The producers of Broadway's Les Miserables have announced that they will replace virtually the entire current cast of the long-running musical in January 1997 with the national touring company, then hire and train an entirely new cast that will open March 12, the show's tenth anniversary on Broadway.
How do you feel about these changes? Will the upheaval in the cast be worth the excitement of a rebirth for the show?
Please e-mail your opinions to Playbill On-Line managing editor Robert Viagas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Answers will be posted as they come in.
Here are the responses so far:
Between the London and New York productions, I have seen "Les Miserables" at least 12 times. I own the 10th Anniversary Concert video and cd. I am a great fan of the show and the music and the story and the message. Unlike other shows, I believe that "Les Miz" does not need big-name, perpetually-in-the-spotlight players to carry the show. The message is communicated to the audience. Every production I have seen has been marvelous and I do see how everyone tries his or her best to deliver a flawless performance. It is evident that the show affects them as well. No matter how much I admire Cameron Mackintosh for rising from the ranks to where he is today, I do believe he is being unjust in laying off the performers for a show that requires "refreshing", as it is put. As I said, the message speaks for itself. These actors will be laid off not because they have to be, but because the management desires it. Cameron Mackintosh should understand the difficulty of obtaining and holding a job in the theatre industry, having once been a stagehand himself. The 10th Anniversary Concert highlighted what was considered the best talents who have ever been associated with the production and it was stimulating and exciting to watch. But the difference is that it did not put anyone out of a job. It was a concert separate from the production and was a one-night thing. Cam & Co. talk of replacing an entire cast. THAT is long-term. He's had his fun with the Concert. Why not leave it at that?
From Devin Ewell:
I think it is unfortunate that an occasion that should be very happy has turned out to be such a negative experience. Any employed person should feel compassion for these incredibly talented performers who are now out of work. Of course shows' casts should revolve to keep the show exciting and fresh, but I believe this is overkill. Of course Cameron Mackintosh has the right to choose who performs in his shows, but this could backfire on him and give him the kind of publicity that he doesn't need. I wish the actors in "Les Miserables" the best and know that we will be seeing them soon in the bright lights of Broadway.
I would like to say I think it was poor judgement on the part of the producers to change the entire cast in such an abrupt manner. It's an embarrassment to the cast and to the audience. There must have been a better way. I had tickets to the show in Florida and was very happy to invite some friends along who had never seen the show. Now they are reading about the "controversy" and are disgusted. It makes me sick that this is what the show I rave about all the time has come to. Very upseting and now I may not even be able to see the show.
From Judd Lear Silverman:
Keeping a show fresh is part of the challenge of any theatrical event, whether it runs for three nights or ten years. We are all taught the importance of keeping the illusion of the first time, which takes careful work on the part of the actors and a deep sense of commitment. Sometimes, a watchful objective eye is needed to give performers feedback when a show is sloppy or a performance is growing stale. Presumably, LES MISERABLES has had this all along--and perhaps the first head to roll should be the head of quality control versus the actors, who do not have the objective eye to study their own work. Perhaps the casting directors are at fault for miscasting actors who, while doing their best, may not be optimum for the parts. Perhaps the fact that LES MISERABLES has frequently been miscast all along should be considered--young men as Valjean who could hit the musical notes but not the emotional ones, no matter how much white powder they put in their hair. It has been cheaper to hire unknowns versus stars capable of more assured performances. In short, this public blood-letting is casting aspersions in the wrong direction--if the production has become tired, the people who are suffering the loss of employment are suffering at the expense of others being asleep at the wheel--and all in the name of a hell of a lot of publicity!
And why, for God's sake, did the unions and the agents allow all but three actors in an ensemble cast full of "principals" work on "chorus" contracts? Michael Maguire won a Tony, for God's sake, and Francis Rufelle(sp?) was nominated. Judy Kuhn, Leo Burmester, Evalyn Baron and numerous others have appeared and they are hardly "the kids in the chorus". Certainly, the London tenth anniversary special did not pretend there were only three leads in the show! The fact is that the producers got a bargain deal the first time and they've got a bargain deal again! If there are some shake-ups to happen on LES MISERABLES, why blame the poor kids in the chorus, which is apparently the entire cast?! Why not point some blame where it really belongs?! Or ELSE, let's get real and stop the cheap and insulting theatrics in the name of quick press hype!
