The lessons of ‘Les Misérables’ still resonate in the 25th-anniversary production of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece
by Donalevan Maines
Photo by Leo Lam
Les Misérables won’t open in cinemas until Christmas Day, but it’s already attracting storms of theatergoers to the stage show’s national tour, which plays November 6–11 at the Hobby Center in Houston.
“I think the movie will definitely bring new interest in the show,” says Jason Forbach, the out actor who plays Énjolras, leader of the student revolt in the Tony Award-winning adaptation of the 1862 French novel by Victor Hugo.
“What we’ve already seen is a new generation of theatergoers who are passionate about the story,” says Forbach, explaining that many youngsters know about Les Miz from both high school productions and selections performed on the TV series Glee.
The 2012 movie version, with an all-star cast headed by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway, will add fuel to the fire in terms of popularity, predicts Forbach. “We’ve been on tour for two years, and we have another year to go with the American tour. Then we will go to Toronto.
“Énjolras is absolutely my favorite role so far to play,” he adds. “It is such a challenge that you must rise up and meet. It’s definitely an honor, and I feel a great deal of responsibility, especially for so many diehard fans of the novel.”
On Broadway, Michael Maguire won a Tony Award as Énjolras (did you know that Maguire is now going to law school?). In the movie, Énjolras is played by Aaron Tveit, James Franco’s lover in the movie Howl, as well as Gabe in Next to Normal and Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can on Broadway.
Forbach describes the movie version, directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), as “the first live-sung film musical,” meaning the cast didn’t pre-record their songs with an orchestra, then lip-synch to them on set. Some film purists counter that musical numbers in Hollywood’s “Golden Age” were recorded live on set whenever possible, but there’s no disagreement that Hooper’s approach veers from the norm, even if the actors’ “live” vocals are enhanced with post-production mixing and overdubbing.
What’s indisputable is that the show we see in Houston this month will be a departure from the original Broadway production, which was as famed for its revolving set piece (depicting the rising of the barricades and massacre of the rebels) as was the chandelier in Phantom of the Opera.
In this new 25th-anniversary production, Forbach concedes, “There is no revolving turntable. But the combination of lights and sets and projections is quite massive and guaranteed to blow you away.”
The glorious new staging is set against projections of spectacular reimagined scenery that was inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. (For a video preview, visit lesmiz.com.)
The national tour coming to Houston was hailed by the New York Times as “an unquestionably spectacular production from start to finish.” The London Times called it “a five-star hit, astonishingly powerful and as good as the original.” NY1-TV said, “This new production actually exceeds the original. The storytelling is clearer, the perspective grittier, and the motivations more honest.”
“Touring in the show is such a cool thing,” says Forbach, because the cast is always looking for ways to get involved in communities they visit. “There is a lot to fight for now. There is a strength in the voice of the gay community now more than ever as we fight for a say in how our political fabric can be.”
In Minnesota, for example, Forbach sang with the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus in a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
“We’re still fighting for the same things,” says Forbach, noting that
characters in Les Miz also fight for equality, including fair pay and children’s rights. Its magnificent score depicts the survival of the human spirit with startling power in classic ballads “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Bring Him Home,” and “Empty Chairs at Empty
Tables”; stirring anthems “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “One Day More”; the wistful “Castle on a Cloud”; the
comedic “Master of the House”; and
much more. Its 1987 Broadway debut swept up eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
To date, Les Miz remains the third-longest-running Broadway production of all time. Nearly 60 million people in 42 countries have seen the musical performed in 21 languages, with new productions continually opening around the globe.
What: Les Misérables
When: November 6–11
Where: Hobby Center, 800 Bagby Street
Tickets/info: 800-982-ARTS, broadwayacrossamerica.com/houston, or thehobbycenter.org.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.