Colm Wilkinson, original star of the English-language sensation, Les Misérables, will make what's being called a "one-time only" return to the famed pop opera June 22, when the show becomes the first full West End/Broadway musical to play China.
Producer Cameron Mackintosh's American National Company travels from the United States to The Shanghai Grand Theatre in China June 22-July 7. Other American musicals have been seen in China before, but this is the first full-scale production of an original and current show to head over, according to the producer.
Following Shanghai, Les Miz will travel to Seoul, South Korea before returning to the United States. Wilkinson will play Jean Valjean only in China.
"This will be the first time that any Broadway or London musical's ever played China in its full production," Mackintosh told Playbill On-Line earlier this year. "They've done other western musicals but they've never had the full production come. I think it's gonna be a terrific experience."
An invitation from the Chinese government to the United Kingdom's Department for Culture prompted the milestone event. The UK culture office then contacted producer Mackintosh regarding Les Miz. "The Chinese were specifically looking for a West End or Broadway musical to play the new Shanghai Grand Theatre and believed Les Misérables was the perfect choice, in part due to the popularity of Hugo's novel in China," according to a statement from the Mackintosh office. Mackintosh "has been working on taking a production to China for several years, but the logistics of the undertaking have always been insurmountable before. The only production capable of moving fast to China is the current acclaimed American tour, and that company will provide the core of the acting ensemble."
The lead roles of Valjean and Javert will come from London, and several other principals will come from Broadway. Additional scenery is being specially constructed in New York and being sent by ship to Shanghai. A special lighting rig is being shipped from Brazil, where Les Miz has just finished a year's run in Sao Paolo. Production staff and crew are coming from all over the world: Britain, America and Australia "to ensure that this groundbreaking event will again be history in the making."
The BBC is making a major documentary and will send a camera crew to fly with the company from its last U.S. engagement in San Francisco to Shanghai. Government leaders from China, Great Britain and the U.S. will be attending the gala opening June 22 — "when the red flag in Les Miserables flutters over the barricades of Victor Hugo's revolutionaries side by side with the red flag of China."
The Shanghai engagement marks only the fifth time Wilkinson has appeared in the musical, following London (1985), New York (1987) and two limited, exclusive engagements in Toronto (1998) and Dublin (1999). Wilkinson also performed the role in the historic one-night only 10th anniversary concert at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1995.
In addition to Wilkinson, the Shanghai engagement of Les Miz will feature Irishman Michael McCarthy, a veteran international Javert who is currently playing in London.
Following the tour's fourth engagement in San Francisco (May 15-June 14 at The Curran Theatre), the American National Company will play Shanghai (June 22-July 7 at The Shanghai Grand Theatre) and Seoul (July 12-Aug. 4 at The Sejong Cultural Center) before returning to the U.S. for its record-breaking ninth engagement in St. Paul (August 7-31 at The Ordway Center).
The musical will be performed in English in Shanghai and Seoul and feature Chinese and Korean subtitles, respectively. While it will be the American National Company's first time playing South Korea, an African-Asian tour did perform in Seoul in 1996.
The Broadway company recently celebrated 15 years. Les Miz is the second longest-running show on Broadway. The musical's collaborators are director-adapters Trevor Nunn and John Caird, English lyricist Herbert Kretzmer and originating composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and librettist Alain Boublil.