For 27 years, "Les Miserables," the Boubili and Schoenberg mega-musical hit based on Victor Hugo's great novel, has been unavailable for anything but resident professional and touring company productions. But when the rights became widely available last year, Maui Academy of Performing Arts (MAPA) Executive Artistic Director David Johnston went to his board, and after "a stunned silence," they decided to seize the opportunity and take on the biggest production in the history of MAPA.
It's a lucky thing, too. When Cameron McIntosh brings "Les Mis" back to Broadway in 2014, the rights will undoubtedly be withdrawn.
With a budget of more than $200,000, a cast of over 100 and a 29-member orchestra, Maui audiences are in for the rarest of treats.
Maui Film Studios owners Kathleen and Socrates Buenger watch a rehearsal of Maui Academy of Performing Arts’ “Les Misérables” as Director David Johnston makes a point. The Buengers generously donated their studio--the largest sound stage in the state--for the final weeks of rehearsal before it moves into the Castle Theater. “We’re a for-profit company, but really, this is to help the people of Maui. One of our goals is to bring in outside money from outside productions and spread it around Maui as much as possible. So really this fits nicely with that,” said Socrates.
Photo: Jack Grace, courtesy of MAPA
Johnston hopes to fill the Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center for six showings on two weekends beginning Friday, Aug. 16, and concluding the following weekend on Sunday, Aug. 25.
The story takes place in France from 1815-32. Jean Valjean was sentenced to five years in the galley for stealing bread for his starving sister and another 14 for numerous escape attempts.
When the call went out to Hawai'i Opera Theater for a Jean Valjean, Beebe Freitas, the opera choral director, contacted Jim Price, a New York-based international opera and concert singer, who luckily decided to stay in Honolulu after a gig there last December. (He also lived and studied on Maui in the '90's.) He flew over, auditioned and the rest is going to be history.
Price is very excited about this project. Although he's done Tamino in "The Magic Flute," Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring, and covered operas as Jose in Carmen and Alfredo in "La Traviata," Jean Valjean is a truly great character.
"In this case, he is the lead, yes, but my draw to the character is that he drives the story," said Price. "It's his quest to maintain the path of good. He chooses the morally right decisions, despite the personal cost."
With his three-octave, bass-baritone/lyric-tenor range from C to C, he is looking forward to the challenge of the multi-meters and 147 key changes in "Les Mis."
Price is thrilled to be back on Maui, where he attended the former Maui Community College and took a course taught by MAPA's current board president, Vinnie Linares.
"I'm just happy to be back on Maui performing with a group that I sincerely enjoy spending time with, in a place I love," said Price.
"From the first note to the last, there is not a spoken word," said Bob Wills, the show's musical director. "And it is classically written. They often describe Bach as the 'Fifth Evangelist.' Well, I'm here to tell you, this work matches up with the words as well as Bach and it's brilliantly written."
Leighanna Locke, Maui's finest coloratura soprano, plays Fantine. In the film, the part was immortalized by Anne Hathaway, who received an Oscar for "Best Supporting Female Performer." Locke hopes to do what Hathaway did.
"I am just going to try to be in the moment, and try to portray her as honestly and realistically as possible," Locke said. "And because I'm not Anne Hathaway, it's going to be different, but I hope just as powerful."
Locke, who was a new mother in October, said, "All the emotions that come with that [being a mother] are right on the surface for me, so the opportunity to express those through my art form this year is particularly special for me."
One of the biggest problems any large production has on Maui is rehearsal space. MAPA's studios are not big enough to adequately rehearse a production that is destined for the huge, professional-sized stage of the Castle Theater.
This is when Socrates and Kathleen Buenger came to the rescue.
They allowed MAPA to rehearse, free of charge, at the marvelous Maui Film Studios, which is about the only place on the island big enough to house this production.
"It's called Maui Film Studios for a reason," Kathleen said. "It's not a creative name--it's Maui Film Studios because it's for the people of Maui. If you can hear in the background [referring to the rehearsal going on during this interview], this is Maui and this is what we're all about."
Maui star Jerry Eiting, who could have easily enjoyed a big Broadway career, is playing the part of Javert, Jean Valjean's nemesis. He purposely did not see the movie because, "I didn't want to influence my character in any way. You know, I've heard things obviously about Russell Crowe's performance that weren't maybe stellar, but I'm sure he brought to it what he had. I am lucky enough to be able to pull off the music in a way that is required, and I think it will be wonderful experience for everybody."
Asked what he hoped the audience would take away from the performance, Eiting said, "If you love another person, you'll see the face of God."
"Les Miserables" opens Aug. 16 and runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until Aug. 25.
For tickets, go to www.mauiarts.org or call 242-SHOW (7469).
Don't miss it!