It was an inspired, if obvious (but abundantly successful, in the long run), ploy to stage a sprawling saga of The French Revolution on a turntable that — well, revolves.
The rest of this history is history: The original 1987 Broadway Les Misérables (or, as you tweeters prefer, Les Miz) raked in eight Tony Awards and racked up 6,680 performances in 16 years (1987-2003), becoming the fifth longest-running Broadway show of all time. When withdrawal started setting in, an emergency revival was trotted out for 483 more shows (2006-2007), followed in 2012 by a $61-million cinematic postscript that garnered 49 international film awards, including an Oscar for Anne Hathaway's Fantine, all the while taking in $423,009,150 worldwide.
Apparently, producer Cameron Mackintosh looked on the above as mere ballyhoo for his latest Les Miz, which opened March 23 at the Imperial. The turntable, which has always been helpful in sprinting through 1,488 pages of Victor Hugo and 28 songs by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, is gone. Now, revolutionaries have got to rough it, not hitch a quick ride on a movable stage.
So, without characters and storylines constantly going in circles, what does the "reconceived" Les Misérables look like? Well, it's a Tall Story — several stories tall, in fact, with scenery seeming to reach into the ceiling. It's certainly one of the largest sets in the city, extending itself on both sides of the stage into the audience (a la Madison Square Garden's A Christmas Carol), but you can't really see it in any detail. Six or seven shafts of light illuminate the proceedings (barely), more often than not pin-spotting particular people, bringing them out of dust, darkness and shadows.
"It's like reinventing the wheel," said James Powell, no pun intended (presumably). He and Laurence Connor co-directed the show, and both were mindful of the market.
"You don't want to disappoint your audience on the emotional beats of the show, so we either had to match what their expectations are or exceed them. The response has been fabulous. I'm especially happy with the teenage audience we're getting. I think they recognize some kind of sex appeal that was never in the show before."
The other side of the footlights is likewise bullish, Powell said. "Some of those guys on the crew in that house at the Imperial were on the original show, and they've totally embraced this new production and fallen in love all over again with it."
This is Powell's Broadway-directing debut, and it's something of an inside job: "I was an actor for many a year, and, after 17 auditions, I finally got a job in Les Misérables when it was running at the Palace Theatre in London. Six months after I left the show, Cameron called me up and asked if I'd be interested in becoming the resident director of that production. I would, so I sat and looked after the show, and then I went on to direct some other stuff in my own right, and here I am today."
The trick in co-directing? "You collaborate prior to the event. It's a conglomerate effort. What the actors and what both us directors and Cameron bring — it's all about that smorgasbord of ideas and pitching those and seeing what works best."
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