by Sylvie Drake
With the release of the film made of the musical based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, and considering that musical’s 33-year record run on stage, one has to ask: Why? Why does this show never seem to lose its luster? Is it the pathos? The action drama? The deep well of sentiment (as opposed to sentimentality) on which it draws? The pervasive heroics and genuine heroism of the piece?
The answer is all of the above, as well as producers—chiefly Cameron Mackintosh—who are good at keeping the production strong and fresh.
But hang on to that word heroism.
In this second decade of the 21st century there is a hunger within for genuine heroes or, as Maya Angelou so wisely put it, she-roes. Les Miz has more than one of each, whereas our modern world is pretty much devoid of larger-than-life characters. It is a world where the late Joseph Campbell found “every last vestige of the ancient human heritage of ritual, morality and art… in full decay.”
Strong condemnation, but it is true that we have lost our dragon-slayers. We re-invent them in comic strips, on You Tube, film and television—or substitute a cult of celebrity in their stead. Thin gruel by comparison.
The English language classifies hero as masculine, but Angelou was more than half-right. The word is in fact derived from a woman’s name: Hero, the legendary Aphrodite who threw herself into the sea when her lover Leander drowned swimming the Hellespont just to be with her. Granted, that was more of an emotional than a moral response, and not all of Webster’s definitions of heroism are particularly exalted. The one that comes closest to paydirt is this: “Bravery, nobility, fearlessness, valor.”
Apply these words to Les Miz and you feel the richness—in Jean Valjean’s innate nobility and valor; in that half-pint Gavroche’s fearlessness; in Fantine’s bravery in the face of overwhelming odds or Eponine’s readiness to take a bullet if it can save Marius for whom she has an unrequited love—and even in the final act of Inspector Javert who can no longer bear to live with what he has become.
In the end, it is the totality of Hugo’s massive canvas that works—the contradictions of its operatic scope and its intimate humanity in a marriage of social, political and emotional upheaval with intensely personal stories of private pain and struggle.
And what stories they are. Not content to spin strictly subjective tales, Hugo wanted his entire world to reverberate through his writing. He said he wanted to be the écho sonore or “loud echo” of his day. Although he ostensibly belonged to no church, a religious thread frequently ran through his work. He claimed Les Miz as “religious.” But it is an eloquent compassion, wedded to innate wisdom and a sense of balance that are at the core of the grandeur of his prose.
Les Misérables was a very long book, full of plots and subplots, and took years to complete, but it was only following the accidental death by drowning of his grown daughter Léopoldine—a terrible blow—that he immersed himself in earnest into the writing of it. Memories of his daughter probably informed the character of Cosette, just as memories of his own student days informed that of Marius. Aside from his phenomenal agility with language, Hugo’s genius was a transcending talent for getting to the universal through the particular, weaving the smaller human tales into the sociopolitical fabric of his day.
Les Misérables was published in 1862 and took France and all Europe by storm. It was immediately translated into several languages. The author was astounded by the novel’s success. Even if people rarely plough through its almost 2,000 pages any more, it remains his best-known work, largely because its popularity has been re-ignited by the musical’s charismatic appeal.
Toward the end of the novel, Hugo writes this: “The book which the reader has before him at this moment is, from one end to the other, in its entirety and details…a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life, from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God…”
So much for the lofty ambitions of the book. But one cannot discount the contributions of the team that created the musical, from bookwriter Alain Boublil’s ability to condense and adapt such a massive epic for the stage, to Herbert Kretzmer’s superlative English translation of the original French, to the stirring anthems by Claude-Michel Schönberg who created a score that seems drawn from the novel’s rib.
More than 150 years after the novel’s publication, we still thrill to this account of an escaped convict’s struggle for a chance at redemption because its sensibility is true to any age. Hugo’s gift for evoking an ambience of mystery, his operatic characters, the quest for justice where none exists, the depiction of a people in revolt, all contribute to this modern attraction. Jean Valjean may have all the earmarks of a hero but he goes them one better: he is a flawed, deeply injured and profoundly moral man who, in his vulnerability and compassion, becomes the idealized model of a person with whom we all want to identify.
