There is not a chorus girl in it, but there has seldom been a show with better "legs" than Les Misérables -- the internationally beloved musical that will roll into Bass Hall on Wednesday night for an eight-performance run.
When Broadway types talk about shows having legs, they are not talking about the Rockettes. Rather, they are referring to those plays and musicals that just keep running.
Les Miz, as it is affectionately known, fits that description better than almost any show. Only Cats and The Phantom of the Opera can boast more Broadway performances than this musical (or opera, if you prefer, since it has no spoken dialogue), which has been seen on the Great White Way 6,680 times.
The touring production coming to Bass Hall is the 25th-anniversary tour, which began two years ago, meaning that this show has been running even longer than Jean Valjean, the on-the-lam hero of this musical drama based on Victor Hugo's novel set against the backdrop of the dissent and violence of France's "June Rebellion" of 1832.
Les Miz has been presented in 42 countries in 21 languages to audiences estimated at 60 million worldwide. But perhaps the most amazing testament to its popularity is the fact that there have been a staggering 36 cast recordings released from this show -- and that does not include the cast album from this touring production, which is still in the works. Even successful Broadway shows rarely yield more than one cast recording.
To get at why this show is so enduring, and why this particular production should be worth your attention, we sought out the perspectives of one of the performers and someone who worked behind the scenes to make this particular production stand apart.
"I grew up listening to the tapes," says Betsy Morgan, who has played the role of Fantine since this tour began. "It is a dream come true to be on tour with this show. I have done it over 700 times now. And the best part of touring with Les Miz is doing Les Miz every night."
A different show
Morgan says this production is a fresher take on the original version, and even slightly different from the show that made a stop in Dallas last year.
"It will definitely be a different show [from Dallas] because it is a touring production and the cast changes with time," says Morgan, who was with the show in Boise, Idaho, when we caught up with her. "But the production is consistent. We don't change the music, we don't change the story, we don't change the characters. We are updating the things that advances in technology allow us to update. Things like our orchestration and our incredible sets, and the lighting design and the projections that enhance the show. Those were things that were different 27 years ago or didn't exist. The things that we change only enhance the story that Victor Hugo wrote."
Those "incredible sets" and projections were done by designer Matt Kinley.
"It was incredibly daunting, because it is so beloved by so many millions of people and it's such a legendary production. And we didn't want to be different just for the sake of being different. We wanted any changes to be justified," says Kinley, about his initial involvement in creating the look of this 25th-anniversary production. "You'll recognize the atmosphere of the world, but it's not exactly the same. We take you a slightly different way into it."
One of the most obvious differences for those familiar with the original version will be the absence of a "revolve" -- the enormous turntable that moved the original production around like a giant Lazy Susan. Kinley says that trademark touch was dropped, in part, for practical reasons (touring with that much stage machinery is a chore), but also for artistic reasons.
"We wanted to try to force ourselves to think in new ways," says Kinley, who spoke with us from his home in London.
'A moving painting'
Kinley also found a slightly different source of inspiration for the look of this Les Miz. Instead of relying solely on Hugo's writings, the 40-year-old designer turned to the rarely seen paintings by that French author, especially in developing the look of the projections the show uses.
"[The projections are] kind of old-fashioned. It's kind of a moving backdrop. I wanted it to look like a moving painting rather than a projection. And that has been very satisfying to see that work," explains Kinley, who's next London design (after doing shows in Japan and South Korea) will be Dear World, starring Fort Worth's own Betty Buckley. "I think it provides impressionist backdrops for the very real scenic world at the front."
As for the key to Les Miz's longevity, Morgan feels the show provides audience members with multiple points of entry.
"There is a storyline for everyone. And I think as people grow and mature, the characters that they follow change," says Morgan, who grew up in Chicago but now makes her home in New York. "I can't tell you how many people have come up to me and said 'I have seen this show so many times, but this time Fantine really stuck out for me.'
"I'd love to take credit for that but, the truth is, when you go to that show as a girl, you look at [the romantic lead] Cosette and [the underdog] Eponine. But you go and see it later in life and of course you are going to relate to Fantine. She's the mother. She's the one who wants to provide for her children. You grow with the stories."