PLAYBILL ARCHIVES: Les Misérables — 1987

The Archives   PLAYBILL ARCHIVES: Les Misérables — 1987 (This is one in a series of Playbill On-Line features offering a periodic look back at Broadway and Playbill history, timed to accompany a new production or event of a show from theatre's past. The Broadway production of Les Misérables announced it will close March 15, 2003 at the Imperial Theatre. Here's a glimpse at the 1987 Playbill of the production, with some perspective on the period.)

 

Playbill Cover for Les Misérables in 1987.

(This is one in a series of Playbill On-Line features offering a periodic look back at Broadway and Playbill history, timed to accompany a new production or event of a show from theatre's past. The Broadway production of Les Misérables announced it will close March 15, 2003 at the Imperial Theatre. Here's a glimpse at the 1987 Playbill of the production, with some perspective on the period.)

Our current President, former actor Ronald Reagan, is losing popularity in the final year of his second term due to the Iran-Contra scandal. During the remainder of his time in office, he will campaign for the election of his Vice-President George Bush. "The Cosby Show," "Family Ties," "Cheers," "Murder, She Wrote," "The Golden Girls," "Who's The Boss?" and the trend-setting "Miami Vice" play on our television sets while The Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian," Madonna's "Open Your Heart," and Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" play among other pop songs by Huey Lewis & The News, Lionel Richie, Billy Joel and Janet Jackson on the radio. It is 1987. On the boards of The Great White Way, shows like Cats, 42nd Street, La Cage aux Folles, I'm Not Rappaport and the current longest running show in Broadway History A Chorus Line are still running. Off-Broadway still offers Little Shop of Horrors, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Nunsense. Most new shows like Blithe Spirit with Richard Chamberlain and Blythe Danner, Fences with James Earl Jones and Starlight Express are still in previews. The latter will be the third entry to the season by director Trevor Nunn — who directed the revival of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby earlier.

Nunn's second offering, Les Misérables, comes from France by way of London's The Royal Shakespeare Company and producer Cameron Mackintosh. The musical based on the mammoth novel by Victor Hugo about 19th century France features music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer with Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel's original text added to by James Fenton. Director John Caird, who co-directed the adaptation of Charles Dickens' The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby with Nunn, shares directing and adapting credits on the new literary-turned-stage work.

 

 

The title page in the Les Misérables Playbill.

The songlist includes powerful and unforgettable numbers such as "At the End of the Day," "I Dreamed a Dream," "Who am I?," "Master of the House," "Do You Hear the People Sing?," "One Day More," "On My Own," " A Little Fall of Rain," "Bring Him Home," and "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" among many others.

 

 

The Act I songlist in the Les Misérables Playbill.

In the Playbill, among advertisements for cars (the "red hot" Cutlass Ciera and the "ultra-luxury" of Cadillac's Allanté), makeup, fur, Rolex watches, airlines, cigarettes and plenty of alcohol, is a gift suggestion: An autographed copy of Louis Botto's recently published book "At This Theatre." (An updated 2002 edition of the book, featuring a new preface by Brian Stokes Mitchell, is available through the Playbill Store.)

 

 

An ad for Louis Botto's original "At This Theatre."

"A French musical? That doesn't sound like a good idea" — a paraphrasing of producer Mackintosh's thoughts — opens one of the articles focusing on the transfer of Les Misérables to the Broadway stage featured in the Playbill. Among other editorial is the signature At This Theatre, a piece on up-and-coming playwright August Wilson and his sophomore offering for The Great White Way Fences, a feature about Stepping Out and a detailed list of the characters — and actors who portray them — interspersed with a short summary of the action of the play (still featured in the program today.)

 

 

A portion of the summary and cast of characters.

Theatre historian and Playbill archivist Louis Botto (who served as senior editor at the time) interviewed Mackintosh for the Playbill "in his Manhattan office a week before the opening of his London megahit Les Misérables." The impresario, who Botto notes, "is 40 years old, but looks like a 30-year-old grad student" chronicles the journey of the new musical — from hearing about it to actually hearing it, in album form, to gathering a creative team and cast and getting it in front of an audience in "How It All Began."

Original cast members Colm Wilkinson (Jean Valjean), Terrence Mann (Javert), Judy Kuhn (Cosette), Michael Maguire (Enjolras) and Frances Ruffelle (Eponine) will all garner Tony Award nominations for their performances, though only Maguire and Ruffelle win. Les Misérables also sweeps the Director, Book, Score, Scenic Design and Musical categories for its creative team.

The musical that has proven itself a worthy hit announced that its departure from the Broadway boards is set for March 15, 2003 — three days after it celebrates its 16th anniversary in New York City. By the final curtain, the performance count will be 6,612 performances, setting its mark in Broadway history as the second longest-runner, just behind Cats, another Mackintosh show.