French playwright Paul Claudel called Hugo’s vision his “panic contemplation” of the universe. Writer Léon Fargue called him “un poéte d’avenir” or a poet of the future. That future is now and Hugo’s masterwork remains as fresh, provocative and rousing as ever.
Spamalot uses 30 wireless microphones and consumes more than 2000 AAA batteries per month and runs over 1 mile of cable.
Among the props is a cow that weighs 45 pounds and it takes two stagehands to catapult it over the castle.
Spamalot uses approximately 40 coconuts per month, supplied by the Coconut King in Florida.
The set utilizes 25 line sets, 20 chain motors, and more than 10,000 pounds of stage weight.
It takes more than 60 people on stage and off to run each performance.
The Electrics Department uses 6 tanks of liquid carbon dioxide per week to create the low-ground fog effect and uses 8 fire extinguishers per week for the Feet of God “blast off” effect.
The orchestra uses a Spama-horn, an instrument specially developed for and used only in Spamalot.
There are more than 75 wigs (including facial hair) in the show, all hand-tied and made of human hair, yak hair, and synthetics supplied from New York, California, and London.
The mud make-up is a formula specially designed for Spamalot.
The poorest peasants’ costumes in the show are actually made of raw silk.
3 feet of “blood” has to be ironed prior to each performance.
There are over 100 undergarments in the show, including 30 pairs of men’s fishnets and 56 cod pieces.
The Lady of the Lake’s costumes are all comprised of hand-strung glass beads.
The costumes are not only made of a wide variety of fabrics, but many are made of molded ABS plastics, and even nuts and bolts. You are as likely to see a costumer with power tools as you are a sewing machine.
It’s a guarantee that one knight will lose their head every night.
Tony-Award winning stage spectacle moves families, audience members to tears
By David Freeland
War Horse, the astounding theatrical experience opening this week at The Buell Theatre, exerts its pull from the moment the title character, Joey, first trots on stage as a foal, petted by his owner and best friend, 15-year old Albert. The audience gasps, aware that Joey is a puppet, not a real horse, but captivated by the way he shudders and whinnies at Albert’s loving touch. Joey’s lifelike eyes, shining and reflective, draw us into the soul of his journey; as the evening progresses, and Albert sets out to rescue Joey after he has been sold to the English cavalry, we find ourselves carried along and hoping for Joey to make it home.
It’s that kind of emotional power that has made War Horse an international phenomenon, sweeping up audiences and awards on both sides of the Atlantic and even inspiring an Oscar®-nominated film directed by Steven Spielberg. War Horse won five 2011 Tony® Awards (including Best Play) for its New York premiere plus a Special Tony® Award for Handspring Puppet Company for creating the 11 puppets at the heart of the show.
“One of the things we like to imagine,” observes Basil Jones, who runs Handspring with co-founder Adrian Kohler, “is people in the audience nudging the person next to them, saying, ‘did you see that?’”
Set during the First World War, War Horse combines a powerful story with thrilling stagecraft and music. In addition, it showcases what may be the most inventive use of puppetry ever seen on stage. Soon after meeting him as a young horse, we watch in amazement as an adult Joey, seven feet tall, materializes before our eyes. Two puppet masters working inside Joey’s frame (built of light, malleable cane) raise and lower his torso, letting out forceful breaths, while a third manipulates his ears, lifting and pulling them back to register tender shades of emotion. Spielberg’s film version of War Horse employed real horses, but these onstage creations fully personalize equine ideals of courage, strength and loyalty in ways that reinforce the themes of the story.
“Spielberg made a terrific film,” enthuses Michael Morpurgo, upon whose beloved novel War Horse is based, “but cinema has its limitations. It isn’t live, and that’s the difference. What’s amazing about the stage show is that, whether it’s the music, design, or lighting, the puppets, the quality of acting or direction, it’s ingenious and unique. It’s a theatrical event.”
