'Les Mis' returns to the Great White Way

Posted by · 2:15 pm · February 19th, 2013

Good news for younger Broadway geeks who never got to see “Les Misérables” before it disappeared from New York stages in 2007, and have had their appetites whetted by Tom Hooper’s film: the blockbuster musical is returning to the Great White Way next year. The 25th anniversary touring production that’s been touring the US for a while now will settlle into a Broadway theater in spring 2014, a development presumably facilitated by the film’s popularity. (Dates, venues and casting have yet to specified.)

On London’s West End, where “Les Mis” is now in the 28th year of its run, the show has never stopped being a hot ticket — albeit for tourists more than anyone else — but apparently even its routinely robust box office has intensified since the film’s release. Even Londoners are going to see it, I’m told, which probably hasn’t happened in significant numbers since the 1980s.

As Variety’s Gordon Cox reports, it wouldn’t be the first stage musical to piggyback on the performance of its screen adaptation: the seemingly deathless “Chicago” was given extra longevity by the success of 2002’s Oscar-winning film adaptation. Even a flop film like “Phantom of the Opera” gave a renewed boost to its stage source.

These days, of course, the stage musical scene is all but impossible to disentangle from the movies. The stage-to-screen path of “Les Mis” looks relatively old-fashioned in an age where more and more musicals are flipping the dynamic and basing themselves on films: “Ghost,” “Legally Blonde,” “Shrek,” and so on. Then there are those, like “Hairspray” and “The Producers,” that follow the screen-to-stage-and-back-to-screen trajectory. “Les Misérables” is among the few surviving global theater brands that doesn’t need a movie connection to sell it, but it has one now — and considering how many viewers have come to the film with no prior acquaintance with the material, that’s a powerful bonus.

It’ll be interesting to see if future stagings of “Les Mis” bear any imprint of Hooper’s film treatment, in terms of design, structure or performance. (One hopes they won’t feel the need to add dreary new song “Suddenly” to the original score.) She probably has more tempting offers on her plate, but it’d be sweet to see Samantha Barks, the TV reality star who honed her chops as Eponine in the 25th anniversary production in London, return the character to the stage.

As I mentioned in my review, I remain a fan of the show, in all its earnest, eternally unfashionable glory — as a teenaged visitor to London, it was the first West End show I ever saw, and I was swept up in its combination of stagy intimacy and stylized sweep. It seems the most cinematic of musicals, but I wonder if the stage might actually be the best place for its sung-through grandiosity. I have no desire ever to see the film again, but I’d happily hear the people sing once more on Broadway. How about you?

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