Although Caissie Levy and Nikki M. James have known the Tony Award-winning musical Les Misérables by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg since a young age, their Les Miz co-star Keala Settle came into the show with fresh eyes and got acquainted with the "Madame of the House" prior to her first audition.
"It's so pressuring to me," admitted Settle, a Tony nominee for her show-stopping performance in last season's Hands on a Hardbody, who plays Les Miz's Madame Thenardier. "It's so daunting, and I didn't realize just how massive the show was until I got into rehearsal, and I felt — and still, at times, do feel — out of my element because I came from a different background, and this music is so classical, and to be able to be part of it scares me half to death! But, at the same time, you owe it the respect that it's garnered… Even having it reimagined — [although] I've never seen it before… But, being able to have this new blood — all of us, being a part of it… and for the first time, being able to do it the way we see this story — each character being portrayed is magic. It's absolute magic!"
Magic happens nightly at the Imperial Theatre, where the 2014, reimagined revival opened March 23 and where the original Les Miz was housed for nearly 13 years and 5,244 performances. Audiences begin applauding at the top of the show, when the orchestra strikes its first notes and theatregoers are transported to 1800s France.
"It's so exciting," Levy told Playbill.com when the cast met members of the press prior to the show's opening. "It feels like a present we're all sharing in — like a gift, you know — because we all love Les Miz. Anyone in the theatre world and beyond knows and loves this show… And, what's exciting about this production is that it's so reinvented while still retaining all the original heart and soul of the piece, and I think it's going to surprise people. I think it's going to move people in a way that the previous versions haven't because it's really all about the reality of the situation, not the theatricality of a Broadway show."
Levy plays the musical's ill-fated Fantine, and — although the 2014 revival nixes the turntable staging and features fresh orchestrations — the heart of each character remains and is evident in powerful classics such as Levy's "I Dreamed a Dream" and James' "On My Own."
Holed up in a seedy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, two former lovers unpack the deep secrets and dark desires of their tangled relationship, passionately tearing each other apart. Led by director Daniel Aukin (Back Back Back at MTC, 4,000 Miles), Tony winner Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur at MTC, Born Yesterday) and Sam Rockwell (A Behanding in Spokane, The Way Way Back) bring an explosive intensity to Sam Shepard’s (Buried Child, True West) landmark myth of the new Wild West.