During World War I, more than one million horses were conscripted by the British military alone; of these, only 62,000 returned. As Joey is forced into battle, serving in both the British and German armies, we are moved by his bravery and the trust he places in those who exploit his strength. His innocence makes him seem above the fighting: in War Horse, animals behave with a dignity that humans do not always achieve. Still, Joey is unprepared for the true brutality of 20th century warfare. In a brilliant scene that defines the excitement of Act Two, he faces a new kind of foe: a massive tank rolling his way, prepared to flatten everything in its path. The scenic design is so visceral that we are rushed into battle alongside Joey, enveloped in the sound and smell of combat. Joey rears on his hind legs as the tank pitches toward him and the stage goes black.
“The First World War is emblematic,” suggests Mervyn Millar, War Horse’s puppetry director, “in the way the possibilities of destruction changed. You see Joey standing, looking at the tank, which advances without logic, without thought. Joey tries to work out what it means, what it wants, and it doesn’t want or mean anything. It just destroys.”
Joey’s plight resonates with anyone who has ever loved an animal or taken a pet into the family. As Albert continues his search, we are reminded of the ways in which animals remain with us through many stages of our lives, giving much and asking for little.
“People emotionally invest in animals,” Millar believes. “I think everyone can empathize with Joey.”
Determined to save his friend, Albert runs away from home with the hope of getting close to the front. But in trying to rescue one family member, he hurts another, leaving behind a mother anxious with worry. War Horse’s relevance comes from our awareness that, nearly a century after the start of the First World War, families are still being separated by armed conflict.
“We talk a lot about the history of the war,” remarks Chris Harper, producer for the National Theatre of Great Britain (which first staged War Horse in London), “but at the heart of the show it’s just a family, struggling to deal with life. The thing that’s exciting about War Horse is that it appeals to lots of generations. We see grandparents bringing their kids, wanting to explain the history from their own personal journeys with World War II or more recent conflicts. It’s a production that brings the family together.”
Will Albert find Joey in time? As War Horse reaches its beautiful climax, the hopes of parents, children, and beloved friends – both onstage and off – merge into a shared experience, as tissues are drawn from pockets and eyes glisten with tears.
“We get people coming back again and again,” Harper explains, “and they always have the same reaction. It awakens something in you. War Horse makes grown people cry.”
1. The puppet (Joey), which weighs 120lbs, is handmade by 14 people. Its frame is mostly cane, soaked, bent and stained.
2. An aluminum frame along the spine, lined partly with leather for comfort, allows the horse to be ridden.
3. Stretched, hosiery-like Georgette fabric makes up the “skin” beneath the frame.
4. A puppeteer at the head controls the ears and head; one in the heart controls breathing and front legs; a third in the hind controls the tail and back legs.
5. A harness connects the puppet’s and puppeteer’s spines so his or her movements become the breathing of the horse.
6. The tail and ears are moveable instead of the lips or eyelids, because that’s how horses usually express themselves.
7. Two levers connected with bicycle brake cables control the leather ears.
8. The puppet, just under 10ft long and about 8ft tall, has about 20 major joints. Vertical levers curl the knees and lift the hooves.
9. The neck is made of carbon fiber glass for flexibility.
10. The eyes are black color behind clear resin so light refracts through them.
11. The right hind lever moves the tail up and down; the left hind lever, left to right; moved together, it spirals.
12. The hair in the mane and tail is made of Tyvek, a plastic-like paper.
Denver Center Attractions announces an extended season featuring hits straight from Broadway for 2013/14. New this year, the season includes increased payment plan options. For as low as eight payments of $35.63, subscribers will see all 11 shows featuring Tony Award-winning shows such as the 2012 Best Musical ONCE, War Horse, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, EVITA, Million Dollar Quartet and, launching the national tour in Denver, Peter and the Starcatcher – winner of five Tony Awards, the most of any play in 2012.
