'Les Miz" is like a zombie -- there's just no stopping it.
The musical, based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, debuted in London in 1985, hit Broadway's Imperial Theatre in 1987 and has pretty much been playing somewhere on the globe ever since -- seen by 65 million people in 42 countries, not including those who saw Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway (and their adenoids) in the close-up-rich 2012 film, or the gazillions who've YouTubed Susan Boyle singing "I Dreamed a Dream" on "Britain's Got Talent."
Given all that, you wouldn't be the only one thinking, "Really -- again?" upon hearing that a new revival is set to open tonight at the Imperial.
"I felt the same way," admits Ramin Karimloo, who plays Jean Valjean, an unjustly imprisoned man who spends nearly three hours evading an obsessed police inspector, revolting with France's oppressed 99 percent ... and singing.
"But there's something special about this production," he says. "There's more Victor Hugo here" -- the author's paintings for the novel are used as haunting backdrops -- "which gives it even more heart."
The revival boasts new orchestrations (they finally scrapped that tinny electric piano) and new sets (no more revolving turntable).
"It's like seeing the show for the first time, so you hear it differently, too," says Karimloo.
Born in Iran -- his family fled when he was a baby at the start of the Islamic revolution -- Karimloo, 35, was raised in Canada, outside Toronto. He's a complete unknown on Broadway, but he's got a slew of credits from London's West End (including a stint as the Phantom in "Phantom of the Opera").
Then, there are those pecs.
That's right. Move over, Mr. Wolverine, there's a new Hugo hunk in town. And arguably the first stage actor who's gotten ripped for the role.
"The novel describes Valjean as medium height, broad shoulders, in the prime of his life," says Karimloo. "I thought, 'medium height, no problem....'"
He started working out five days a week at the gym several months ago and gained 20 pounds of lean muscle. Recently, he proudly tweeted about a personal best -- dead-lifting more than 405 pounds.
"I never would've dreamt of that before," he says. "Now I feel strong. I feel like Jean Valjean."