Putting on a production of “Les Misérables” is a huge risk, for a lot of reasons.
First of all, it’s been performed countless times in various capacities, and most of us can recite the beats of its story by heart. And the scope of that story is immense, stretching the course of several decades in 19th-century France. It’s almost entirely sung-through, and most of the numbers are notoriously difficult. It requires many elaborate sets and costumes, and you need a huge cast to pull it off.
But George Green, executive artistic director at Coeur d’Alene’s Lake City Playhouse, says that’s all part of the show’s appeal. He’s also directing LCP’s interpretation of “Les Mis,” which opens the theater’s 54th season with a blast of cannon fire.
“It’s a show that every theater has been wanting to do,” Green said. “Bringing a show of this size to our stage is always appealing. We love the challenges of doing that. So artistically, to bring a show with the production caliber (of ‘Les Mis’) and scale it down and bring it into an intimate venue is a challenge that we thrive on.”
And he’s not kidding around when he describes LCP as “intimate.” Consider that the biggest room in Spokane’s Civic Theatre, which opened its last season with “Les Mis,” fits 336 people; Lake City Playhouse can accommodate half that many audience members. Green doesn’t see that as a setback, however. If anything, he says the smaller space will allow the audience to see the show in a new, more personal way.
“They’ll start leaning forward in their seats,” he said. “They’re not going to see this big touring show you expect to see when you see ‘Les Mis.’ You’re going to see an intimate story you’ll really gravitate toward. And even if you’ve seen it before, I think you’ll have a different take seeing it on a stage this size.”
The characters, too – the unfairly imprisoned Jean Valjean (J.R. Haynie), tragic waif Fantine (Briane Green), dogged police inspector Javert (Daniel J. Bell) and the young revolutionaries and street urchins lurking on the periphery – will seem more authentic, Green says, when they’re removed from the bombast of a larger production.
“They’re right up in front of you,” Green said. “They’re so near to you that you can almost reach out and touch them. We told this cast when we started this process months ago that you can’t fake it at Lake City Playhouse. You’ve got to commit, you’ve got to be pure, you’ve got to be real.”
The success of any version of “Les Misérables” falls as much on the cast as the production values, and Green says he is particularly impressed with the cast he has assembled here. It’s not enough to hit all the right notes; you have to really mean what you’re singing.
“I did my due diligence to make sure the people I cast were also able to perform this sincerely,” he said. “We’re going to blow you away vocally, yet we’re going to find moments where you can focus on the story and what the words mean.”
It’s that story, Green says, that has made “Les Mis” the theatrical hallmark it is. The second act is blood-soaked and tear-stained, climaxing with the violent Paris Uprising of 1832, and yet it remains a fairly inspirational show despite the fact that so many of its characters suffer unfortunate ends.
“At the end of the show, you still feel uplifted,” Green said. “There are so many relatable stories, not to mention the tiers of social class throughout, from the beggars to working women to middle-class foremen to upper society taking advantage of their roles at the time.
“There’s just so much in it. That’s really why it’s a strong story.”
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