Photo contributed by Kathleen McHaney
Tony Bohannon plays Jean Valjean during a rehearsal of "Les Misérables" at the Market House Theatre. Bohannon said he and many of the actors in the 35-person cast have long dreamed of performing in the iconic musical.
It’s an epic story of one man’s search for redemption. It’s the longest-running musical in Broadway history. And it’s difficult to produce on a 30-by-35-foot stage.
That’s why, when Market House Theatre Executive Director Michael Cochran was offered the exclusive rights to the regional premiere of the full-length production of “Les Misérables,” his response was, “I need to think about that.”
He first considered whether the story would work in the smaller, more intimate setting of the Market House Theatre. He decided it would.
“I don’t have to fill a 100-foot-wide proscenium with scenery when (the musical) is about one man and his journey to redemption,” he said. “I can tell a story that actually impacts the audience more powerfully, in a simpler way.”
He considered the vocal requirements for the show — the musical is completely sung-through, requiring singers to carry a heavy vocal load — and whether the singers available in the region were up to the task. The answer, again, was yes.
Then there was the matter of space. Market House’s orchestra pit accommodates only six to eight musicians. A shootout at a barricade, among other scenes, has to fit on the stage.
“There are moments where you’re really challenged to come up with something innovative. It’s like, ‘There’s no solution to this problem. OK, create one,’” he said.
To make the best use of the space, the set design team made sure that pieces had multiple functions.
With the help of software designed for that purpose, music director Patt Lynch and vocal director Cindy Miller managed to create a full orchestra sound with only a handful of live musicians.
Intensive rehearsals ensured the 35-member cast could carry the musical.
“The sheer body of music is daunting,” Miller said. “It doesn’t stop. I think we have maybe 10 spoken words in the whole show.”
The cast had to be talented, but more than that, it needed to be dedicated.
“Every member of the cast has to bring it. There are no places to hide in this (show): every person sings, and every song is difficult,” said Tony Bohannon, who plays the role of Jean Valjean.
The story follows Valjean, who has been held in prison for nearly two decades, as he attempts to start his life anew. Police inspector Javert, played by J.C. Witherspoon of Princeton, relentlessly tracks the ex-convict. Valjean and the many characters he meets along the way are then swept into a revolutionary period in France, and the show’s tensions come to a head at a street barricade.
It’s an iconic show with moving music, Bohannon said, and for that reason, playing in “Les Misérables” has been a lifelong dream for many of the actors in the company.
“I’ve always told people, ‘I don’t care if they’re singing it out on the corner. I just want to sing it somewhere,’” he said.
More than 120 people from the region auditioned, and actors came from as far away as Martin, Tenn., to try to land a part in the show.
Cochran said “Les Misérables” marks the most challenging production, in terms of scope and size, that the theater has ever taken on. But for Cochran, that’s part of the point.
“If you don’t challenge the audience and the actors and the design team, you don’t grow. And that growth is what the theater’s success has been built on,” he said.
The show runs June 6-9, 13-16, and 20-23. Shows start at 7 p.m. weekday and Saturday evenings. Weekend matinees begin at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. To purchase tickets, visit mhtplay.com, or call the box office at 270-444-6828.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641 or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.
Want to go?
What: “Les Misérables”
Where: Market House Theatre, 132 Market House Square.
When: 7 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays, 1 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, June 6-9, 13-16, and 20-23.
To purchase tickets, visit mhtplay.com, or call the box office at 270-444-6828.