Kicking off the season January 8 – 20, 2013 is War horse in The Buell Theatre. Winner offive 2011 Tony Awards, WAR HORSE is a remarkable tale of courage, loyalty and friendship. As World War I begins, Joey, young Albert’s beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped from England to France. He’s soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary journey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man’s land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.At its heart are astonishing life-sized puppets created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, that bring to life breathing, galloping, charging horses strong enough for men to ride. warhorseonstage.com
“American Idol” star and Tony Award-nominee Constantine Maroulis joins with Grammy Award-nominee and R&B superstar Deborah Cox to inject new life into the classic tale of good and evil with Jekyll & Hyde January 29 – February 10, 2013 in The Buell Theatre. After four thrilling, chilling years on Broadway and multiple world-wide tours, this dark and dangerous love story from Tony and Grammy Award-nominee Frank Wildhorn and Oscar and Grammy-winner Leslie Bricusse returns in a newly-reimagined pre-Broadway production that includes all the classic songs like “This is the Moment,” “A New Life” and “Someone Like You” that first grabbed audiences by the throat and transformed JEKYLL & HYDE into a theatrical phenomenon. jekyllandhydemusical.com
Catch Me if You Can, based on the hit DreamWorks film and the incredible true story that inspired it, plays The Buell Theatre February 26 – March 10, 2013. This high-flying, splashy new Broadway musical tells the story of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., a teenager who runs away from home in search of the glamorous life. With nothing more than his boyish charm, a big imagination and millions of dollars in forged checks, Frank successfully poses as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer — living the high life and winning the girl of his dreams. But when Frank’s lies catch the attention of FBI agent Carl Hanratty, Carl chases Frank to the end…and finds something he never expected. Don’t miss this big-hearted musical adventure based on an astonishing real-life story of being young, in love…and in deep, deep trouble. CatchMeOnTour.com
Spring of 2013, The Doyle & Debbie SHOW plays The Garner Galleria Theatre. This new hit musical featuring all-original songs is sublime homage and parody, simultaneously idolizing and lampooning country music’s tradition of iconic duos and the battle of the sexes that accompany them. Doyle Mayfield, an old-guard country star with a handful of hits back in the 70s and 80s, is reviving his career thirty years, four wives, and three Debbies later. The new Debbie, a single mother with three children, sees this lovable lothario as her last chance to make it big in Nashville – but she also questions hitching her star to this loose cannon. Fresh off an eight month stop in Chicago, Nashville’s perennial favorites Doyle and Debbie venture west to take Denver audiences on a wickedly funny and freewheeling joyride. The Doyle & Debbie SHOW is sponsored by MolsonCoors. doyleanddebbie.com
Denver audiences will see a big beautiful musical make its world premiere when SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL plays The Stage Theatre April 5 – May 26, 2013. With book and lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow, music by Neal Hampton and based on the novel by Jane Austen, this sparkling new musical is full of passion and wit. Sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, opposites in temperament, struggle to find love and happiness in one of literature’s most beloved romances. When half-brother John inherits their father’s estate, the sisters, now virtually penniless, move to a rural cottage to make do as best they can … but not even desperate financial circumstances can keep love at bay. An all-star team of Broadway champions has been assembled for this thrilling new production, including Director/Choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, whose recent Broadway revival of Ragtime received seven Tony Award nominations, including Best Direction of a Musical; Costume Designer Emilio Sosa, “Project Runway”, 2012 Tony nominee for The Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess;Set Designer Allan Moyer, Tony nominee for Grey Gardens, and acclaimed Broadway/London Lighting Designer James F. Ingalls. Producing Partners include: The Anschutz Foundation, Joy S. Burns, Daniel L. Ritchie, June Travis. SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL is sponsored by U.S. Bank and The Ritz-Carlton.
Peter and the Starcatcher, the most mayhem-filled evening of madcap fun on Broadway, will launch the national tour here in Denver at The Ellie Caulkins Opera House August 15 – September 1, 2013. Hailed by The New York Times as “The most exhilarating storytelling on Broadway in decades,” this hilarious romp through the Neverland you never knew won five Tony Awards – the most of any play in 2012 – and Broadway.com’s Audience Choice Award as Favorite New Play. Based on the best-selling Disney-Hyperion novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher is the thrilling passage to a time when the world’s most important battle was being fought by a glum orphan boy and his exuberant leader. A dozen brilliant actors play more than 100 unforgettable characters using their enormous talent, ingenious stagecraft and the limitless possibilities of imagination to tell the story of a nameless boy who becomes Peter Pan. Peter and the Starcatcher is sponsored by The Ritz-Carlton. peterandthestarcatcher.com
An international hit with more than 500 dazzling 2011 Tony Award-winning costumes, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, plays The Buell Theatre September 3 – 15, 2013. Priscilla features a hit parade of dance-floor favorites including “It’s Raining Men,” “Finally” and “I Will Survive.” This spectacular show tells the uplifting story of a trio of friends on a road trip of a lifetime, who hop aboard a battered old bus searching for love and friendship in the middle of the Australian outback and end up finding more than they could ever have dreamed.
