Caird said he is undaunted by Broadway's recent love affair with musical comedies like The Producers, Hairspray and Spamalot at the expense of pop operas like Les Miz. "I'm sure there's still an appetite for a great and serious story. Of course, we're not without our comic moments. But I think a Broadway with nothing but comedies is a little bit like a dinner with only desserts. You need a main course on there somewhere, and I think we provide that."
Mackintosh made no bones about the timing of the revival, which comes less than four years after the original production closed. The producer of megahits Cats, Miss Saigon and current Broadway long-run champ The Phantom of the Opera said he knew he was going to be in New York for several months to get the Broadway premiere of his Mary Poppins on its feet, and saw an opportunity to multi-task when the Broadhurst Theatre became available.
Perhaps for that reason, his employees wasted no time transforming the Broadhurst. Seventy-two hours after History Boys closed there Oct. 1, the marquee had been completely transformed with the forlorn-orphan logo of Les Miz.
For the Oct. 4 open rehearsal, the cast performed in rehearsal clothes on a plywood turntable. For a phalanx of TV cameras they sang "One Day More," "Come to Me" and other numbers. It looked like a reunion of familiar faces from hits of Broadway's past decade: Valjean is played by Alexander Gemignani of Sweeney Todd, Eponine is Celia Keenan-Bolger of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Fantine is Daphne Rubin-Vega of Rent, Javert is Norm Lewis of Amour, Thénardier is Gary Beach of The Producers and La Cage aux Folles.
Why would Beach take a secondary role after his Tony-winning turn as Roger De Bris in The Producers and his starring role as Albin in La Cage aux Folles? "Cameron put it perfectly. He said, 'Gary it's time to tuck your frocks back in the closet.'" Beach said that while there are few changes to the script or basic score, the music is being reorchestrated. "You don't reinvent the wheel. It's a great, great show. But you can inspect the wheel. For instance, we have all new orchestrations. When this show first came around in the 1980's, it was the first show to use a synthesizer as much as it did. It was very exciting, but now it sounds very eighties. 'Master of the House,' my song, is going to sound like a little pub band rather that the big synthesizer thing. Some of the costumes are being rethought. Every piece of staging is being rethought. It's not like we're mounting a national tour. We're doing a brand-new Broadway production of Les Misérables."
Gemignani said he's not intimidated at having to follow an icon like Colm Wilkinson into the role of Jean Valjean. "It's challenging in the best way. Every actor wants a role like this that is so meaty and so juicy. Sacrifice and pain and joy and love and death are among the many life themes this man experiences. It's a real testament to the creative team and the producers that they said, 'Let's do something new with it, let's bring out some colors in the score that we didn't hear the first time.'"
Keenan-Bolger, a Tony nominee for her performance in Spelling Bee, said she's had her eye on the show since she was a girl. "On the first national tour in Detroit, Michigan, I auditioned for Little Cosette and didn't get it. It was the first serious rejection that I ever remember experiencing in this business. But Eponine is the character that every young girl worships, so it's turned into a really a big dream come true for me."
Watching Mackintosh, who was dashing around the rehearsal room when he wasn't bouncing along with the music, Keenan-Bolger said Mackintosh has been very hands-on, visiting rehearsals nearly every day and having personal moments with each of the cast members.
Though Les Miz has made some stars, like Wilkinson, it very rarely features "name" actors, preferring to let the show itself be the star. Mackintosh said he was not resorting to stunt casting with this production. "They're all great actor/singers, and that's the reason they're here, not their fame. Gary Beach, for instance, did the show previously 12 or 14 years ago. I remembered that he was always the best Thénardier we ever had in America."
This production, which officially opens Nov. 9, is the latest of 64 professional productions around the world that have grossed more than $2.6 billion for Mackintosh and for composers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. The latter team is opening their latest musical, The Pirate Queen, later this season and therefore haven't been seen much around Les Misérables, Gemignani said.
The Les Miz marquee across the front of the Broadhurst contains a boast that needs at least two asterisks. It proclaims Les Miz "the world's longest-running musical." First asterisk: It is the longest currently running musical, but only in its London production, which opened in 1985. Broadway's current long-run champ, The Phantom of the Opera, opened in January 1988. Second asterisk: Even the London Les Miz still has two decades to go before it surpasses the original run of Off-Broadway's The Fantasticks, which closed in 2002, and is now enjoying its own New York revival.