Dream come true
October 29, 2013
By David Hayes
After 20 years, director Steve Tomkins brings ‘Les Misérables’ to Village Theatre
In his 21 seasons as art director at Village Theatre, Steve Tomkins had a long unfulfilled dream.
The seeds of the dream were first planted when he saw, in 1993, Greg Stone perform in “Les Misérables.” They would even work together first on “Jesus Christ Super Star” and again on “Funny Girl.”
“I even made him tap dance in that one,” Tomkins said.
“I was way in the back,” Stone interjected.
“Yeah, it’s hard to hide a 6-foot-3 guy,” Tomkins added.
But he knew Stone would be perfect to reprise the lead role of Jean Valjean, if only Village Theatre could secure the rights to one of Broadway’s hottest properties.
After 20 years, which saw Stone perform for a decade on the East Coast, the fates aligned. He moved back locally to Camano Island, and Tomkins got the rights to produce “Les Misérables.” It will be one of the biggest productions he has undertaken here, as the musical sports a cast of 30 and features more than 200 costume changes and 8,000 scenes on a huge, rotating set, designed by Village Theatre veteran stage designer Scott Fyfe.
Tomkins said there are many challenges to taking on the popular musical.
“The pitfall is copying what has already been done rather than exploring the story with fresh eyes,” Tomkins said. “For me, it’s exciting to explore different choices that can make it unique to our production.”
Stone, who last performed in “Les Misérables” on Broadway in 1997, said Tomkins is just about the only thing that hasn’t changed at Village Theatre over the years.
“I’ve been in a lot of territorial productions across the U.S. that were little, old or beat up,” Stone said. “But this place blows them out of the water. It’s kind of like coming home.”
To prepare, Tomkins spent eight months reading the original, voluminous tome by Victor Hugo. He said the great adaptation by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg has really smart choices, making the nearly 1,500-page behemoth into an easily digestible musical for the stage, while maintaining its powerful story about the human spirit.
But if Tomkins’ copy of “Les Misérables” was a little worse for wear with its many dog-eared pages, he said assistant director and choreographer Kathryn Van Meter’s copy was unrecognizable after she was through.
“She is renowned for research,” Tomkins said. “She found motivational background for nearly every character.”
To fill out the 30 parts in the musical, Tomkins said after securing Stone for the lead, he auditioned seemingly everyone in the region for a role.
“Everyone wanted to be in it,” he said. “That gave us a very deep talent pool to work with.”
Stone said it’s easy to understand why the musical’s popularity would draw such interest, especially for the audience.
“It’s theme of redemption is universal, and even though it’s long ago — during the French Revolution — it could still happen today,” Stone said.
Tomkins said “Les Misérables” should appeal to audiences of all ages. He added that the brilliant move was to release the rights first to high schools.
After performing the musical as students, they come back as adults to see it again and again. Thus the love for “Les Misérables” goes full circle, generation after generation, Tomkins said.
He also expects an elevated interest in the musical so soon after last year’s movie starring Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman.
Another draw is the music. There is very little dialog, with most of the story unfolding in song. Some of Broadway’s most memorable songs come from “Les Misérables,” including “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Who am I?” “One Day More” and the triumphant “Do You Hear the People Sing?”
“There’s never a dry eye in the house after ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’,” Stone said.
He added he’s proud to play a role in making Tomkins’ dream come true, finally bringing “Les Misérables” to Village Theatre.
“He’s really put together a really impressive cast, as strong a cast that I’ve ever been a part of,” Stone said. “This is a top notch, professional production that I’m dang proud to be a part of.”
If you go
- Nov. 7 – Jan. 5
- Village Theatre
- 303 Front St. N.
- Tickets: $33-$68
- Box office: 392-2202