When the rights to the 1980s musical “Les Misérables” were finally released for non-Broadway theatrical companies this year, Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre Director Michael Howard had three words for his operations manager.
“Get it,” he told Charlie Farve Hayes. “Today.”
Hayes secured the rights in January; Howard immediately began mapping out the logistics of the complex production.
For Howard, directing “Les Misérables” is the culmination of a longtime dream.
“I’ve wanted to do it for many years, and I’m not getting any younger,” he said.
“Les Misérables” opens Thursday, heralding the 47th season of Summer Lyric. One of the most popular musicals of all time, “Les Miz” is based on the 1862 Victor Hugo novel, which depicts the harsh conditions faced by the impoverished lower class in Paris during a student uprising in the 1830s.
“Les Misérables” runs through June 22.
The other two Summer Lyric productions are “A Chorus Line” (July 10-13) and “Cabaret” (July 31 through Aug. 3). Those will be directed by Diane Lala, a native New Orleanian now teaching at the University of Cincinnati.
Described as “an epic and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit,” the score for “Les Mis” includes such classic songs as “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Bring Him Home,” “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” and “Master Of The House.”
The original production, which opened on Broadway in 1987, is being revived there. It has been performed several times in New Orleans by Broadway touring groups, most recently in 2012.
“I am on such a high at every rehearsal,” Howard said. “It’s just a joy to be doing this show. You’re nervous a little bit in the beginning because you’re casting a huge production, and in most shows, there are some weak links. But in this one, I’ve had none. The cast has been just been wonderful, and I’m ready for it to open.”
The main cast consists of Jason Dowies as Jean Valjean; Colby McCurdy as Javert; Dody Nolan as Fantine; Savannah Fouchi as young Cosette; Maggie Windler as older Cosette; Sean Patterson as Monsieur Thénardier; Ashley Lemmler as Madame Thénardier; Mackenzie Norris as Éponine; and Joshua Brewer as Marius.
In addition, there are 20 other “name” roles, plus an ensemble of 19 members (10 women and nine men).
Rick Paul is the set designer. Other key production crew members are Julie Winn, costumes; Don and Linda Guillot, wigs and makeup; Diane K. Baas, lighting; and Stewart Becnel, sound. C. Leonard Raybon conducts the 29-piece orchestra.
Although the Broadway trend is to use synthesizers to duplicate the sounds of orchestral instruments, Howard said he prefers to use real instruments.
“I’ve enlarged the orchestra a little bit from the Broadway production. I added a few more strings and am doing different things musically. It’s going to be a real crowd pleaser,” Howard said.
Sets will incorporate video projections, and the barricade scene during the student revolt will use pyrotechnics and smoke, Howard said.
Howard acknowledged the quandary he faced when casting for the lead role.
“When I chose that show, I said, ‘Where am I going to find a Valjean?’ It’s an unbelievable role, vocally and style-wise, requiring a lot of stamina.”
However, after hearing Dowies sing, he told Hayes and Lala, “ ‘This guy is really fantastic. He’s going to be perfect for the role.’ ”
Dowies, who is 38 and lives in Baton Rouge, acknowledged the difficulties of the role.
“It’s as challenging a role as you’re going to find,” Dowies said. “But as challenging as it is, it’s equally rewarding. It’s a beautiful role and a beautiful story. I’m honored to be doing it.”
Assessing the three-production Summer Lyric series, Howard said, “This is going to be a great season. We’ve got a lot of new people this year, a lot of fresh faces, and they’re all terrific.
“We’ve been here 47 years and we’re still going, so people have very high expectations of us,” he said. “We’re not going to disappoint them.”