by LIZA MITCHELL
A timeless musical masterpiece celebrates 25 years of success with a stage production infused with a modern technological twist. The producers of Les Misérables, which is based on the beloved novel by Victor Hugo, breathed new life into the play using high-definition projectors to create a multi-dimensional backdrop based on Hugo’s own illustrations.
Presented by the Florida State College at Jacksonville Artist Series, the 25th-anniversary production of Les Misérables will be staged May 1-6 at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available through The Artist Series at www.artistseriesjax.org.
Cast member Andrew Varela, who played the role of Jean Valjean in the original Broadway production and has toured with this company since the beginning of this run, says the new staging and reimagined scenery enhance the action on the stage. “Because it is such a big show, they’ve taken new high-definition theatre projectors to make the back wall into a scene of moving pictures using images based on paintings by Victor Hugo,” Varela says. “Hugo was an accomplished artist, and these are valid images that give insight into what he envisioned for each scene.”
The universal message of the human condition is depicted through a series of timelines and vistas screened behind the actors on stage. Varela says the technological advancements allow the audience to experience an elevated sense of story and the emotion conveyed in each scene. “Les Mis is such a big show. It’s a huge show about huge ideas. Everyone can feel something because everything that happens in this show happens to every kind of people,” Varela says. “The stories that we tell here are the stories that happen to everyone. These are stories of first love, redemption, God, compassion. The story is beyond moving. It’s going to affect you.”
Varela says the scene involving his character’s death will “take your breath away” because of the strength of the powerful imagery displayed on stage. Producer Cameron Mackintosh gave Varela the room to take certain liberties with his character in an effort to explain the urgency of Javert’s pursuit of the story’s protagonist, Jean Valjean. “It’s a grittier perspective. As far as the character goes, instead of him being a straight-up bad guy, I want people to see him for what he is. He is a cop,” Varela explains. “He doesn’t understand why everyone doesn’t think in the way that he does.”
Varela is excited to share the experience of the story with audiences as well as with his theatre family. He says the sense of community among the cast makes performing such a beautiful piece of theatre that much more rewarding. “People will love the show. It’s a beautiful story with beautiful music and costumes. Audiences will love that they saw a real piece of theatre. If you see one piece of theatre in your life, it should be Les Mis,” he says. “I am grateful to have a job, but more than that, I am grateful to be able to do a piece of art. I could have been doing Cats for the last four years and that would have paid the bills, but as an actor, with Les Mis, I feel like I’m doing a piece with importance to the world. It’s a great job. I’m very blessed.”
by LIZA MITCHELL