By Susan Claire Agbayani
WHILE the members of the cast of the Manila run of Les Miserables were yet to set foot on stage at the Theater of Solaire, the crew was hard at work on the set of the multi-awarded Boublil and Schonberg musical.
The musical is an epic story of redemption and revolution, set in 19th century France amid a period of inequity.
During a “technical bump-in” at the theater last Saturday, the musical’s Technical Director Cameron Flint spent some time with members of the press to explain what it takes to make Les Miserables possible. He explained that the set arrived in 16 shipping containers from Australia where they had just had a successful tour, and they had just had the first dry technical run sans the cast the day before.
The show involves 20 tons of rigged scenery (onstage), 50 scene changes, and 300 costumes.
As Mr. Flint was responding to questions from reporters, the crew was busy testing the large rotating wooden doors which they called “tall sliders.”
“We use them as a bit of a wall, so we can set other scenes behind it,” Mr. Flint explained. The set of this 25th anniversary production is actually highly automated, “with a lot of flying cues, automation cues, and different looks.”
And for those who saw the original productions on West End (or Repertory Philippines’ own production two decades ago), this time things will be different. “You may have seen an old version of Les Mis which had a giant turntable onstage. [Today] the West End is the only production of Les Mis in the world that still has the old design, but with a slightly different front of house environment. This is the brand new design by Matt Kinley; there is no revolve, but there is a track on the barricade that drives it down to the stage,” Mr. Flint explained.
“The idea is to bring the set out… into the auditorium and engage the audience in the show, and bring them to the world of Les Mis. That’s actually brand new. This hasn’t actually been seen before. It’s the first time we ever installed it, and it’s built into the set,” he revealed, adding that the custom-built proscenium for both Manila and Singapore productions are the same, and is “very similar to the one [the one that’s currently] on Broadway.”
While the barricade scene was being set by the crew on stage, Mr. Flint expressed excitement about projections onto the stage wall: “I think the projection’s beautiful. Yeah, it’s a really good design. On a standard production, you have flying or muslin-painted backdrops. But on Les Mis, you have solid black walls. We’ve got projectors mounted front of house. We also have a projection truss onstage and actually project different images on to the upstage wall, many of which are actually Victor Hugo’s paintings [who was an] artist as well as a writer. If you actually look closely — some of the images — actually shift [or] move a little bit as you watch. It’s very cool…” resulting in “a very stunning effect,” he said.
“I truly love the song ‘Stars,’ sung by the antagonist Javert, as it gives an insight into his personality. And I really enjoy, I love the look of that scene as well, of Javert standing on a bridge in Paris,” he said.
One of the most fantastic scenes — at least in the local production of Les Mis — was that of Javert jumping off that proverbial bridge over the River Seine, and sinking to the bottom. Mr. Flint however refused to divulge how they were going to execute that scene.
While the production necessitated the flying in of 80 crew members, “We filled the rest [of the slots] with local crew and they’ve done a fantastic job. I was also here in 2013 with [the Australian production of] Wicked. It’s a pleasure working with them,” he said. That musical was staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
When queried if the new venue for this production was smaller, he replied, “No, it’s actually pretty good. The stage is just good enough for us; we fit. There’s a very big basement downstairs [so those who need not be on stage could] get off the stage and actually move around. It’s quite comfortable. It’s a good venue; very good! State-of-the-art.” he replied.
As a parting shot, Mr. Flint said, “We hope that we present a seamless performance. We will, yeah!”
The Manila run of Les Miserables opens on March 11 at the Theatre at Solaire Resort and Casino. The cast includes Simon Gleeson, Earl Carpenter and our very own Rachelle Ann Go as Fantine. Solaire was the venue of recent visiting productions of Chicago and Singing in the Rain. The musical runs until April 24. For details visit ticketworld.com or www.lesmis.com.ph.