It is, of course, understandable that the producers of Les Miz would want to "clean house" as it were or at least get some fresh blood into such a tired old depressing show. It is equally ludicrous, however, that 99% of the contracts for the show are pink. That is the real issue at hand. I don't feel that the producers should be allowed to stick the Touring Company on Broadway while this "shift" happens. I think the show should be made to shut down, thereby giving Equity a chance to reevaluate the contracts on the show and force the "Producers" to use white contracts for roles that are obviously principals.
I am totally shocked about the changes being made with the cast of Les Miz. I've seen the show 5 times and will be seeing it twice in January. The current cast is the best I've seen since I've first saw it. I've seen Ivan play Valjean twice and I think he's great, but sadly, the producers don't agree.
I believe that change is good, but this was more than a change, it was a sabotage against the entire cast. What made me angry was that Cameron, John and Trevor didn't even have the guts to be there in person to tell the cast of the news. How low can they be?? As a business owner, I would NEVER hand a responsiblity like that to my general manager. Grow up guys!!!!
Just because someone has been in a show for years doesn't mean he/she is not giving 100%. I've been at my same job for 6 years, does that make me old, stale, boring, set in a routine? NO!!! Just more informed and better educated at my job as the actors are with their jobs. Expierence and greatness comes with time.
I will be looking forward to seeing the new cast in the future, but my heart goes out to all the talented, hardworking members who will be out of job. Instead of being part of the exciting 10th anniversary, they will be too busy standing in the unemployment lines looking for a new job!
If I was an actor on the Broadway stage, I would be very concerned that this could happen to any show! There's no stopping the men who have made millions from these shows. I also believe that this was a battle between Richard Jay Alexander and the Brits. Cameron, John and Trevor just want to remind all of us that it's a British musical and they can do what that wish with the show. I wish the very best of luck to the entire cast!
From Matthew Smith (email@example.com):
I know that they have made the right decision. They have been in this business for a long time, and any decision they make is not going to be haphazard. I can't wait to see the new show!
From Art Myers:
I have seen Les Miserables eight times in New York and once in London. I'll see it again in New York on 13 November. I have seen various actors in the various roles and the change most of the time was welcome. However, a wholesale change of the entire cast is not needed nor is it fair to the many dedicated cast members. At every performance I have seen, they have given 100% and made each performance special. It is an outstanding show that isn't broke and therefor shouldn't be fixed. If this is being done to please the dedicated fans of the show, its not what this dedicated fan believes is needed nor warranted.
Any show which plays for years obviously needs a constant cast renewal; but the Mackintosh approach is wholesale bloodletting. This is not the way to treat any sort of worker, and in this case, artists who give of themselves, their talent, art in spite of all sorts of difficulties, the 'show goes on' each night. If Cam and co. thought the show needed freshening, why not have started with the London production's 10th year? It would not do in Britain, because the ethical distaste and clamor would have been too great. This cast change may bring publicity and business, but it ought to be boycotted by those who believe in some rights for 'workers' let alone artists. Equity and producers on Broadway ought to let them know that thhis is poor employment and business practice. Flinty business, isn't it?
I just want to say that I have always loved Les Mis, no matter who the cast. I think that it's important to make changes once and a while, keep things interesting. I know that many people are angry about these changes, but everything has to change eventually. Yet this time the changes seem very abrupt, but hey, there are probably things that the public doesn't know about that justify it all. But I am excited to see who the 10th Ann. cast will be. But all in all, I think a true Les Mis fan should love the play for what it is . . . not whose playing the parts at a particular time.
