Staging of 'Les Mis' fulfills dreams for some cast, crew


Les Miserables, starring (from left) Mary Stewart Evans, Cressler Peele, Emilia Torello, Jon Berry and Denise S. Bass, opens June 5, kicking off Opera House Theatre Co.'s summer season of musicals.

Buy Photo Paul Stephen
Published: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 11:07 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 11:07 a.m.

For the cast and crew of Opera House Theatre Company's "Les Misérables," one word continually summed up the experience – and for a musical whose most famous song is "I Dreamed a Dream," it's an appropriate one.

Facts

What: "Les Misérables," with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, book by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Presented by Opera House Theater Co.
When: 8 p.m. June 5-8, 14-15 and 21-22, 3 p.m. June 9, 16 and 23
Where: Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St., downtown Wilmington
Tickets: $25 and $23
Details: 632-2285 or www.ThalianHall.org

"It's a dream," said Jon Berry, who plays the leading role of Jean Valjean. "Really, this is just a dream role for me."

The show's director, Suellen Yates, echoed similar sentiments.

"I never imagined in my wildest dreams or fantasies that I'd get to direct this," she said.

The production, which is assistant directed by Jason Aycock and music directed by Lorene Walsh, opened June 5 and will run through June 23. With the rights only becoming widely available June 1, Opera House couldn't have opened the show much earlier – especially considering the cast has had only about a month of rehearsals.

"We had five music rehearsals in April, and that was just to teach the music," Yates said. "Then we stopped, let everyone do their homework and started actual work May 5."

Since then, the cast and crew have been working every night, only taking Wednesdays off, to get the tragic tale stage-ready. The show, set in 19th century France, tells the story of Jean Valjean's attempts to escape his past, all the while being pursued by the unrelenting Inspector Javert. The two find themselves wrapped up in the lives of a slew of other characters, all in the midst of the 1832 student revolution.

Between the intertwining plots, huge set pieces and approximately 70 or 80 people involved, staging the show – which is almost entirely musical, with only a few lines of dialogue – is no small feat.

"In the score, there are no stage directions or beats or anything. It's just music," Yates said. "So working through this massive puzzle, before we even started rehearsing, was a huge challenge."

To piece that puzzle together, Yates pulled from the multiple productions she's seen of the long-running musical, as well as the recently released movie and namesake novel by Victor Hugo.

"I was disappointed in some parts (by the movie)," Yates said. "The intimacy is better live on stage, but then I read the book and saw that some of the changes made for the movie related directly to the book. Knowing the backstory, the history and the intimate little details from the book really helped me in directing these characters."

Though many, like Yates have criticized the movie, it proved an inspiration for this production's two leads, Berry and Bob Workmon, who plays Javert. In fact, the movie was Workmon's first exposure to "Les Mis," and he said that Russell Crowe's portrayal of Javert spoke to him.

"I've never been more proud to be in any show," said Workmon, who occasionally writes about fine arts for the StarNews. "When Jon sings and when the ensemble sings, it's such an emotional experience just to be with them. Those are the moments when I have to drag myself back to where I'm supposed to be, so I expect the audience will be in tears half the time."

Nicolien Buholzer: 343-2025

Twitter: @nicobuholzer

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