Western Herald – “Les Miserables” opens at Miller Auditorium tonight
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“Les Miserables” opens at Miller Auditorium tonight

Craig Manning
A&E Editor

Timothy Gulan and Shawna Hamic perform "Master of the House" with ensemble members in "Les Miserables" (Photo courtesy of Deen van Meer)

It was Oct. 7, 2010 when the 25th anniversary touring company of the international phenomenon Les Miserables convened for their first rehearsal. Two years, four months and 900 performances later, the show is finally pulling into Kalamazoo. Playing host is Miller Auditorium, where the company will set up shop for a spectacular eight performance run, beginning at 7:30 p.m. tonight (Jan. 29) and running through Sunday afternoon.

This production is a titanic one, something that was instantly evident this morning as stagehands and tech workers labored to build the Miller Auditorium stage into the story’s 19th century, poverty-stricken Paris setting. According to stage manager Heather Chockley, this show boasts a traveling company of 90, with 38 cast members, 15 orchestral musicians and 600 costume pieces. In addition, the company travels with a plethora of lighting systems, set pieces and mechanical stage set-ups that make scene changes (such as the building of a barricade or the appearance and disappearance of a pair of “towers”) possible. Add a tireless stage crew and a dozen or so locally contracted assistants that help to mount the show in each new city, and Les Mis is a behemoth rarely seen onstage.

But when the lights go down and the overture strikes up, all of the technical aspects of the show melt seamlessly into the texture, a tapestry of songs like “One Day More,” “Bring Him Home” and “I Dreamed a Dream” that never fails to sweep audiences off their feet.

Shawna Hamic, who has played the role of Madame Thenardier since the beginning of the current marathon tour, was certainly swept away the first time she saw Les Mis, and the show has remained a symbol for her love of the theater and the power of hard work ever since.

“I saw Les Miserables for the first time 26 years ago,” Hamic said. “My family was living in L.A. and it was one of the first big shows my parents had ever taken me too. And literally, in the middle of the show, I turned to my mom and I said, ‘Mom, I’m going to play Madame Thenardier someday,’ and she said, ‘Okay!’ That day changed my life. It showed me what I wanted to do for a living, so it has been incredibly special for me to be involved in this tour. It’s really my first ‘big break,’ so it has been a full circle moment for me in a lot of ways.”

This Les Mis national tour has done incredibly well, putting on eight shows nearly every week, passing the 900 performance milestone just two nights ago and selling out houses all across the country. Now, with different productions running all over the world and a successful movie version in theaters, it seems as if Les Mis is more popular than ever before. Hamic credited the ringing themes of love and redemption for the unparalleled endurance and lasting power.

“I think it’s as relevant now as it was when it was first written,” she said. “It touches people no matter how many times they have seen it, and there aren’t a lot of shows that can still do that. People want to learn about redemption, they want to learn that they have the power to change the world and that love conquers all, and I think that’s really what this story is about.”

Speaking of the film, Hamic and the rest of the touring cast were treated to a pre-screening presentation a few months ago, and while many members of the classical music and theatrical communities have derided the movie for less-than-perfect vocal performances or for failing to capture the essence of the stage version, Hamic thinks both incarnations have value.

“I went into the movie to see it as its own entity and I loved it,” Hamic said. “The movie will never be the stage show, and our stage show will never be the movie. We will never be able to do some of the things they do on film, with elaborate locations or fighting scenes. But onstage, the audience actually gets to be a part of it and the audience response is something we translate into our action. The movie really is beautiful, and I’m so glad [they] are a part of our legacy and we of theirs, but there is something about seeing Les Mis live onstage that you can never get in a movie theater.”

Want to learn what all the fuss is about? Tickets for the shows are still available, ranging from $38 to $78, and students can get a discount with a valid Bronco ID. Show times include Jan. 29, 30 and 31 at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 1 and 2 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and a closing Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on Feb. 3. For more information, stop by the Miller Auditorium Box Office, visit their website at www.millerauditorium.com or give them a call at 269-387-2300 or 800-228-9858.

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