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Les Mis reinvented

A scene from Les Miserables. Photo: Karen Almond
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Javert in militaristic police garb. Valjean in an orange jumpsuit. Thenardier in dreadlocks. Student revolutionaries in camouflage fatigues. Just a glimpse at photos from the Dallas Theatre Center’s production of Les Miserables, which opens tonight, reveals that the new staging now playing in the West End and on Broadway has already been outpaced by a more radical rethinking of the Schonberg and Boublil modern classic. Directed by Liesl Tommy, who professes to have never seen the show before, the Dallas production keeps the script and score intact while offering a new visual world that leaps far beyond the one we’ve come to expect over three decades. A cast of 23 plus 3 children should keep the musical’s grandscale intact, especially since the theatre only seats 530 patrons. Is Les Mis ready for the kind of reinterpretation typically reserved for centuries old classics? Is this a new template to be spun out over many productions – or will it herald a spate of newly imagined visions of Hugo’s tale? Oh, to be in Dallas tonight.

While far from the wholesale makeover given to Les Mis, the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of Gypsy is notable for the casting of its Mama Rose, with actress Leslie Uggams taking on the leading role. It appears that, more than a half-century after the work debuted, this is the first time that an actor of color has played Rose, in a production that employs colour-blind casting throughout. A veteran of such Broadway musicals as Hallelujah Baby and Jerry’s Girls, and plays including King Hedley II and On Golden Pond, Uggams certainly has the chops to tackle the part. The brief run is from July 10 to 20.

 

Kelly O'Hara
Kelli O’Hara

As expected, Kelli O’Hara will play Anna Leonowens in the Lincoln Center Theatre production of The King and I next spring, under the direction of Barlett Sher, who previously directed her in A Light in the Piazza and South Pacific at that venue. Film star Ken Watanabe will play the monarch in his American stage debut. Previews will begin March 12, making it 19 years since the last Broadway production, with Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Phillips, opened.

Add Disney’s Newsies to the spate of closings chronicled in the last column. The singing and dancing paper boys will depart from Broadway at the end of the summer, on August, after a run of more than 1,000 performances. Also updating a prior column: Chris Pine and Lauren Ambrose are out of Fool For Love at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda are in, while Michael McGrath has stepped in for Roger Bart in the Finding Neverland musical at the American Repertory Theatre.

Lots of musicals from movies are on tap in the coming months (as usual). The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta has two: the baseball story Bull Durham opens in September and the fantasy Tuck Everlasting will premiere in January. Kip Fagan directs and Jonathan Bergasse choreographs the former, while Casey Nicholaw stages the latter. Diner, from the Barry Levinson film and with a score by Sheryl Crow, once touted for Broadway, will now launch at Arlington VA’s Signature Theatre in December, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. Signature will also mount a new production of the musical Elmer Gantry, which played nearby at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC twice, in 1988 and 1995, in addition to other regional runs in that period. And the long in development First Wives Club, with a score by Motown hitmakers Holland-Dozier-Holland, first seen at San Diego’s Old Globe in 2009, but now with Linda Bloodworth-Thomason replacing bookwriter Rupert Holmes, is giving it another go. A spring outing in Chicago is expected to launch the show to New York, but there’s no director yet attached, or a commitment for a Broadway house.

Apparently Bill Pullman had a good time working at The New Group this past season in Beth Henley’s The Jacksonian since he’s headed back again this coming season, co-starring with Holly Hunter in the first major New York revival of David Rabe’s Vietnam-era drama Sticks and Bones. After its stage debut in 1972, Robert Downey Sr. directed a television version which proved so divisive that roughly half of all of the CBS network’s affiliated stations refused to air it. The play was also the basis for a scathing satire by a young Christopher Durang, who turned it into The Vietnamization of New Jersey.

The Encores! Off-Center summer series defines itself as being dedicated to legendary Off-Broadway musicals, but its next selection, Pump Boys and Dinettes ran for over 500 performances on Broadway in the early 80s, spawning countless regional, summer stock and amateur productions. A Broadway return was promised a year ago but the funding never materialised, so New York will have to settle for a five-performance taste of an original revue that brought country music to the Great White Way.

 

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