Les Miserables is the largest musical production the Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre had taken on since the theater group was formed more than 60 years ago.
With a budget of about $50,000, the show, which opened March 14 in Richland, features 60 Tri-City performers and a stage/production crew of 10, said director Jo Brodzinski. The show continues March 21-22. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium at Richland High School, 930 Long Ave. There also will be a 2 p.m. matinee on March 23. Tickets are from $15 to $20 and available at the door.
Brodzinski has been working for years to gain the rights to Les Miserables.
"To bring this show alive, in its entirety for Tri-Citians, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. "This cast is probably the best assembled cast of this size that I have ever had a chance to work with.
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"The sheer content of this show is one of amazement. In the 25 years since its release, it has become one of the three longest-running, most talked about, seen musicals of all time. The show has won almost every award possible, including seven Tonys, and it's heading back to Broadway (this month)."
Sydnee Zirker, an 8-year-old Richland third-grader, is making her debut in the production as young Cosette.
Taking on the role of a little girl who loses her mother and is abused by her caretakers has sometimes been a challenge.
"Little Cosette is sad and scared for most of the musical," Sydnee said. "I get into her character by thinking of sad stuff that's happening my life. Like my grandpa's death."
And when the tale of poverty, death, war, redemption and forgiveness in 19th century France starts to make her feel sad, she reminds herself it's just a play.
"The hardest part is learning the timing in the music," Sydnee said. "And not smiling when Madame Thenardier is threatening me and being rude. She's really funny."
Madame Thenardier, played by Anna Newberry, is the abusive wife of a corrupt innkeeper. They are caring for Cosette while her mother Fantine works.
Sydnee's mom, Kimberly Zirker, doesn't worry about the sad side of Les Miserables because of its uplifting theme that there is inherent good in people.
"I allowed Sydnee to be in Les Miserables because our family loves musicals, and this is one of our favorites," her mother said. "There are four of us performing in it this year, so it's a great opportunity to get to spend time together doing something we all love.
"Love, family, service and God are the overwhelming themes in this musical, and I'm so proud that our family gets to be a part of it."
The musical story of Les Miserables is based on the French historical novel of the same name written by Victor Hugo published in 1862.
It spans a 17-year period from 1815-32 and follows several key characters whose lives are intertwined with the main character, former convict Jean Valjean.
Valjean, portrayed by Karl Hedland, spent 19 years in prison, five for stealing bread for his starving sister and her family and 14 for numerous escape attempts.
When he is finally released from prison, he turns his life around, moves to a town where no one knows him, changes his name and becomes a wealthy factory owner, town mayor and humanitarian.
The town's police inspector Javert, however, suspects Valjean is a former criminal and figures he will fall back into his old ways.
Javert is played by Tyler Kruse, 25, the choral director at Hanford High School. He believes his character is very much misunderstood.
"People view Javert as the bad guy but he really isn't bad at all," Kruse said. "He is simply following the law. He's just one of those guys who does everything by the book."
To take himself out of high school teacher mode to play a hard-driven policeman, Kruse said he did a lot of research on his character.
"I have read important character sections from the novel to get more background," he said. "I also watched the movie version featuring Geoffrey Rush as Javert and Liam Neesan as Valjean."
Other key Tri-City actors in the show are Jarred Gonzales as Marius, Megan Johnson as Fantine, Julie Heegel as grown up Cosette, Rob Hanson as Enjolras, Sarah Shaff as adult Eponine and Daisey Taylor as little Eponine and Jessie Taylor as Gavroche.
"The power of this production is derived from the enormous strength of the theatrical adaptation of (British theater producer) Cameron Mackintosh and from the timeless reality of the titanic novel upon which the show is based," Brodzinski said.
She added that Les Miserables is a reminder that all people are part of the same human family and that whatever outward differences there may be, the longing for individual liberty and peace are the same.
Hugo perhaps said it best, Brodzinski said, in a letter he wrote to one of his publishers:
"The miseries of the world, social problems that create humankind's wounds, have no boundaries," Hugo wrote. "Whenever men go in ignorance or despair; whenever women sell themselves for bread; whenever children lack a book to learn from or a warm hearth, Les Miserables knocks at the door and says, 'Open up, I am here for you.' "
What: Les Miserables, a Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre production.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 14-15 and 21-22 with a 2 p.m. matinee March 23.
Where: Richland High auditorium.
Tickets: www.mcmt.tix.com or call 947-0562.
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; email@example.com; Twitter: @dorioneal