The world famous Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., founded by Robert Porterfield and presently directed by Richard Rose, just closed an exemplary production of Les Misérables. From the first soaring notes to the final triumphant chorus, it was a musical experience I shall never forget.
Les Misérables is a musical based on the novel of the same name by French poet and playwright Victor Hugo. Set in early 19th-century France, it is the story of Jean Valjean, a burly French peasant of abnormal strength and potentially violent nature, and his quest for redemption after serving nineteen years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread for his starving sister’s child.
Valjean decides to break his parole and start his life anew after a kindly bishop inspires him to, but he is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector named Javert. Along the way, Valjean and a slew of characters are swept into a revolutionary period in France, where a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade.
Victor Hugo (1802-1885) is considered one of the greatest and best known French writers. In France, his literary fame comes first from his poetry but also rests upon his novels and his dramatic achievements. Hugo’s best-known works are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and Notre-Dame de Paris, 1831 (known in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame).
Barter’s thrilling original production, expertly directed by Richard Rose, featured a cast of 26 and a live musical ensemble. Cast members demonstrated they had superior musical training and stunning voices. The lead role, Jean Valjean, was portrayed by veteran actor Pat McRoberts who has a long and brilliant theatrical career. His astonishing voice and confident stage presence were totally magnetic.
The role of young orphan Cosette was triple cast (Virginia Pillion, Haley Keene, Ginny Osborne) and I’m not certain which one I saw, but the child was outstanding in her role. Stephen Scott Wormley, in the role of Marius, gave a show-stopping performance of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” As a former Barter player, it is my heartfelt judgment that this production was one of Barter’s finest.
Songs like “On My Own,” “I Dreamed a Dream” and “One Day More” have made Les Mis an international smash hit for over two decades. The London production of Les Mis has run continuously since October 1985: the second longest-running musical in the world after The Fantasticks. It is the longest-running musical in the West End followed by The Phantom of the Opera. Although it has not been cast, Les Mis is set to return on Broadway in March 2014 at the Imperial Theatre.
For your general information, fall and winter productions at the Barter include Good ol’ Girls, Kiss Me Kate, Dial M for Murder, Sanders Family Christmas and Another Night before Christmas. For reservations or more information call (276) 628-3991 or visit www.bartertheatre.com