I would like to comment on the upcoming dismissal of the Les Miz cast! I don't think we take the time to realize how hard those Broadway Actors work to put on the same show, eight times a week, with an outstanding performance that we have come to expect from them! Despite the fact that the cast seems to be getting tired, that does not justify the Producer's decision to fire them with one sweeping blow. I saw Les Miz last year in New York and I was blown away. The show was superb and it proved to me that you don't need a huge set or gorgeous costumes to have a fantastic show. I guess I am not as critical as many and just appreciate all the hard work that they do. Because any Broadway show, in my opinion, is worth the 70 dollars that you spend!
From John Francis Yocca:
I would like to comment on Cameron Mackintosh's decision to replace the recent cast of this popular musical. I'm all for it. In my past two experiances with the show, I have loved it. But I did not fall in love with the performers. The only one I have been pleased with was Craig Schulman as Valjean. He has played the role more than any other performer. He may not be Colm [Wilkinson] but he comes very close. If they want to have a big celebration for the tenth anniversary of the show, Schulman should be kept in his role. But as for the other actors, wipe them out if you must. This is a landmark celebration and since England has already had an all-star cast performance it would be tough to immitate that idea. So my advice to Mr. Mackintosh and co. Look at each performer individually before you cast them so you can choose the best performers possible for this big night.
From Peter Saxe:
This is a publicity stunt designed to generate press attention for the show's 10th anniversary. Let's sit back and recall past stunts by the same producing team: Phantom's "Sarah Brightman vs. Actor's Equity scandal," Miss Saigon's "Jonathan Price may not be Asian but he's the star we want vs. Actors' Equity" Les Miz has been scandal free until now. Mr. Mackintosh and Mr. Caird seem to be treating Actor's Equity quite poorly. I don't believe you'll ever see them treat the Musicians' Union or the Stagehands' Union with the same contempt..and why? When was the last time we had a strike from Actors' Equity? Musicians will strike when provoked and so will the other unions. I'm sure that with all the worldwide productions of Les Miz, Phantom and Miss Saigon, the majority of the present Les Miz Broadway cast will not go jobless. Publicity, publicity . . . and the press just eats it up.
I've seen Les Miz 4 times (5th coming up in December) and I am confident that Messrs. Mackintosh & Caird have not acted without cause. They have evaluated each performer on an individual basis and are trying to keep the show as vibrant for first-time audiences as when I first saw it in 1987. Les Miz doesn't need the publicity; they must be doing this for good reasons.
From Eric Merz:
I see a marketing ploy disguised as a production decision. People are writing letters and arguing their opinion wherever they can. "It's a catastrophe! It's long overdue!" So I guess it's working. Now Broadway is buzzing with anticipation for the new production.
In good conscience though, how do you layoff that many people with the only explanation being, "We need to refresh the show." At least corporations do mass layoffs for budgetary, or other tangible reasons.
What was lacking from every performance? I don't recall reading terrible reviews of the show. In fact, I saw it last January and it was as moving then as when I saw it in 1986.
Cameron Mackintosh is not taking responsibility for the present condition of the show. Why did he let it get this point of deterioration in the first place? What's worse is that he chose the most cowardly and effortless way possible to correct the problem; He gave up and is starting over. And to throw salt in the wounds of the cast that have made this show their lives, he notified them with a letter. A letter!
I don't buy that it's a tired production of a great show. I think it's a great production of a tired show. The show is ten years old. Audiences know the story. They know the songs. They go in with expectations of the staging. I hear people saying that they've seen it six times and feel it's lost its vibrancy. Try seeing your favorite movie six times and see if it doesn't start to become stale. You want to do something new with the show, then do something new with the show. I think this cast is superb and is not being used to their potential. Lastly, I feel for the audiences who go see the show between now and January. What can they expect? Whether real or imagined, they'll think they're getting a second rate production. And my hat's off to the cast members that stick with it, and give their all in these last two months. Especially in consideration of what they must be going through emotionally.
I love the show Les Miserables. There was a time when I would have gone to see the show every night. But now, with this callous and irresponsible decision, I wouldn't go if I were given a front row seat with a hundred dollar bill on it.
