Performance No. 6,680 played to a packed industry house at the Imperial Theatre and still moved like clockwork despite applause and cheers that greeted entrances, songs, high notes and images throughout the three-hour evening. Randal Keith's "Bring Him Home" earned the most sustained ovation of the show. Keith graduated to the Broadway company this spring following years of playing the road company first as an ensemble member and understudy Valjean and then as the principal hero.
"For a musical about a man who stole a loaf of bread," said producer Cameron Mackintosh on stage after the curtain call, "we've done pretty well."
Mackintosh shepherded the show from Parisian concept concert (written by Alain Boublil and composer Claude Michel Schönberg) to the Royal Shakespeare Company to London's West End to Broadway and to international acclaim. He was joined on stage May 18 by Boublil and Schönberg (who acknowledged the absent English lyricist Herbert Kretzmer, who is often unheralded) and by co-directors and co-adapters Trevor Nunn and John Caird. Costume designer Andreane Neofitou and sound designer Andrew Bruce were also on stage. Scenic designer John Napier, lighting designer David Hersey and "additional material" writer James Fenton were also absent and acknowledged from the stage.
It was also recognized that six musicians in the pit had been with the show for the entire run, presumably making it possible for them to put downpayments on summer homes during that time.
Vinnie Liff, the show's longtime casting director, was also remembered from the stage as among those who passed on "beyond the barricade" after contributing to the show's success. Fred Nathan, Laurie Beechman and others were also remembered. Liff died in February. Following one final spin of the famous turntable, the current cast exited to the wings and Mackintosh presented a sort of theatrical passing of the torch, announcing that the newly-minted "school edition" is already being presented in high schools. He introduced New York-area teens who presented excerpts of the show (starting with "At the End of the Day") to enthusiastic applause.
The inclusion of young people was more than a mere ad for the new MTI-licensed school script (the famous Cosette illustration was projected on a screen, but this time she wore a varsity jacket, her arms full of textbooks). The pop-friendly show about students fighting for a better world has lured young people to the show since it first opened in London. Theatregoers young and old learned a new way to consider musical storytelling from Les Miz. For better or worse, there are some young people whose musical theatre history begins with the show. Purists hope they are also encouraged to look to Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, Oliver!, Anything Goes and Follies (all shows Mackintosh has produced, by the way) to broaden their knowledge of the genre.
Few at the Imperial May 18 missed the fact that the 15-to-17-year-olds performing had only just been born (or conceived) when Les Miz made its Broadway debut in 1987. At the gala party after, cast members, friends and alumni of the show suggested that the most moving part of the evening was not the tears and triumph of Victor Hugo yarn, but the sight of a new generation embracing "I Dreamed a Dream," "At the End of the Day," "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," "Stars," and more.
After singing "Bring Him Home" downstage left, a high schooler was greeted by Randy Graff, Broadway's original Fantine, who stretched her hand out to sing the final moments of the show, welcoming Valjean to his rest. Then original Eponine Frances Ruffelle appeared. The finale began anew when hundreds of Les Miz alumni sang the words, "do you hear the people sing?," from throughout the house.
Members of the original cast (and some, like Steve Buntrock and Peter Lockyer, who had long histories with the Broadway run) appeared on stage in jackets, ties, dresses and evening wear, to sing of life "beyond the barricade."
Red, white and blue balloons, streamers and confetti exploded around the Imperial.
Today, it's all being swept up. Soon, the barricade will be dismantled and by fall the Peter Allen-inspired musical, The Boy From Oz, will sing eight shows a week.
Les Miz is currently Broadway's second longest running musical. A North American national tour continues, as does the West End production and stagings throughout the world.
And soon, to a gymnasium near you.