After 16 years and 6,680 performances, the French-written, British-refined pop musical version of Victor Hugo's 1832 novel of human rights and human love shuts down after the 6 PM milestone performance at the Imperial Theatre. The show leaves with much fanfare: An audience filled with special guests invited by producer Cameron Mackintosh, a performance of the three-hour show and then a special mega-finale that includes its current troupe, 300 alumni of the Broadway run and 40 New York-area kids who have appeared in the newly minted "school edition" of the show in recent months.
An intimate party for more than 1,000 people will follow at Rockefeller Center, to celebrate and drink "to days gone by," as they say in the show.
In all, 415 performers have appeared in the Broadway run, whether at the Broadway Theatre (where it opened to an then-record $11 million advance in 1987 after a tryout at the Kennedy Center) or at the current Imperial (where it moved to in 1990).
The final cast includes principals Randal Keith as Valjean, Michael McCarthy as Javert, Jayne Paterson as Fantine, Nick Wyman as Thernardier, Aymee Garcia as Madame Thenardier, Diana Kaarina as Eponine, Christopher Mark Peterson as Enjolras, Sandra Turley as Cosette and Kevin Kern as Marius.
Broadway hadn't seen a show quite like Les Miz when it landed on Broadway following its smash beginnings at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the West End (where it still thrives). At three hours and 15 minutes (it was later trimmed to three), the musical was sung through, covered some 18 years in the history of fictional characters in early 19th-century France. To boot, some people couldn't pronounce the title and others wrongly thought it was about the French Revolution (it was about a later student insurrection). Some wondered if the show would have a long life beyond its advance.
But it wasn't long before folks learned to pronounce the title or adopted the nickname Les Miz. The show would come to be regarded by fans as the rare pop opera that got better on repeat viewings rather than revealing itself as something craftless or faddish. Mackintosh has credited the source material as one of the reasons; it was literature before it was stage literature, and Hugo knew how to tell a story.
And not only did the show catch fire in New York, tours still continue in North America to this day.
All this began as a spectacle in Paris written by Alain Boublil and composer Claude-Michel Schonberg. British producer Cameron Mackintosh (Cats) embraced the work, gathered a British creative team that included lyricist Herbert Kretzmer and co-directors and adaptors Trevor Nunn and John Caird. A smashzilla in England, the Broadway staging in 1987 won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Featured Actor (Michael Maguire as Enjolras), Best Featured Actress (Frances Ruffelle as Eponine), Best Director (Trevor Nunn and John Caird), Best Book (Boublil and Schonberg), Best Score (music by Schonberg, lyrics by Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer), Best Scenic Design (John Napier), Best Lighting Design (David Hersey). Nominees that year included Colm Wilkinson (as Jean Valjean) and Terrence Mann (as Javert) for Best Actor, Judy Kuhn as Cosette for Featured Actress and Andreane Neofitou (Best Costume Designer). Randy Graff played Fantine in the first Broadway company. She would later snag a Tony for City of Angels in 1990.
Although the show has a reputation as a spectacle, most of the action takes place on a bare staged, forcing the audience to use its imagination.
"This is one of the peculiar things: If you take a stopwatch, other than tables and chairs and the odd pair of gates, there is [nothing] except the actors on the stage for two of the three hours of the show," Mackintosh told Playbill On Line in 2002. "That's one of the reasons it works: Your imagination is so stimulated by the staging that you think you're seeing a lot more than you actually are."
Those used to seeing the Les Miz in cavernous touring houses have remarked that the show is an intimate, detail-rich experience up-close at the smaller Imperial. In New York as nowhere else in North America, the Broadway actors seemed to be making eye contact with the audience in the soliloquy moments, "I Dreamed a Dream" and "Who Am I?"
"I think that is one of the great strengths of the show," Mackintosh explained. "The key emotional soliloquies of the evening are something that completely pull the audience in. I think you're more aware of it in a theatre the size of the Imperial. The show has the ability to be a grand opera, and you can play it that way and it still has its power — I've played it in big stadiums and the show works just as well. But when you put it into a playhouse, you are sucked into the drama in a different way. I think that marks a great piece, when it can do that."
In a note in the final May 18 Playbill, Mackintosh writes, "Tonight's performance marks the end of the first extraordinary run of Les Misérables on Broadway," suggesting the show will be part of the American stage literature. It seems sure the show will return, but in the meantime licensed concert versions, stock and regional runs and that school edition will proliferate.
Asked in 2002 about his favorite moment in the show, Mackintosh said, "The lovely thing about the show is that it still does get me. I go there thinking I'm only going to watch 15 or 30 minutes and I find myself there an hour later. One of the smaller bits that I always found haunting is at the end of 'Stars,' Gavroche is sitting up on one part of the set, saying 'it's me that runs this town,' and you get this complete silence, and just the creaking of the set and Eponine comes 'round, hunched all alone, thinking of Marius. I've always found that a fantastically poetic image."
For the record, the cast of the final week on Broadway included Christiana Anbri, Don Brewer, Lisa Capps, Sarah Dacey Charles, Angela DeCicco, Diane DiCroce, Mike Eldred, Heather Ferguson, David Gagnon, Randy Glass, Andrew Hoeft, Dave Hugo, Nicholas Jonas, Edward Juvier, Kristin Daniele Klabunde, James Chip Leonard, Neal Mayer, David McDonald, Gina Milo, Melissa Minyard, Marnie Nicolella, Kathy Santen, Roger Seyer, Allan Snyder, Susan Spencer, Alexandra Rose Sullivan, Andrew Varela, Max Von Essen. Production stage manager is Gregg N. Kirsopp. Ken Caswell is associate director. Jason Moore is resident director. Jake Bell is technical production manager. Stage managers are Brent Peterson and Jim Athens. General management is by Alan Wasser. Johnson-Liff Associates cast the show throughout its Broadway history, and disbanded at the end of 2002. Geoffrey Johnson is now semi-retired. Partner Vinnie Liff died Feb. 25, 2003.
More information about the show can be found at www.lesmis.com.