The weather is warming up and so is the cultural scene in Brandon, as two theatre groups put the finishing touches on the musical Les Misérables.
The acclaimed musical, about the life and adventures of Jean Valjean in 19th century France, is being put on at the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium by 7 Ages Productions, in partnership with Mecca Productions. The show open on Thursday, Jan. 23 and runs until Sunday, Jan. 26.
Based on the Victor Hugo novel, Les Misérables tells the story of Jean Valjean, imprisoned in the galleys for years for stealing a loaf of bread. Finally paroled, he is saved from being rearrested by a kindly bishop and vows to turn his life around. As he does so, he adopts the orphaned Cosette and then saves her fiancé during a student uprising in Paris, all the while pursued by Inspector Javert
It has been filmed many times and was eventually produced by Cameron Mackintosh as a stage musical that set records on London and Broadway and has been touring almost constantly since that time. It has only recently been available for amateur groups.
Director George Buri says he is excited to bring the show to Brandon.
"As soon as the rights became available I contacted MTI and was able to secure them. Lisa Vasconcelos contacted me the next day to ask if Mecca could be involved and we immediately discussed the venture," he said. "It's been great having the two groups working together, as this is a huge, challenging project."
The show is one of the most popular ever staged in Western Manitoba, judging by the turnout at auditions.
"We had over 120 people audition," Buri said, "and we cast 52 people."
Buri and Vasconcelos have seen the new version of Les Misrables twice and have been inspired by it. The show has been modified for the latest tour; gone is the turntable people remember from the original, replaced by hightech backgrounds based on Victor Hugo's own drawings of Paris.
"We know we can't duplicate the technical effects of the new version, but I believe the heart of the show is the story and the characters, which we can faithfully produce," Buri said.
Vasconcelos agrees: "Rehearsals have been amazing. There are some great voices and the chorus will be really strong. The music is still the focus of Les Miz."
In addition to Buri and Vasconcelos, Katherine Sherris is involved as orchestra conductor. The pit will be full of local musicians who have been rehearsing since November.
"I just love this music," Sherris said. Audiences will be familiar with songs such as "Bring Him Home", "Master of the House", "At the End of the Day", and "I Dreamed a Dream".
Linda Kearns will handle the challenging choreography.
Many of the cast are familiar to Westman audiences. James Comrie plays Jean Valjean and John Szabo is Javert. There are some new performers as well, including Kristjan Joseph as Marius.
"The singers are fabulous," said Vasconcelos, who is featured in the show as Mme. Thenardier. "For all of us it is a labour of love."
The roles of Fantine, Eponine, Cosette, and Thenardier have all been double cast as have the children's roles – Little Cosette, Little Eponine, and Gavroche.
The ensemble members have multiple roles, as the show covers an enormous range in time and place, with students, convicts, factory workers, and street people moving on and off stage almost constantly.
"It is really challenging," Buri said, "but a moving and entertaining show unlike any other."
Tickets are available at the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium at wmca.ca or 204-728-9510.