Les Miserables debuts at the Chemainus Theatre Festival

Chemainus Theatre has been trying to stage Les Miserables since 1998. - Andrew Leong
Chemainus Theatre has been trying to stage Les Miserables since 1998.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

I Dreamed a Dream is the most recognizable song from Les Miserables, the world’s longest-running musical. The Chemainus theatre knows all about dreams.

It dreamed of bringing the musical, the most popular musical ever, to Vancouver Island, so people in this region could enjoy a bit of its magic.

Dreams do come true, as the play starts its three-month run on June 20.

Randall Huber, the theatre’s managing director, said the theatre company has been wanting to show the play for years.

“It’s been at the top of our short list for some time,” he said. “The show’s not on yet and we feel triumphant just to get it,” he said.

Apparently patience and persistence pay off.

In 1998, the theatre’s artist director at the time, Jeremy Tow, started the process of trying to get Les Mis to Vancouver Island.

The show’s rights are owned by the U.K’s Cameron Mackintosh who restricts access. After all, who wants Les Mis playing at every local theatre in the region? Dumb question maybe, given that over 65 million people have attended the show.

“Decisions are based regionally, they don’t want Les Mis playing at every theatre around,” Huber said.

Since 1998, when Tow first thought about applying for the show, the play’s played on Broadway and was made into a movie, starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.

Provincially, the show has only been licensed in B.C. at one other time; it ran at the Arts Club in Vancouver last year and this year both Kamloops and Chemainus are having a run.

Huber said the intricate musical is a huge investment financially and in terms of the people needed to pull it off. Fourteen per cent  of the box office goes to Mackintosh, who holds the license.

Huber said the show fits the local theatre’s mandate to a T: “the Chemainus Theatre Festival Society... exists to serve Vancouver Island and its visitors by creating exceptional theatre that explores and nourishes truth, hope, redemption, love and the human spirit.”

And not that different from how Mackintosh’s website describes Les Miserables: an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption — a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit.

“It’s the show that this theatre was created to do,” Huber said.

For those who haven’t seen the show, Les Miserables takes place during the Paris Uprising of 1832, when the downtrodden Jean Valjean clings to what little hope remains in his life of bad luck and poor choices.

Though given the chance to be an, “honest man,” Valjean is discovered eight years later, having broken parole and living under the assume identify of Monsieur Madeleine, a wealthy factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer.

His criminal past comes back to haunt him as his nemesis, police inspector Javert relentlessly tracks him down to seek justice.

“Les Mis has such power and majesty, it’s such a beautiful story and it’s so beautifully written,” the managing director said. “It’s hard not to become engaged emotionally.”

Sad to say, Jeremy Tow isn’t here to see his dream come true, he passed away in 2010. But the next generation will, as his son Sebastian Tow is playing the character Gavroche in the play.

The play runs from June 20 to Sept. 7.

Your ticket

What: Les Miserables

When: June 20 -September 7, matinee, evening and dinner performances

Where: 9737 Chemainus Road, Chemainus, B.C.

Tickets: Call 250 246-9820 or visit their website www.chemainustheatrefestival.ca

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