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Andrew Foote as Jean Valjean. Courtesy photo.




See Les Misérables

Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
When: Fridays through Sundays, May 1 through May 16
Admission: $15 to $45
Contact: 668-5588, palacetheatre.org

 





Artistic challenge of the season
The Palace presents Les MisÚrables

04/30/15
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



This weekend, the Palace Theatre finally brings in Les Misérables, one of the most-seen productions in history. 

More than 65 million people have experienced the musical, based on the novel by French poet and novelist Victor Hugo, and the Manchester theater is taking no shortcuts in producing the best rendition possible when it hits center stage May 1. 
Artistic director Carl Rajotte and costume designer Jessica Moryl have been working on its aesthetic for months, and they recruited top-notch actors from Broadway tours and popular faces from the theater’s recent Godspell, West Side Story and A Christmas Carol.
In the lead role is Andrew Foote as Jean Valjean. New to the Palace but not to the show, Foote comes to Manchester fresh from a successful run as the character in a Wisconsin production. He’s been in Les Misérables six times (once during the national Broadway tour), four in which he played this character.
“You would think that, doing something over and over again, that the repetition would get tiring, but this [role] doesn’t. It’s like eating a gourmet meal every night,” Foote said between rehearsals last week. “For an actor, you get to do so much and show so many different sides of yourself.”
The play, which is set in 19th-century France, follows Jean Valjean, a French peasant, in a sort of quest for redemption after serving 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. We see him as a criminal, a wealthy factory owner, a mayor and a father figure, and throughout the musical’s 20-year span, we watch as he and a cast of other characters — police inspector Javert, single mother Fantine and her daughter, Cosette, among others — are swept into a revolutionary period.
The musical has had many runs in many countries (in addition to the U.S., London and Paris, it’s been performed in Mexico, Argentina, South Korea, Spain and Puerto Rico), and during its Broadway premiere in 1987, it was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won eight (including Best Musical and Best Original Score). Today, it’s the fifth longest-running Broadway show in history.
The Palace was in full Les Mis swing during these interviews. Its Facebook page was popping with headshots and even bus selfies the actors took during the ride from New York to Manchester. A Les Misérables banner hung across Elm Street, and the cast had been busy with elaborate costume fittings and blocking sessions. The first day of rehearsal, they ran through the entire show’s music.
“It was insane,” said Laurie Gardner, who plays Eponine and who was also Natalie in the Palace’s All Shook Up and Georgie in The Full Monty this year. “We came in, we sat down, and with musical director Garrit [Guadan], we started from the top of the show and sang through the end of the show.”
Which is a big deal, she explained, because practically the entire play is sung, with very little dialogue. Gardner also comes in fresh from a Les Mis production (she played Cosette at Arizona Broadway Theatre). She said this version is very physical. It’s not dance-heavy, unlike most of Rajotte’s productions; instead, it’s fight scene-, prop-, set- and costume-heavy.
Among the other actors Palace fans will recognize: George Piehl (Scrooge from A Christmas Carol), who plays Thénardier; Jared Troilo (Tony in West Side Story, Jesus in Godspell), who plays Marius; MaryJoanna Grisso (Maria in West Side Story) as Cosette; and Laura Stracko Franks (who was in Godspell and also the Palace A Christmas Carol tour), who will be Fantine.
Though the cast is full of Palace alums, the new actors said they feel welcome and are excited to finally bring this show to the Palace.
“Though I haven’t worked here before, I can see from the production photos that the shows are absolutely on the highest level. It’s Broadway on a budget,” said Joe Hager, who plays Javert.
Foote agreed.
“They expect a lot from us as actors. That’s very common. But the Palace provides everything we need to do our job. When it’s time to work, we work, but in the off hours, they’re really great. Our housing is wonderful. A lot of us aren’t from the area, and so we’re displaced. That’s not easy, and they’re there for us. That doesn’t happen all the time,” Foote said. “In my 20 years of acting, I’ve seen the good and the bad of it. This is one of the good places.” 
 
As seen in the April 30, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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