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'An epic production'

WANT TO GO?

Charleston Light Opera Guild presents "Les Miserables."

WHERE: Clay Center

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Nov. 8-9, 2 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 10

TICKETS: $25 INFO: Call 304-561-3570 or visit www.theclaycenter.org

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Musical theater fans in West Virginia might get only a brief opportunity to see the Broadway titan "Les Miserables."

The Charleston Light Opera Guild opens the show this weekend as part of six performances at the Clay Center, but after that, it might be a long time before another production comes to the area.

The Tony-winning show, which recently enjoyed an Oscar-winning turn as a major motion picture, is set to return to Broadway in the spring -- after a very short season where it's available for license to community theater companies.

Director Nina Pasinetti said, "Anytime you're doing a production like this, you always say, 'Oh my goodness, you can't miss this one.'"

But, she added, if ever there was a show people in Charleston shouldn't miss, this is it.

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the musical tells the story of Jean Valjean, a brutish French peasant, convicted and imprisoned for stealing bread. When he's paroled after 19 years in prison, he struggles for redemption and to remain free from the clutches of Police Inspector Javert.

"Les Miserables" is one of the Broadway's longest-running and best-loved shows.

In fact, the show has been so beloved and so popular that Pasinetti said she never thought she'd live to see a time when the rights to produce the play would be granted to community theater groups like the Charleston Light Opera Guild.

"A few years ago, high school groups could do a reduced version of 'Les Mis,'" she said, "but I was really kind of pessimistic that they were ever going to let anybody else try it."

Just the same, Pasinetti said, the guild has long had a standing order that if "Les Miserables" did become available, it would pre-empt a planned show in favor of mounting a production.

The group got its chance this year, but Pasinetti said the guild still couldn't have pulled it off without the support of four sponsors and a partnership with the Clay Center.

"It's an epic story," she said. "It's an epic production."

The cast includes 57 actors, plus an orchestra and stage crew.

"It's a huge company of people," Pasinetti said.

But interest in the play was immense, she added. They had three times as many people as they expected come to audition, and casting was tricky.

"We actually couldn't cast some very talented people because we had to get the mixture of actors right to tell the story," she said. "We wanted to blend this to feel like an ensemble show."

Among the principal actors are some of the best-known performers in local theater, including Ryan Hardiman as Jean Valjean, Chris Terpening as Inspector Javert and Emily Capece as Fantine.

"Alan and Laurie Pennington are the Thenardiers, kind of the comic relief in 'Les Mis,'" Pasinetti said. "You have to have some comic relief in a show as humongous as this one."

The principal actors of "Les Miserables" are the stars who get to shine, but Pasinetti said the production requires a lot from the supporting actors, as well, many of whom appear in up to six different roles throughout the show.

Aside from the gigantic cast, the Charleston Light Opera Guild is using sets, props and costumes from the Musical Theater of Wichita, with some additional costumes from Magic Makers, in Huntington.

Preparations for the show have been arduous. Casting began shortly after the guild's last show, "Chicago," opened in early August.

Rehearsals followed after "Chicago" closed, and Pasinetti said they spent five weeks working on music before really digging into the characters.

Working so hard has been kind of an obsession.

"We really want to do the play justice," she said.

Pasinetti said the play is a rare treat for audiences and the actors. After "Les Miserables" returns to Broadway, the rights for community theater groups to produce it will dry up again for who knows how long.

Pasinetti said she doesn't think people should count on a Broadway tour coming through with the show anytime in the foreseeable future -- at least not the full-production, and maybe not even a stripped-down version.

"The last time there was a touring production, I think they only went places where they could settle in for a couple of weeks," she said. "I don't think West Virginia would get it."

"Les Miserables," she said, is about second chances, but this might be Charleston's only chance to see this show.

"We really want Charleston to come out for this," she said. Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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