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One day more, for Terrence Mann

The original Javert returns for the final run of Les Miserables, which closes later this month after 16 years on Broadway.

By JOHN FLEMING
Published May 4, 2003

photo
[Photo: Joan Marcus]
“I think it’s probably the greatest dramatic musical ever written,” Terrence Mann says
of Les Miserables. He is returning to the role of Javert, one he played on Broadway 16 years ago.
photo
[Photo: Joan Marcus]
Mark McVey as Valjean, left, and Terrence Mann as Javert in Les Miserables, the second-longest running production in Broadway history.

NEW YORK - Terrence Mann is back at the barricade. Sixteen years ago, Mann was the original Javert when the Broadway production of Les Miserables opened. Now he has returned for a swan song as the relentless inspector, in hot pursuit of Valjean for eight shows a week as the musical winds down as the second longest-running Broadway show of all time, after Cats. It closes May 18.

"It felt incredibly familiar and terribly unfamiliar all at the same time," Mann said, speaking of his first performance back in the role in February. "What was odd was the muscle memory was still there after 16 years. I was just trying to calm down and do the 2003 version rather than the 1987 version."

Les Miserables, a sprawling saga of the French Revolution adapted by Alain Boublil and Claude Michel-Schonberg from the Victor Hugo novel, still retains its power after all these years. When Javert belts out his first-act anthem Stars, it is one of the great moments in musical theater.

"I think it's probably the greatest dramatic musical ever written," Mann said. "The indomitability of the human spirit is so clearly and precisely indicated in the show."

Mann, 51, who was raised in Largo and still has family in the bay area, has had an illustrious career on Broadway, also playing Rum Tum Tugger in Cats and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. He was Javert for a year the first time around, during the tryout run at the Kennedy Center in Washington and then for eight months after the Broadway opening on March 12, 1987. He left the musical to do two movies,Critters 2: The Main Course and Big Top Pee-wee.

Mann didn't express any regrets about leaving the show early for such forgettable projects in Hollywood. But last fall, when producer Cameron Mackintosh asked if he was interested in returning for its final months, the actor leapt at the chance.

"I thought about it for a second and went, yeah, that'd be really neat to do that. How often do you get to revisit a role 16 years later? And you're still right for the role?" said Mann, who lives in New York. Because of another commitment, he will leave the show before it closes.

Mann, seen in the first week of his return, had superb stage presence as the red-plumed Javert. A bass-baritone, he acknowledged that the high singing part could be a challenge.

"When I did the show originally, I'd never taken voice lessons," he said. "I'd just been kind of rockin' and rollin' and gutting out stuff. Since then I've learned about the voice, learned about where to place it. When I did the show before, I would tend to put a lot of tension in my throat. Now I don't know if you call it confidence or just a certain ease of being on the stage, but I'm more relaxed and comfortable."

Alan Wasser, general manager of Les Miserables since it opened, has seen the show as many times as anyone. He said the difference in Mann's Javert then and now is striking.

"There's a mature sort of bearing he brings to the part now. Javert is a serious older force, as opposed to the super vigor that Terry used to bring to it."

Wasser, whose association with Mackintosh began with Les Miz, knows a thing or two about long-running shows. He manages another megamusical produced by the British impresario, The Phantom of the Opera, which opened on Broadway in 1988 and continues today. He also managed Mackintosh's Miss Saigon, which closed in 2001 after almost 10 years on Broadway.

He thinks the key to the longevity of these shows is that their appeal went far beyond the usual theatergoing audience.

"A lot of people who had never been to the theater before were introduced to musicals by way of either Les Miz or Phantom," Wasser said. "Both shows tend to have high repeat audiences, though I think there are more people who have seen Les Miz like a hundred times than maybe is the case with Phantom."

In New York, tourists made up a significant portion of the Les Miz audience as the run stretched on. But a lot of that business disappeared after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"By that stage in the run, there were slow periods, but the great thing about Les Miz is that it always came back when tourists were in town," Wasser said. "Ever since 9/11, tourism has been real down in New York, especially international tourism, which has been a big part of our audience in recent years."

According to Wasser, the international draw of the long-running Mackintosh shows (he also produced Cats) is what differentiates them from recent hits, such as The Producers and Hairspray, which don't automatically sell out. It's not really necessary, for one thing, to understand English to enjoy the pop-operatic scores of Les Miz or Phantom. The musicals are also eye-popping spectacles, with Les Miz, directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird, famous for its barricade and revolving stage.

"I'm not sure that we will see the super-long runs anymore," Wasser said. "In a way, I think, they were shows that were of their era. When you think about long-running musicals of the past, they were mostly of an American sensibility. Les Miz, even more than Phantom, has had many international productions. I think it speaks to universal themes that resonate in different cultures."

Just because Les Miserables is closing on Broadway doesn't mean it's vanishing. The production in London, where the musical started in 1985, is still running. The North American tour also continues. One recent week in Costa Mesa, Calif., it grossed more than $1-million.

"We can't complain," said Wasser, who manages the tour. "We're going back to the fourth and fifth return engagements in a lot of cities, and in some for the eighth or ninth time. Over the course of the last year, we actually had six weeks when the show did better than $1-million, which is pretty extraordinary for a tour that's been out for going on 15 years."

In May 2004, Les Miserables returns for a two-week engagement at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, where the tour premiered in 1988 and has played many times.

Then there is a whole new category of productions of Les Miserables, whose performance rights were snapped up by high schools around the country when they were made available last year.

In April, students from the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School performed Les Miserables at Mahaffey Theater. Springstead High School in Hernando County also did the show.

With a cast of 60 and a 25-member orchestra, about 20 set changes and 180 costumes, the PCCA production was smashing, enjoyed by a full house in the 1,800-seat Mahaffey. With accomplished young actor-singers such as Kevin Brown, Jamieson Lindenburg and Jun Bustamante playing Valjean, Javert and Eponine, respectively, the performance was no less moving than a professional production.

"Several hundred schools have performed Les Miz in the last year or so," said Wasser, who has seen three school productions. "It's great to see. They really pour their hearts into it, and the show works. It's a testament to the material."

[Last modified May 1, 2003, 11:03:15]


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