Les Miserables February 2010

The West End production arrives at Norwich Theatre Royal

Cameron dreams a dream

West End producer Cameron Mackintosh is bringing his smash hit Les Miserables to Norwich this month. As the show celebrates its 25th anniversary, he tells Abigail Saltmarsh about his new version of the acclaimed show.

When Les Miserables opens at the Theatre Royal in Norwich later this month it will be the first time audiences in Norfolk have been able to enjoy the smash hit show right on their own doorstep.Until now, says West End producer Cameron Mackintosh, the production has just been too big for most regional theatres, but a new 25th anniversary version of the acclaimed musical can now be played in a few select venues.“The Theatre Royal in Norwich was the best place in East Anglia to put the show on – in fact it was the best place in the south of England, outside London,” he explains.“I am known for big musicals with huge casts and many of them just cannot be done on smaller stages. We were able to bring Cats to Norwich and now we are just about going to manage it with Les Miserables, which will be terrific.”Based on French author Victor Hugo’s novel, the musical was first staged by Cameron Mackintosh in 1985. To date, it has been watched by almost 60 million people worldwide in 42 different countries – and in 21 languages. The score, by composer Claude-Michel Sch�nberg, with lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, includes the  songs I Dreamed a Dream, On My Own, Bring Him Home and Do You Hear the People Sing.The Theatre Royal show forms part of an international tour which includes just a few carefully chosen venues in Britain.“The version you will see in Norwich is entirely different from the one we have been staging until now,” says Cameron. “I was thinking about the best way to celebrate 25 years of the show and decided it would be exciting to go back to its roots.“So we’ve given it back the raw edge it had when it was originally performed in Paris, when Claude-Michel and Alain first wrote it.”He goes on: “This version of Les Miserables is much more in the spirit of that early version. We have given it new lighting, new direction and new costumes – everything is different.”Cameron stresses it is vital to revisit productions in this way. In order for musical theatre to remain cutting edge, it needs to be reconsidered every so often, no matter how successful it is.“We did this recently with Miss Saigon and I have also done it with Oliver! It can work really well. This new version of Les Miserables is even more powerful, and much more gritty, than before.”The new production will be directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell and designed by Matt Kinley, who has been inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. There will be original costumes by Andreane Neofitou, lighting by Paule Constable and sound by Mick Potter.Heading up a new cast on the new show is Broadway and West End star John Owen Jones, who plays Jean Valjean. He will be joined by Earl Carpenter as Javert and pop star Gareth Gates as Marius.Gareth, 24, who became a West End success in Joseph, shot to fame in 2002 in the first series of Pop Idol. Despite finishing runner-up to Will Young, he was signed by Simon Cowell’s BMG label and went on to become a top-selling artist, whose version of Unchained Melody is still the second-best-selling single of this decade.“Gareth is an absolute star in this,” says Cameron. “He is a wonderful actor as well as an incredible singer. Claude-Michel said to me that he thinks this is the best sung version of Les Miserables – and I agree. “Gareth is brilliant in it and will really add to the power of the show at the Theatre Royal.”Cameron himself started out in the theatre as a stagehand. His early shows as a producer were small scale tours. His first great success was Trelawny in 1972, which began at the Bristol Old Vic and transferred to both Sadler’s Wells and the Prince of Wales where it ran for a year. But his first major international hit came in 1976 with the musical revue Side by Side by Sondheim. This was followed by a hugely successful revival  of the original production of Oliver! Since then his productions have included the likes off My Fair Lady, Oklahoma! Cats, Little Shop of Horrors, The Phantom of the Opera, Mary Poppins and Miss Saigon.However, despite staging such huge productions in top London venues, he retains a soft spot for regional theatre.“That was where my career started,” he remembers. “I began at the Kenton Theatre in Henley-on-Thames back in 1967. In those days I was always coming to Norwich with productions.”Because of the scale of his shows, it is rare these days, however, that Cameron makes it up to this part of the world. And with so many projects on at the moment, he is not sure if he will manage to get to Norfolk for Les Miserables.“If I can I will,” he says. “But it is great to be able to stage a production like this in Norwich. It can just about work with something of a medium scale like this.“I am doing a new production of Hair too. If that proves to be a success and we could do it on a similar scale, it  would be terrific to be able to bring that to Norwich at some point in the future  as well.”He adds: “But for now it is great to be bringing Les Miserables – the Theatre Royal is a great theatre and I’m pleased to be able to give people in East Anglia a chance to see the show.”

Les Miserables opens at the Theatre Royal in Norwich on Tuesday, February 16 and runs until Saturday, March 20. For more information or for tickets call 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk