Colm Wilkinson will be in good company when he plays Jean Valjean in Les Misérables in China June 22-July 7, marking the first time a full-scale Broadway-West End production has played that country.
The company he'll keep is made up chiefly of the North American national tour, with principals being culled from various international casts, including longtime Broadway Marius, Peter Lockyer, singing the Chinese debut of the epic three-hour musical inspired by the Victor Hugo novel.
Irishman Wilkinson, who originated the role in the London and Broadway productions, returns to the work for a three-week special engagement at the Shanghai Grand Theatre. The company will move on to Seoul, South Korea, without Wilkinson.
The cast will also feature Michael McCarthy as Javert. The Irishman has played the role in London, Sydney, Melbourne, Dublin and throughout the UK, and he comes direct from the London production.
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 (Aug. 7-31 at The Ordway Center). The role of Fantine will be played by West End actress Ria Jones, who has previously played the role in Manchester, Dublin and Edinburgh and on the UK National Tour. She can be heard on the Manchester cast recording. Her London credits include starring as Grizabella in Cats, Florence in Chess and the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Lockyer, who created the role of lovestruck Marius in the 10th anniversary Broadway production is joined by fellow current Broadway cast members Christopher Mark Peterson (Enjolras) and Sandra Turley (Cosette). All three join the American national company on the road prior to the Shanghai engagement, continue to Seoul and return to Broadway in August.
Ma-Anne Dioniso has already joined the tour as Eponine in the role she has previously played as part of both the international Asian/African tour (playing Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and South Africa), and the UK tour. Born in the Philippines, her other credits include Kim in Miss Saigon (Toronto, London and Sydney) and Bertrande in Martin Guerre (London).
Current touring cast members J.P. Dougherty (Thénardier, which he played opposite Colm Wilkinson in the 1998 Toronto engagement) and Aymee Garcia (Madame Thénardier) will continue in their roles for Shanghai, Seoul and beyond.
"This will be the first time that any Broadway or London musical's ever played China in its full production," producer Cameron 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."
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.
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.