Matthew Murphy)

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 26th Burlington, NC Times-News preview by Rachel Teseneer for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/childhood-dream-come-true-elon-university-graduate-a-part-of-les-mis-tour/; and Jan. 24th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW TV interview with actor Joshua Grosso, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-Joshua-Grosso-of-LES-MISERABLES-National-Tour-20180124.

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents LES MISÉRABLES at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 8 p.m. Feb. 2, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 3, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 4 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.

TICKETS: $30 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.

BOX OFFICE:

DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@dpacnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.

Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/34216.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.

SHOW: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/les-miserables and https://www.facebook.com/events/111619279503021/.

VIDEO PREVIEW: https://vimeo.com/207474083.

DPAC NEWS RELEASE: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/four-blockbuster-shows-on-sale-sept-16-at-10-am-on-your-feet-les-miserables-the-color-purple-and-waitress.

DPAC‘S 2017-18 “TEN GREAT YEARS” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2017-18 and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/announcing-suntrust-broadway-at-dpac-2017-2018-season.

THE TOUR: http://lesmiz.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/les-misrables–514820, https://www.facebook.com/LesMizUS, https://twitter.com/LesMizUS, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1NLVgsoQZCCzw_3-J9O2Gg.

TOUR CAST & CREATIVES: http://lesmiz.com/cast-creatives.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/directions.

PARKING: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/parking.

NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3rd, performance.

OTHER LINKS:

Les Misérables (1862 historical novel): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Mis%C3%A9rables (Wikipedia).

The Novel (e-text): http://openlibrary.org/works/OL1063591W/Les_Miserables (Open Library at the Internet Archive).

Victor Hugo (French novelist, 1802-85) http://www.gavroche.org/vhugo/ (Victor Hugo Central, compiled by John Newmark), http://www.victorhugo.gg/ (the States of Guernsey’s Official Victor Hugo website), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Hugo (Wikipedia).

The France of Victor Hugo: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255/ (Robert Schwartz of Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA).

Les Misérables (1980 Paris, 1985 West End, and 1987 Broadway musical): http://www.lesmis.com/ (official website), https://www.mtishows.com/les-miserables (Music Theatre International: 2009 UK Tour Version), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/les-misrables-5340 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Mis%C3%A9rables_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).

Study Guide: https://www.bard.org/study-guides/les-miserables-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

Claude-Michel Schönberg (music): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/claude-michel-schnberg-4864 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude-Michel_Sch%C3%B6nberg (Wikipedia).

Alain Boublil (French lyrics and book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/alain-boublil-3932 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alain_Boublil (Wikipedia).

Jean-Marc Natel (French text): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jean-marc-natel-72569 (Internet Broadway Database).

Herbert Kretzmer (English lyrics): http://www.herbertkretzmer.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/herbert-kretzmer-13012 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Kretzmer (Wikipedia).

Trevor Nunn (English book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/trevor-nunn-15788 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trevor_Nunn (Wikipedia).

John Caird (English book): http://www.johncaird.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/john-caird-14350 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Caird_%28director%29 (Wikipedia).

James Fenton (additional material): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/james-fenton-72570 (Internet Broadway Database).

Les Misérables (2012 film) http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1707386/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Mis%C3%A9rables_%282012_film%29 (Wikipedia).

Laurence Connor (co-director): http://www.laurenceconnor.co.uk/ (official website), http://wp.lesmis.com/broadway/about/cast-and-creatives/laurence-connor/ (Les Misérables bio), and https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/laurence-connor-494838 (Internet Broadway Database).

James Powell (co-director): http://wp.lesmis.com/broadway/about/cast-and-creatives/james-powell/ (Les Misérables bio) and https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/james-powell-494839 (Internet Broadway Database).

Liam McIlwain (resident director): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/liam-mcilwain-515902 (Internet Broadway Database).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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