From Barbara Ann Klein:
I am a Les Miz fan and have seen the production several times. I agree that the current production does get "tired" at times, but I think that a wholesale cast cut is probably unwarranted. For instance, I have seen one ensemble member play Valjean with his voice always cracking at the high notes and just not satisfying the audience who comes to hear those sublime Colm Wilkinson tones. Yet he excels as a chorus member and as a person. I think the current Innkeeper (Thenardier?) - I believe he is Drew Eshellman- is hysterical. I think that maybe the powers that be should have tried "refreshing" the production with the current cast. I think other long-running shows do that. Maybe the staging needs refreshing. Lord knows it must be tough to get a job on the stage. These cast members should be given a chance to try to be a part of the revitalized production.
From Captain Caveman:
I have seen Les Mis twice; it is my favorite show. Since I haven't seen it since 1991, I couldn't say that the current cast needs refreshing. I do think that it would be fun to see the "all-time cast" that is coming. However, it was not fair to fire most if not all of the current cast. Jobs are hard to come by, and if any of them are like me, being in Les Mis would be a dream come true.
I saw Les Miserables last month, and I enjoyed it. When I heared the news I was shock. I felt sad for the actors because they get into the role and then all of a sudden they get fired. I just hope the next cast is as good.
See? This is what happens when corporations are allowed to invade the theatre. First, mass marketing disguised as theatre, then shuffling people around (and out) like bricks without a single thought about the consequences to the lives of those people. As an aspiring actor whose day job is in the corporate sector, I've seen enough of this kind of crass, bottom line butchery to make me sick many times over. I feel this will be a disaster of massive proportions for all American theatre if it is successfully carried out. I can only hope that the cast of Les Miz takes advantage of every legal resource at their command to send a message to these people (and others who are like minded), that this kind of corporate-like decision making is simply not appropriate (nor will it be accepted) in our theatre.
From Thomas J. Barry:
I feel bad for the cast members who are being replaced. In essence, Cameron Mackintosh has said that they are not good enough to be in the 10th Anniversary, and if he thinks that was what fans had in mind for the anniversary he does not know us at all.
From Robert Brian Normoyle II:
I would like to take this opportunity to comment on Cameron Mackintosh's and John Caird's decision to replace the current Broadway cast of Les Miserables for the celebration of its 10th anniversary in New York.
Let me begin by saying that a producer of the magnitude of Cameron Mackintosh has the right to do whatever he chooses with a show that he is paying for. He and Caird saw the show in September, and were displeased. Allow me to say that I, too, have been very disappointed with the last three productions of Les Miz that I have seen in New York; I have frequently been heard by my friends and colleagues exclaiming just how much better the touring company was than any performance on Broadway I've seen, and I've seen the touring company four times over the past four years.
In addition, it is important for fans and others to realize Mackintosh could not simply repeat the London 10th anniversary celebration by having another concert in America. It is important to revitalize the celebration and bring something new to it. Though it is very disappointing to many actors, and actor knows that after you've played a role for so long, it becomes increasingly difficult--indeed, impossible--to act at every performance as if you're doing it for the first time. Also, it is in the nature of the business. No one said that acting was a stable profession, and whoever did was obviously not a part of it.
In conclusion, I wholeheartedly support the decision to re-cast the show, and I am anxious to see the results.
From Michael Shannon Burke:
The producers announcement of cast upheaval next year does not adequately address Les Miz's problems. I have seen it three times (twice on tour, once on Broadway), and I strongly feel that it is much more moving when heard rather than seen. When I saw it in New York, the lighting was so dim that frequently it was difficult to determine who was singing. Also, that turntable is tremendously overused. As if the director didn't know what to do with the actors, so he decided to keep them walking. The singers also need to watch their diction, you need it to follow the plot. Also, they need to get powerhouse belters in the leads, if not Colm and Patti, perhaps Rebecca Luker and Mark Jacoby (Show Boat reunion). I love Les Miz, all it needs is better production management. Hopefully the producers will hear the people sing.
I don't see where it can make a difference, as the cast is constantly changing anyway. Having this change be the 10th anniversary special is also most disappointing, especially after the spectacular one that was put on in London.