Victor Hugo's iconic tale of a French peasant's search for redemption comes to the Tivoli Theatre when the national tour of "Les Miserables" opens Tuesday, Nov. 5, for eight performances through Sunday, Nov. 10.
But this isn't the "Les Mis" you think you know. This production features new staging and reimagined backdrops inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo.
Nick Cartell, who plays peasant-turned-mayor Jean Valjean, explains that most theater patrons who have seen the show know the set usually includes a turntable onstage.
"But we have done away with the turntable, and we gained incredible projections. Victor Hugo was an amazing artist, and many people didn't know that because he hid that talent wanting people to think of him as a writer," says Cartell.
If you go
› What: “Les Miserables”
› Where: Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.
› When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5-10; 2 p.m. Nov. 9-10
› Admission: $38-$98
› For more information: 423-757-5580
"These images (his artwork) were found in archives and have been made into projections, so the audience will feel like they really are walking the streets of Paris or in the sewers with Valjean. They really help bring the audience into the show even deeper," he says.
Cartell heads a cast of 35, of which 28 are onstage each night.
"We travel with a 13-piece orchestra. The full company is 85, with 15 in the crew, but we pick up between 75 and 100 people at each stop to work backstage. It takes a small village to put on 'Les Mis.' While our crew is amazing, we need people to help with costume changes, moving the sets, help with microphones. There is a whole crew working backstage just as hard as we are working onstage," he credits.
Set in 19th-century France, "Les Miserables" follows Valjean's desire for redemption after serving 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's starving child. After breaking his parole, he is relentlessly tracked by police inspector Javert.
Assuming a new identity, he becomes mayor of a small town and adopts the daughter of an impoverished factory worker. As the story builds, Valjean and a host of characters are swept into a revolutionary confrontation in which a group of young idealists attempts to overthrow the government.
Along the way, the show is filled with memorable hits such as "I Dreamed a Dream," "Castle on a Cloud," the anthemic "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and the hauntingly beautiful prayer "Bring Him Home."
Cartell says he grew up singing in choirs — the Phoenix Boys Choir, church choirs — but became hooked on musical theater in eighth grade during a field trip to see "Cinderella." His parents encouraged his interest, and he performed in community theater through high school, before getting a professional contract in college that had his equity card attached.
He likes to joke about being married to "a Disney princess," because he met his wife while both worked in Disneyland Tokyo, where she played Belle, Ariel and Cinderella. She is an actress in New York City who does TV, film and commercial work.
"We make a rule that we go no more than three to four weeks without seeing each other in person, and we do a lot of facetiming," Cartell says.
The actor says singing Valjean's role night after night "has been a dream role to play," and has never become ho-hum because of the story and its music.
"These characters are so deep. Victor Hugo wrote such an endearing story that is a test of time. Audiences who have never seen 'Les Miserables' before are expecting the majesty that is 'Les Mis;' but we also have audience members who have seen it before, so we have a responsibility to them that they walk away thinking that it was better than they remembered."
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.