MANCHESTER, NH – “Les Miserables” is a timeless tale of love, loss and redemption written more than 150 years ago. Since it’s translation, from the pages of the Victor Hugo novel to a successful Broadway musical – and then, as a 2012 motion picture – it has become so iconic and beloved that it is known commonly by its theater shorthand, as “Les Mis.”
But there are no shortcuts when it comes to staging this bountiful production, from the soaring musical score to the swirling period costumes. And there is no shortage of top talent assembled, as the Palace Theatre has, again, pulled out all the stops in preparing for a run of “Les Miserables,” opening May 1 and playing through May 16.
George Piehl, a seasoned veteran of nearly 40 years in community and professional theater who quips, “I invented acting,” returns to the Palace Stage as innkeeper Monsieur Thénardier, and says he is honored not only to be part of this particular production, but that he’s doing so during the theater’s 100th anniversary season.
“As an actor I really do love the emotional aspect of a really rich story. You can do stories like ‘Carousel’ and ‘Oklahoma,’ wonderful classic shows. But they are pretty much formula boy-meets-girl, have a problem, get together, and happy ending stories. When you find a script so full of emotion, so full of the human aspect, as you find in ‘Les Miserables,’ and you get to play that on stage, there’s really no experience quite like it,” says Piehl.
Set in early 19th-century France, “Les Miserables” tells the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant, and his quest for redemption after serving 19 years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. Valjean decides to break his parole and start his life anew after a kindly bishop inspires him by a tremendous act of mercy, 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.
Playing the role of Fantine is Laura Stracko Franks, who will take the stage in her fifth Palace Theatre production. She most recently performed in “Godspell,” which just wrapped up in April.
She knows that there will likely be audience members who will come only knowing the movie version, in which Anne Hathaway played Fantine.
“What was cool about the movie is that they stayed close to the show, so even if you only saw the movie version, the continuity will be there. Just as the movie brought a lot of people to the show that maybe wouldn’t have come out normally, I think because of the movie, a broader audience will be coming out to see the show,” says Franks.
As Fantine, Franks will deliver what is perhaps one of the most haunting and beautiful songs associated with a Broadway show, “I Dreamed a Dream.” And as dreams go, that is truly a dream come true for any stage actress.
“It’s such a famous show, one I’ve always wanted to do. It’s easy to be intimidated by it because the music and story are so famous. So you want to pay homage to that, while putting your own spin on it; that’s what’s cool about working with (Artistic Director) Carl (Rajotte.) He helps you find your own way to do something while staying true to the character of the show,” says Franks.
Piehl, who has also over the years been active with Ogunquit Playhouse, The Barnstormers Theatre, and his own StageOne Productions, says the Palace, at this point in time, has arrived as a truly top-quality experience, not only from an actor’s point of view, but also for audiences.
“This is not just the highest point for the Palace in the last 30-40 years as a venue, but the shows are truly truly excellent. People are going to come and experience live professional theater and they will be blown away by what they hear and see and feel. It’s the whole package. This building is a piece of history, and when you walk in you just feel it. Actors from New York, like Laura, when they walk out onto that stage, it’s more than overwhelming,” Piehl says.
For Franks, the Palace feels like home, or something close to it.
“I’m just so happy to be part of this show, especially at the Palace where I feel comfortable to take risks and play an adorable yet strong female character, it’s such an inspiring role. I’ve met some of my best friends here, I’m fast friends with people in this cast. The Palace is such a beautiful place to work.” Franks says.
As for Piehl, over the years he says he’s been asked time and again why he stayed with the Palace instead of seeking fame or fortune elsewhere.
“There’s something about the audiences here. They are warm, they are with you – they’re not just sitting back saying ‘show me,’ they are in your court. When they applaud, when they laugh, when they take that inhalation when they’re surprised, there’s nothing like a Manchester, New Hampshire audience. They are extraordinary.”
Showtimes for “Les Miserables”
Friday May 1, 2015 7:30 p.m.
Saturday May 2, 2015 7:30 p.m.
Saturday May 2, 2015 2:00 p.m.
Sunday May 3, 2015 2:00 p.m.
Friday May 8, 2015 7:30 p.m.
Saturday May 9, 2015 7:30 p.m.
Saturday May 9, 2015 2 p.m.
Sunday May 10, 2015 2 p.m.
Thursday May 14, 2015 7:30 p.m.
Friday May 15, 2015 7:30 p.m.
Saturday May 16, 2015 7:30 p.m.
Saturday May 16, 2015 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $15 to $45 and can be purchased online via the Palace Theatre website. No refunds or exchanges are allowed. Flex Subscriptions and Group Rates are available. For Group rates contact the group Sales office at 603-668-5588 x110 or email David Rousseau at firstname.lastname@example.org