Goodbye, ‘Les Miz’
Last Saturday night, July 13, the original production of “Les Misérables” running at Queen’s Theatre (now renamed Sondheim Theatre) in the West End closed. For many of us that were ever a part of that legendary production, it’s truly the end of an era.
The production, directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird and produced by Cameron Mackintosh, first played at the Barbican to generally abominable reviews. However, the public embraced the landmark show, powering it to run for almost 34 years at the Palace (where “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is currently running) and then, at Queen’s.
The theater will be closed for renovations, after which the most current production, directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, will open. The songs will continue to be sung, but that original Nunn-Caird production will be no more. The West End production was the only one using the original staging that was still running anywhere in the world up until last Saturday night.
That was my “Les Miz.” Sure, I’ve seen the new production in different countries (the UK, Japan and Manila), but for sentimental reasons, I shall remain, in my heart, married to that turntable (also called a revolve).
This was the production I first saw in London in 1988 while doing my final auditions for “Miss Saigon.” The cast was led by Peter Karris as Jean Valjean, Mario Frangoulis as Marius and Linzi Hately as Eponine, whose interpretation blew the roof off the theater. And it was this production with that original staging I joined on Broadway in 1993, then in the West End in 1996 and finally during a production of one US National Tour, for its Honolulu stop.
I vividly remember that first meeting with Richard Jay-Alexander when he told me that I was cast as Eponine. After all the hints I dropped while in “Miss Saigon,” to say I was ecstatic would be an understatement.
Not long after, I was put through my paces with the music by resident musical director Jay Alger, and the staging by stage manager Marybeth Abel. She taught me how to get on and off that turntable. For someone who’s not so athletically inclined, there was a bit of a learning curve, but she was such a good teacher.
A photo shoot was scheduled for publicity purposes, and it was there where I first met Eric Kunze (Marius) and Melissa Anne Davis (Cosette). I was nerding out like crazy wearing my costume! (Playing Valjean was Mark McKerracher and Javert was portrayed by Richard Kinsey.)
During my put-in, Richard Jay (who was also associate director for the North American companies) took the time to teach me about Eponine: her posture and stance, and how she walked. He broke my natural stride apart and replaced it with something more relaxed and less demure, leading from the hip with each step I took.
He, along with makeup artist Carmel Vargyas, taught me how to put on her basic face, as well as the body dirt. (Truth be told, it took me months to completely wash it off my skin.)
I remember the stress before opening night … that feeling of folks waiting for my little Asian self to step on that stage in a role not normally given to someone like me. That feeling of anticipation … that I would, maybe, fail.
I know I was perhaps being paranoid, as there was so much support from the Fil-Am community, as well as my own personal circle. But perhaps not, as I know how human beings can be. I occupied the role from January to March of 1993.
In 1996, I was cast as Eponine again, this time in the West End, in the same theater I first saw the show. In 1996, Phil Cavill was Valjean, Matthew Cammelle was Marius and Lisa Hull was Cosette.
However, I wasn’t the only new cast member going in; there were quite a few of us making our debuts at the same time. If anything, it took a lot of the stress away, but I had an edge in having done the Broadway production only three years prior. But opening night was still stressful.
The impact of this show on me personally is similar to that of “Wicked” to teenage girls in the early 2000s, or maybe that of “Hamilton” to many young adults in this decade. I knew all the lyrics to all the songs for all the characters—and we’re talking about the version that lasted three hours and 15 minutes long!
I fell madly in love with every protagonist and antagonist (including the Thenardiers), as well as those students who died on the barricades. Because that was my first “Les Miz,” I’ll always have a strong emotional connection to it.
At the end of all my concerts here during my UK tour, I sing a mashup of “I Dreamed a Dream” and “On My Own,” the big solos of Fantine and Eponine, respectively. It’s my own way of saying “au revoir” to the original version of this show that I love, and my way of saying “thank you” to Cameron and Richard Jay for the opportunity to inhabit the one “dead girl” I had always wanted to play.
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