By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The upcoming production of “Les Miserables”, to be presented in Bay Ridge next month, will be full of passion, heartbreak and redemption, all set to one of the most memorable musical scores ever written for the stage and performed by a troupe of talented actors, promised producer-director Jeff Samaha.
“It’s going to be wonderful,” Samaha said. His theater company, Ridge Chorale/Jeff Samaha Productions, was granted the rights to mount a full-fledged production of the Broadway musical by the licensing company representing the show’s creators.
The performances will take place on two weekends, Friday, Saturday and Sunday Sept. 20, 21 and 22, and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Sept. 27, 28 and 29 at the Theater at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, 350 67th St.
The cast members are: Bill Andrews as Jean Valjean; Joseph Bellino as Inspector Javert; Megan Buzzard as Fantine; Jacqueline Samaha as Eponine; Beata Royzman as Cosette; John Patrick Sabatos as Marius; Kathy Valentine as Madame Thenardier; John Panepinto as Monsieur Thenardier; Sean Kincaid as Enjolras; Ryan Daniels and Aidan Lawrence splitting the role of Gavroche and Abigail Summa and Amanda Summa splitting the role of Little Cosette.
The show is currently in rehearsal. “We have blocked every scene. We’re ready to run full rehearsals. In early September, we’ll bring in the orchestra,” Samaha said. He is working with co-directors Frank Caiati and Kathy Valentine to ensure a top notch production. Valentine is doing double duty as bothy a co-director and a cast member.
Still to come for Samaha is the task of breaking down the score to each of its components and putting together a musical arrangement. He will serve as musical director and will conduct the orchestra at the performances.
To whet the appetite of the audience, the actors performed at Summer Stroll on 3rd, the arts-centered street fair sponsored by the Merchants of Third Avenue on July 26. “We were quite thrilled with the response we got,” Karen Tadross, the show’s producer, told the Eagle. “We sold 100 tickets through it,” she said.
Samaha said has been blown away by the talent and dedication of the cast and the production team. “From the audition process on, the actors have given it everything they have. They came in prepared. They were off-book,” he said, using a theater expression. “Off-book” means that performers don’t need a script because they have memorized their lines, or in the case of a musical like “Les Miserables,” their songs.
“The cast knew a little bit more than me. I had to play catch-up,” said Samaha, who has directed dozens of theater shows in Bay Ridge over the past 20 years, including “Miss Saigon,” and “Ragtime." The cast members are giving him “a wonderful display of musicianship,” he said.
The production has not been problem-free, however. “Because of the limitations of the theater,” Samaha said, referring to the fact that the high school stage is not the same as a Broadway stage, “we had to make adjustments.” The show will have minimal sets. “We will rely on the imagination of the audience,” he said. “We also figured out how we can keep the sets on stage. There are no wings in this theater,” he said.
Samaha and company have found creative ways to get around problems. “We have employed the use of projections,” he said, adding that the projections will give the audience a feel for 19th Century France.
“You have to solve problems in a way that keeps the integrity of the show intact,” Tadross said.
Samaha, who works at NBC, asked a colleague of his with expertise in lighting sets, to serve as the lighting director for the show.
Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel of love and redemption in 19th Century France, “Les Miserables,” opened on Broadway in 1985 and played for several years. It was made into a movie in 2012. Hugh Jackman starred, playing Jean Valjean. Anne Hathaway won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as Fantine.
There is no dialogue in the show. The story unfolds entirely through song.
The musical numbers, including "I Dreamed a Dream," "Bring Him Home," "One Day More" and "On My Own,” are considered classics in the Broadway musical canon.
Jeff Samaha Theater Productions/Ridge Chorale is one of only a few theater companies across the country to be granted the rights. Licensing companies representing creative artists are usually very selective as to who they grant performing rights to. There are also territorial issues to consider. For example, if a show is currently playing on Broadway, no theater group within the five boroughs can mount a production.
Samaha admitted that he also has a good luck charm ready for opening night.
When Samaha conducts the orchestra at the performances, he will be using the same baton the musical conductor used in the original Broadway production 25 years ago. Samaha’s family purchased the baton in an auction of show business memorabilia earlier this year. “I was very touched,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “They knew it would have meaning for me, so they bought it,” he said.