Les Misérables is a strange beast. When the musical opened in London in 1985, the reviews were less than kind, with the Sunday Telegraph calling it "A lurid Victorian melodrama produced with Victorian lavishness." Yet tickets for the production were selling in record numbers and public opinion was stellar enough to open the show on Broadway by 1987 where it ran for over 6,500 performances and won eight Tony Awards.
That public opinion of the show has remained incredibly positive over the years, enough so that the buzz on Shore Thing Productions' upcoming run at the Tower Theatre had been deafening. Never in my 13 years of being a part of the Bend theatrical community have I heard so many people talk about an upcoming play with such excitement. That excitement led the six performance run to sell out so quickly that two more were added, which also sold out in a matter of days.
David Simpson, the producer of Les Misérables, has mixed feeling about selling out so quickly. "I knew that Les Misérables at the Tower had the potential to sell out the six performances we had originally scheduled for the run, and even that there was a very good chance we might need to add one or two extra performances," Simpson tells me. "What I didn't expect was how quickly it would happen with eight shows completely selling out three weeks before opening night; a record for the Tower Theater. As a producer, I couldn't be more pleased. However, as a result, there will be many theatergoers who traditionally wait to purchase tickets who will not be able to see the show."
It is a very good problem to have, especially since the quality of what they will be bringing to that stage looks world class. I was present for the cast's first proper rehearsal with the orchestra, led by COCC and Central Oregon Symphony's Michael Gesme, and even though the rehearsal itself was Sitzprobes (a seated rehearsal), it was lovely.
From the sumptuous and layered opening notes of "At the End of the Day," it was very apparent that the months of rehearsal have created not just an excellent piece of theater, but an event unlike any on the Central Oregon stage.
OperaBend's Jason Stein (acting as music director while also playing Jean Valjean) explained the layered sound to a musical layman.
"Our concept is to do this operatically, that is without any pop style. Pop style equals straight tone, little or no vibrato equals yelling mixed with singing. Whereas operatic is as if it were an opera singer equals most or all vibrato, fully supported, etc."
The concept pays off immensely as ticket holders will soon see.
While I was not able to see much of the character work of the show, Bend's Karen Sipes is hilarious as the gleefully awful Madame Thenardier.
"She is the polar opposite of everything I am," said Sipes. "She's loud, bawdy, spiked with cruelty and I am having the time of my life playing her."
This sentiment seems true with the rest of the cast who seem to be thriving knowing they will finally have an audience after so many months of rehearsal.
As the orchestra and cast reached the reprise of "Do You Hear the People Sing," I was waiting for it: that final, haunting, sweeping note that launches fans of Les Misérables to their feet. When it hit, the hairs on my neck were standing up and the room became awfully dusty. I quietly left and had just reached my car when a cast member walked by me and stopped. He said, "There have been 58 rehearsals for this show. Not every one of us had to be at each rehearsal, but most of us where there all the time, three to four hours a night. That moment? That final note? That's why we do this."
All I could do was nod my head, smile like an idiot and drive away, still hearing the people sing.
September 12-21, 7:30pm
The Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St.