Raise your voice; SISTER ACT plays The Buell Theatre September 24 – October 6, 2013. SISTER ACT is Broadway’s feel-amazing musical comedy smash. Featuring original music by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Little Shop of Horrors), Sister Act tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, a wannabe diva whose life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a crime and the cops hide her in the last place anyone would think to look—a convent. Under the suspicious watch of Mother Superior, Deloris helps her fellow sisters find their voices as she unexpectedly rediscovers her own. A sparkling tribute to the universal power of friendship, Sister Act is reason to rejoice!
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning musical returns at last! EVITA plays The Buell Theatre January 2014. Eva Perón used her beauty and charisma to rise meteorically from the slums of Argentina to the presidential mansion as First Lady. Adored by her people as a champion for the poor, she became one of the most powerful women in the world — while her greed, outsized ambition and fragile health made her one of the most tragic. EVITA tells Eva’s passionate and unforgettable true story, and features some of theater’s most beautiful songs, including “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” and “High Flying, Adored.” Don’t miss the stunning new production, directed by Michael Grandage and choreographed by Rob Ashford.
Million Dollar Quartet, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, inspired by the electrifying true story of the famed recording session that brought together rock ’n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for the first and only time, plays The Buell Theatre February 25– March 9, 2014. On December 4, 1956, these four young musicians were gathered together by Sam Phillips, the “Father of Rock ’n’ Roll” at Sun Records in Memphis for what would be one of the greatest jam sessions of all time. Million Dollar Quartet brings that legendary night to life with an irresistible tale of broken promises, secrets, betrayal and celebrations featuring timeless hits including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “That’s All Right,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Who Do You Love?,” “Matchbox,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog” and more. This thrilling musical brings you inside the recording studio with four major talents who came together as a red-hot rock ’n’ roll band for one unforgettable night. Don’t miss your chance to be a fly on the wall of fame… at Million Dollar Quartet! milliondollarquartetlive.com
ONCE, Broadway’s 2012 Tony Award-winning best musical plays The Buell Theatre April/May 2014. Based on the Academy Award-winning film, it tells the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music. Over the course of one fateful week, their unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a powerful but complicated romance, heightened by the raw emotion of the songs they create together. Brought to the stage by an award-winning team of visionary artists and featuring an ensemble cast of gifted actor/musicians, once is a musical celebration of life and love: thrilling in its originality, daring in its honesty…and unforgettable in every way. oncemusical.com
DCA subscribers receive priority access to added attractions in 2013/14 prior to the general public. Additional subscriber benefits include preferred seating, free ticket exchanges and various special offers throughout the season. Season subscribers can purchase tickets to these added attractions NOW: White Christmas (Nov 23-Dec 24, 2012), Chicago (March 19-24, 2013), Spamalot (March 28-30, 2013), Blue Man Group (April 12-21, 2013), Mary Poppins (May 1-5, 2013)and Les MisÉrables (May 22-26, 2013).
Denver Center Attractions 2013/14 subscription packages start at just eight easy payments of $35.63. Restrictions apply. To purchase a subscription, please call Denver Center Ticket Services: 303.893.4100 or 800.641.1222, or visit the ticket office located in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex at Speer & Arapahoe. Subscription packages also can be purchased online at www.denvercenter.org/bwaysubs. Single tickets are not available at this time.
The Denver Center Attractions 2013/14 season is generously sponsored by United Airlines and Vectra Bank. Media sponsorship for Denver Center Attractions is provided by The Denver Post and CBS4. Denver Center Attractions is supported in part by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District.