'Les Miserables," one of the most successful musicals ever, has been a long time coming to Long Island. But between its arrival in June and final curtain in November, "Les Miz" will have played on six stages across the Island.
So far, we've been teased by smaller but not unworthy productions. Saturday night, the epic musical based on the Victor Hugo novel opens at one of Long Island's leading non-Equity companies -- Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.
"It's beautifully distilled for the stage," says director Jeffrey Sanzel, who became a "Les Miz" fan while listening to a cassette during a 1986 commute. "Birthed by the RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company], it resonates emotionally, more than any Andrew Lloyd Webber show." (He wrote "Phantom of the Opera.")
"The challenge," Sanzel says, "is to take something meant for a giant stage and tailor it to a 26-foot proscenium," accommodating a cast of 30 -- second most in Theatre Three history to "Fiddler on the Roof."
The challenge became apparent as choreographer Sari Feldman maneuvered the cast during a Saturday morning rehearsal of the comic number "Master of the House."
"Les Miz" opened on Broadway 26 years ago. What's taken so long to bring it to Long Island?
To begin with, the sung-through musical -- there is no spoken dialogue -- was popular among the masses. It ran for 16 years, second-longest in Broadway history (after "Cats"), closing in 2003. ("Phantom," still running, became No. 1 in 2006.)
Three years of national tours followed by a 2006 revival and another national tour made "Les Miz" largely unavailable to regional and community theaters for another decade. It was only this spring that rights were widely granted -- and that window will close soon, as tickets already are on sale for a revamped Broadway revival opening in March.
LONG ISLAND DEBUT
Although school and junior productions have been staged for years, Cultural Arts Playhouse in Plainview presented the Long Island adult-cast premiere in June. Take-One Theatre in Ronkokoma and Second Stage Theatre in Rockville Centre followed in July and August.
On Oct. 19, during Theatre Three's run of "Les Miz," CM Performing Arts in Oakdale opens its production. Star Playhouse in Commack presents the sixth "Les Miz," starting Nov. 9.
Aidan Conklin, 12, will play Gavroche, a boy who becomes part of the Paris street revolution, at Star Playhouse in Commack. He's the only one of the four young actors taking French in school this fall. A lyric he sings in the show, "When little people fight," loosely translates in French as "Ou les petites gens se battent."
The other Gavroches are Johnny DiGiorgio, 11, at CM, while James Tully, 10, and Jonathan Koch, 11, alternate in the part at Theatre Three.
For Bob Butterley, who plays Valjean at CM, it's a reprise of his dream role. "Ever since I saw 'Bring Him Home' sung on TV, it's been my dream. That's why I moved to New York to be in theater. . . . I've worked hard on my baritone for other roles, but 'Les Miz' is right in my tenor wheelhouse."
Hugo's Valjean is a French peasant who served 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Breaking his parole, he redeems himself as a generous citizen, while his nemesis, the constable Javert, pursues him relentlessly.
Butterley first played Valjean at cozy Cultural Arts. "I appreciated the small space," says Butterley, "because I could sing 'Bring Him Home' in a whisper at times. It will inform my performance on a bigger stage."
But the biggest Long Island stage for "Les Miz" will be the 600-seat Star Playhouse. Rick Grossman directs a cast of 50, backed by a 14-piece orchestra. "There's majesty and grandeur to the music," says Grossman. "It's more opera than musical. I think the size and scope of our production will get that across."
At CM, as he did at CAP, Butterley sings to a recorded track -- not unlike what you hear on a Broadway soundtrack -- allowing for "an even performance every night," he says.
At Theatre Three, Steve McCoy as Valjean and Ed Brennan as Javert, perform to a live orchestra of six.
WHEN Saturday-Nov. 2
WHERE Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson
INFO 631-928-9100, theatrethree.com
TICKETS $17-$30 ($15 ages 5-12)
WHEN Oct. 19-Nov. 24
WHERE CM Performing Arts, 931 Montauk Hwy., Oakdale
INFO 631-218-2810, cmpac.com
WHEN Nov. 9-24
INFO 631-462-9800, ext. 136, starplayhouse.com