On Stage: ‘Les Mis’ always finds a way back to local stages

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By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Les Misérables

It’s hard to take farewell tours seriously.

Music acts such as the Who, Frank Sinatra, Cher and David Bowie have all, at one time or another in their careers, embarked on a “Farewell Tour.” No-one really believed them and, eventually, the artists were back on stage performing again.

The hit musical “Les Misérables” went out on its “Farewell Tour” in 2006. Just as with the music acts, everyone felt sure that the popular song-laden classic would be playing theaters around the country again sometime in the not too distant future.

And, that’s just what happened.

A few years ago, “Les Misérables” was back on the road with a highly-acclaimed 25th anniversary tour. Then, the show returned to Broadway for a run that closed in September 2016, after 1,026 performances.

But, like the Energizer Bunny, “Les Miserables” just keeps going and going – from Broadway to yet another national tour. A new national tour began on September 21, 2017 at the Providence Performing Arts Centre and now has arrived in Philadelphia for a run at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333,www.kimmelcenter.org).

The show, which is being presented as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia series, will open on January 9 and run through January 21.

“Les Misérables”, which had its world premiere at the Barbican Theatre in London on October 8, 1985, has been seen in person by more than 70 million people around the world. There have been more than 60,000 performances, more than 50 major theater awards (including eight Tony Awards in 1987) and more than 30 cast recordings.

A year after closing on Broadway, Cameron Mackintosh’s monumental new production of “Les Miserables” launched its first national tour. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, this sweeping epic is one of the most popular musicals in history, a tale of love and revolution that draws audiences in time and time again. Its classic score, written by Herbert Kretzmer and Claude-Michel Schonberg, includes the timeless “I Dreamed A Dream,” “One Day More” and “Do You Hear the People Sing.”

The main story is the tale of Jean Valjean, a fugitive whose devotion to doing the right thing leads to problems as he engages in a life-long struggle to elude Inspector Javert, a self-righteous and cruel police officer.

Two years after the Revolution of 1830, France is on the brink of violence once again. Dismayed that one king has been replaced by another, a group of rebels are plotting to overthrow the monarchy and lay claim to the throne for the common people.

Against this backdrop of simmering rebellion, we follow the story of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict who manages to build a new life for himself and his adopted daughter Cosette. Yet his new-found happiness cannot last for long, because the unrelenting police inspector Javert, who has been hunting Valjean for two decades, is close on his tail.

As Valjean’s past finally catches up with him, all of the characters are swept up in the chaos that breaks out on the streets of Paris in an epic story of thwarted love, forgiveness and the enduring strength of the human spirit.

On the surface, Valjean has the role of the good guy while Javert looks like the villain. In reality, Javert is merely obsessed with justice. He respects the law above all else and relentlessly pursues Valjean, hoping to bring the escaped convict to justice. He firmly believes in the justice of the law, and has no room for mercy. In the end he commits suicide, broken by the mercy he experiences from Valjean.

The real villain in the show is Thénardier.

A second-rate thief, Thénardier runs a small inn where he continually bilks his customers. He and his family later travel to Paris, where he sets up as the leader of a gang of street thugs and con men. An eternal survivor, Thénardier is above nothing and below everything.

As innkeepers, Thénardier and his wife abuse Cosette as a child and extract payment from Fantine for her support — until Valjean takes Cosette away. They become bankrupt and relocate under the name Jondrette to a house in Paris called the Gorbeau house, living in the room next to Marius.

The husband associates with a criminal group called “the Patron-Minette,” and conspires to rob Valjean until he is thwarted by Marius.

Javert arrests the couple. The wife dies in prison. Her husband attempts to blackmail Marius with his knowledge of Valjean’s past, but Marius pays him to leave the country. He becomes a slave trader in the United States.

In this production, J. Anthony Crane is the actor portraying one of theater’s most villainous characters.

“I love trying to take this entirely unredeemable characters – Thénardier and his wife – and give them a little bit of texture,” said Crane, during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I also enjoy trying to figure out how much story you can tell about someone in a limited amount of time. Whenever the Thénardiers show up, you’ve got to guard your wallet.

