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November 18, 2010

‘Les Miserables’ reboots at Paper Mill Playhouse

by Jesse North

This article was published on Discover Jersey Arts, for which I am the theater blogger

The Paper Mill Playhouse is soon to be at the center of national theatrical attention when it hosts the US premiere of Cameron Mackintosh’s revived production of Les Miserables. Essentially a reboot of the classic Boublil/Schonberg/Kretzmer musical, the production features new staging, set design, costumes, and orchestrations. Simply translated: there’s no turntable. Most musicals don’t have to explain themselves when undergoing a reimagining, but Les Miserables is like a Fourth of July hamburger—people have a clear idea of how they want it.

(Click here to watch the video interview with the cast and creative team of Les Miserables on Discover Jersey Arts)

“It’s a completely new wrapping of what people who have become accustomed to the show already know,” Mark S. Hoebee, producing artistic director of Paper Mill Playhouse, said. “It’s almost like seeing it for the first time.” If asking audiences to embrace a new incarnation of Les Miserables is a risky move for Paper Mill, managing director Todd Schmidt doesn’t think so. “I see a lot of original productions. Nothing is more exciting to me than seeing something redone that works,” Schmidt said. “We’ve all seen productions reimagined that don’t add anything to the original. This new production really adds to the whole experience. It’s the same beautiful score done in a new and exciting way that really enhances what always has been.”

Billed as the 25th anniversary production, this version of Les Miserables was created in the United Kingdom by original lead producer Mackintosh who gathered a new creative team that includes director Laurence Connor and scenic designer Matt Kinley. The new production debuted in the UK to critical acclaim, and will now be touring the US. Mackintosh selected Paper Mill to premiere the production, and Connor and Kinley have been on site at Paper Mill to recreate it.

The Paper Mill team views this production as a great achievement for the company. “It says a lot about how our organization is viewed, that Cameron Mackintosh and this team is coming in here to work with us in putting this show up on its feet,” Schmidt said. “It’s going to be a great ambassador for New Jersey throughout this country, and it’s a great feather in [Paper Mill’s] cap.”

So what can audiences expect to see from this new production? Set designer Kinley uses projections of paintings done by Les Miserables author Victor Hugo to create much of the scenery. “They are wonderful in their atmosphere,” Kinley said. “The brooding nature just seemed perfect for the menace which is contained within this show. They’ve been painted by the same hands that wrote it.”

Les Miserables opens at the Paper Mill Playhouse on November 19 and runs through December 30.

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