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Les Miserables

by B.A. Nilsson on September 26, 2013


Craig Schulman has racked up nearly 2,000 performances as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, on Broadway, on the first national tour, and around the world. Gary Lynch made his Broadway debut in the show, in the role of Jean Provaire and as an alternate for Javert. During his six years in the cast, he turned in more than 2,300 performances, 300 of them as Javert.

This mega-hit musical, set in 19th-century France, tells the story of Jean Valjean, still trying to redeem himself after 19 years of unjust imprisonment, and the relentless pursuit of him by police Inspector Javert. The two actors are reunited in the production that opens this weekend at the Theatre Institute at Sage in Troy, where Schulman and Lynch will sing Valjean and Javert, respectively.

“Not only that,” says Lynch, “but Craig talked to Carmel Vargyas, who was our hair supervisor on Broadway, and she sent us the wigs we used in that production. Mine was made from human hair that came from a convent in France a hundred years ago—which is kind of ironic!”

Vargyas also made a couple of videos available to the Theatre Institute’s costumer designer, Lynne Roblin. “Carmel created two videos,” says Schulman. “One on how to block and set the wigs, and the other about how to do the prep for the kind of lace they use, which is an unusual process.”

“And she also got us our boots,” adds Lynch. “We’re wearing our original boots as well.”

Schulman has performed two of the other most demanding characters ever created for musical theater, with lengthy stints in Phantom of the Opera and Jekyll & Hyde, but also moves between Broadway and opera and appears regularly with symphony orchestras.

Lynch also spent five years in Mamma Mia! beginning with the Toronto and San Francisco premieres of the show. And he’s known to the Capital Region for his appearances as John Adams in the NYSTI’s productions of 1776, so he’s pleased to be back among friends.

“It’s cool to relive Les Miz here,” he says. “We’ve been walking through the paces here, asking each other what did we do? Oh, yeah, we did this! All of a sudden it comes back and we can remember exactly what we did!” And they’re doing it on a completely different set, minus the Broadway turntable, “but it’s the proximity and the staging and the storytelling,” says Lynch, “and that’s the thing. You’re telling a story—an epic story. It has to be told with specifics: You have to be very specific about your characters, very specific about everything in this show—that’s what makes it work.”

Schulman describes a rehearsal process with the original production in which the actors were encouraged to discover details about even the smallest of characters, “because, with the exception of Javert and Valjean and Fontine, everyone plays multiple roles, until your character emerges, or you die—and then you disappear. Being that specific about those little moments is what gives life to the show.”

Lynch learned that it’s possible to be too swept up in the moment. “We were reviewing some blocking in the confrontation, and we were recalling, ‘I grabbed you over here,’ ‘No, you grabbed me over here.’ And that reminded me of one performance in New York when I grabbed him a little too high, and he turned to shrug me off—and smacked me right square in the jaw. I hit the deck, and it was the first time in my life that I knew what it felt like to have your legs buckle while your brain is conscious. I’m on the ground, trying to stagger to my feet, which I did—just in time for the actual fight.”

Les Miserables will be performed at the Schacht Fine Arts Center (Russell Sage College, Troy), with previews tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 27) at 10 AM and Saturday (Sept. 28) at 7 PM; it runs Sunday (Sept. 29) through Oct. 11. For tickets and info, call 244-2248.