“It’s a little odd to be in the periphery of the story – but it’s fun to be here in the way that I am.”

While Crane enjoys playing a villain, he admits there are challenges to playing the role of Thénardier.

“I’m straddling a line between what is funny about him and unequivocally nasty about him,” said Crane. “I’m enjoying being both.”

To date, Les Misérables remains the fifth-longest-running Broadway production of all time. The new tour will undoubtedly play to packed houses around the country.

“Les Misérables” has been able to remain popular for such a long time because of the now-familiar music — and because the story is such a universal story. It is a story that has the ability to touch people.

“People love ‘Les Miserables’ because the music is soaring and gorgeous,” said Crane, referring to the magnificent score.

“And, the story is a moral one. It deals with idealism and the idea of never giving up – like the students fighting for something they can never win.

“This show is a brand-new production and it’s great. We had rehearsal in July and August and then opened with a 10-day run in Providence. This is the first time I’ve played Philadelphia so I’m really looking forward to it.”

Video link for  “Les Misérables” —  http://lesmiz.com/

“Les Misérables” will run from January 9-21 at the Academy of Music. Ticket prices range from $20-$139.

The Wombats

Liverpool, England has a long tradition of producing top-tier football (soccer) teams such as Liverpool and Everton and top-flight rock bands dating all the way back to the early 1960s with bands such as Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Searchers and, of course, the Beatles.

Over the years, other bands have joined the list of rock luminaries from Merseyside including Frankie Goes to Hollywood, A Flock of Seagulls, Echo and the Bunnymen and Ladytron.

In 2003, another band from Liverpool joined the list – the Wombats.

The band, which features its three founding members lead vocalist and guitarist Matthew Murphy, drummer Dan Haggis and bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen, will release its new album “Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life” on February 9 via Kobalt Music Recordings.

Prior to the album release, the Wombats have unveiled a dark, cinematic music video for their new single “Lemon to A Knife Fight” and will embark on a three-week tour of America beginning this week. On January 9, the tour brings them to Philly for a show at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100,www.utphilly.com).

The new album follows The Wombats’ 2015 LP “Glitterbug,” which garnered critical acclaim and debuted in the Top 5 on the UK Album chart and Billboard 100. “Give Me a Try,” one of the album’s singles reached Top 20 at Alternative Radio, spent four weeks in a row at #1 on Alt Nation and, along with single “Greek Tragedy” has over 70 million combined Spotify streams.

Written from three corners of the globe — Haggis in London, England; Knudsen in Oslo, Norway; Murphy in Los Angeles — “Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life” was created via long-distance writing sessions and supplemented by intense two-week, in-person sessions in Oslo. Produced by Mark Crew (Bastille, Rag’n’Bone Man) and Catherine Marks (Wolf Alice), the album finds pushes the boundaries of alt-pop with a lush indie soundscape that capture the band’s pairing of catchy hooks and tragi-comic lyricism with a newfound maturity and emotional depth.

“It was written in L.A.,” said Murphy, during a recent phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “I went to Oslo on three separate occasions to write with Tord. His family just had a baby so he wanted to stay with them in Norway.

“The seven songs I did in L.A. were done and demo’ed. The four songs in Oslo were all from scratch. Usually, I go in a room with a guitar, write the music ands bring it to the band.

“This was the first time we got in a room with no template. It was an interesting way of working – of creating music in a different way. We’d just start playing and see what happens. There was a good vibe in Norway – positive connections – snowy and sometimes romantic.”

“Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life” definitely features The Wombats moving into new territory.

“It was important to me to have something more organic,” said Murphy. “I wanted to make something that didn’t depend on production wizardry and synthesizers. The emphasis was on songs – to keep it simple and not overthink it.”

The normal procedure when a band makes a new album is to release the LP and then follow with a support tour.

“We’re doing it differently – touring before the album is released,” said Murphy. “We’ve done shows before releases every tine – usually in the U.K. This is a good way to set up the album.”

Courtship

Video link for the Wombats — https://youtu.be/nNh51G84WZYVV

The show at Union Transfer, which has Courtship as the opening act, will start at 8:30. Tickets are $20 and $25.

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