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February 8, 2013

'Les Misérables': A beloved old friend returns

If there was any doubt last year that audiences are still madly interested in 'Les Misérables' - which premiered on Broadway nearly 26 years ago - it no longer exists.

If there was any doubt last year that audiences are still madly interested in “Les Misérables” – which premiered on Broadway nearly 26 years ago – it no longer exists.

The 2012 Hollywood movie version has taken in $140 million in the U.S. alone, and on a local level, the touring musical production headed for Charlotte next week easily sold out all nine performances at the Belk Theater.

None of this comes as a surprise to Anthony Lyn, associate director of the current touring show.

“Themes about love, themes about loss the themes are so universal that no matter where you are in the world, you understand them, and you still find them rousing and uplifting and inspiring,” Lyn says.

In addition to reaching a new audience through film, “Les Misérables” has scheduled tours in Spain, Korea, Canada, Japan, Australia and Italy.

“The show is popping up all over the world again, which is remarkable for a show that is 27 years old,” says Lyn. (The show first opened in France and then England before Broadway.)

Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s musical version is still quite new compared to the original story. Victor Hugo, a leading figure in the French Romantic Movement, began writing “Les Misérables” in 1845, and the first two of its five novels were published in 1862.

The narrative – which follows Jean Valjean after his release from a 19-year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread – meanders from 1815 to 1832, and from Digne to Paris. Its characters include a relentless policeman, tricksters, prostitutes, scruffy waifs and teenaged revolutionaries. They encounter cruelty, love and second chances.

The original Broadway production ran from 1987 to 2003 and won eight Tony Awards and five Drama Desk Awards.

Cameron Mackintosh’s 25th anniversary production of “Les Misérables” should feel fresh even to those who have seen previous shows, Lyn says: “It’s like seeing a friend that you haven’t seen in a very long time, and they’ve had a fabulous makeover, and you are being introduced to that friend with a new lease on life.”

Lyn, a native of Wales, describes the original production as a classic produced in the contemporary theatrical style of 1987. This production reflects the improved technology and is reimagined “as though we are putting it on for the very first time,” says Lyn – and yet its sets are inspired by illustrations of Hugo’s on display at Maison de Victor Hugo in Paris.

Lyn is a veteran on Broadway and the touring circuit. He’s been working with Mackintosh since 1992, when Lyn was cast as the Head Boy in the West End production of “Les Misérables.” He then landed the job of resident director, and “as the saying goes, that changed my life,” says Lyn, whose credits also include “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins.”

Although the Charlotte sellout is great news for the cast and crew, Lyn is thankful that profits aren’t what drives this show.

“Everything is not driven by the bottom line,” he says, “but by what is the best, and how can we make the show look the best.”

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