Fresno Grand Opera hopes for 'Les Miz' magic

The Fresno BeeJanuary 15, 2014 

There are no days more.

When Fresno Grand Opera's mammoth production of "Les Misérables" opens Friday night at the Saroyan Theatre, the company is banking that big bucks and a cast and creative team imported from the national tour and Broadway — along with homegrown Valley talent in the ensemble — will pay off in Fresno's biggest ever locally produced theatrical endeavor.

From the specially designed scenic projections to the investment in a professional keyboard programmer, company officials are hoping the $800,000 production has the look and feel of a Broadway show.

It better. Good orchestra seats at the Saroyan are $130.50, not far from the top $139 price when "Les Misérables" reopens in March on Broadway.

RELATED: Behind the scenes of 'Les Misérables' 

If you're one of the more than 9,000 people who see the show this weekend — the company is hoping for a sell-out, of course — here are some things to watch and listen for.

The projections. A key element to the show's visual scheme is original projections designed by Zachary Borovay. The original Broadway production and subsequent national tour — which came several times to the Saroyan Theatre in the 1990s — was famed for its innovative turntable, which gave the show a distinctive visual pop. This new version dumps the turntable, and projections are counted upon to deliver the scenic sizzle. If the Fresno production can pull off the look of the recent "Les Miz" national tour, from sweeping vistas of Paris to Inspector Javert's famed solo moment, it will go a long way toward success.

The orchestra. In today's high-tech musicals, it isn't the number of musicians that matters so much as the technology behind them. The orchestra for this "Les Miz" will have 15 live players, but they should sound like 60 thanks to the keyboard programmer hired for the production. If the orchestra sounds massive when appropriate — and yet tender enough to allow solos an emotional ripple when needed — a key test will be passed.

The sound. Contrary to what many people think about the Saroyan's acoustics, the hall itself doesn't create bad sound. Bad sound designers do. The company has brought in experts to create an acoustic environment appropriate for a Broadway production. We should be able to hear every lyric — and yet experience the music's booming potential.

The principals. The leading roles are among the hardest in musical theater, but the performers brought in are among the best. All have experience in either the original Broadway run or recent national tour. The principals should be the surest bet in this production. For some of the ensemble members, however, "Les Miz" is a new professional experience. Seamlessly integrating the ensemble with the principal performers is the biggest challenge.

The details. A mammoth production usually has more time to rehearse. But with so many elements of the show brought together for a short run, the challenge is to make it all appear effortless even with abbreviated preparation.

The overall impact. Does it feel like half of Paris is on stage? If so, that's a good sign. This production is cast more like an opera than a musical, with a much bigger ensemble for crowd scenes. A Broadway production couldn't afford a cast as big as this one. If this production comes together like it hopes, "Les Miz" fans will wind up seeing the show on a truly grand scale.

Theater preview

"Les Misérables," 8 p.m. today, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St., (559) 442-5699. $55.50-$130.50.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, and @donaldbeearts on Twitter.

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