Theater preview: National tour of ‘Les Miserables’ brings a revived look and Victor Hugo’s famed intensity to the Saroyan Theatre

‘Les Miserables” has been a big part of Richard Barth’s life.

He started with the revival of the show in 2010 as a swing, covering 11 male ensemble roles. He went from the Papermill Playhouse to Toronto, then to Broadway, and then on tour across the country. Now he’s resident director of the latest national tour, which opens on Tuesday, July 25, for an eight-performance run at Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre.

Pictured above: “One Day More” from the national tour of “Les Miserables.” Photo: Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

He’s chalked up a lot of hours “living” in Victor Hugo’s Paris.

“ ‘Les Miz’ is the reason I own a house,” he tells me with a laugh.

After interviewing Barth by phone, I came up with 5 Things to Know about the production:



It’s the touring version of the 2014 Broadway revival production.

“Les Miserables” has played at Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre several times over the decades, but this is the first time – to Barth’s recollection – that the tour of the revival has come through.

An aside: Fresno Grand Opera fans might recall an original production of the title at the Saroyan in 2014, extravagantly staged, that included some of the creative team who were working on the upcoming Broadway revival. It included scenic projections, professionals in leading roles and a big ensemble.That local production’s $800,000 budget made the show the biggest ever locally produced theatrical endeavor. Unfortunately, it also contributed to the opera’s demise several years later.

The Broadway in Fresno tour opening July 25 just finished up a run at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, which means that, yes, we’re getting the straight-from-Broadway version.

Barth also wants to remind people that good seats are still available. It’s easier to get tickets than at, say, the San Francisco production, which was nearly sold out. He hopes that people who might not have gotten to see the show in the Bay Area might make the drive to Fresno.


The turntable has been retired.

“Les Miserables” was spectacular when it opened on Broadway in 1987. Back in the day, people were wowed by the effect of the massive, spinning turntable that brought characters and set pieces into the audience’s view. (I remember The Bee at the time doing an article just about the logistics of transporting the turntable and then operating it.)

Now the show is more high-tech.

“One of the big modernizations of the show is the use of projections,” Barth says. “We have multiple projectors that are used in the show that excitingly enough, this time around, are lasers, which is really cool … There’s a difference in the crispness, and the depth of color, and so those really provide quite a bit of motion on our stage.”


The design takes its cue from Victor Hugo himself.

Many of the projected images are artworks by Hugo. He is known primarily as a writer, and he didn’t make it very known that he painted and did chalk drawings of the Paris he wrote about. The show’ projection designers have mined his artwork and use it to provide scenery for the show, Barth says.

Along with Hugo’s visuals, another slight difference from the original production is an increased effort at realism.

“Our directors have really dug into the grittiness of the show,” Barth says. “They’ve dug into the heart of these characters and the grittiness of the times, and what it would mean to actually follow Jean Valjean around 19th century France.”


“Les Miz” veterans get earworms, too.

I confess to Barth that very occasionally, a tune from “Les Miz” will pop into my head at inopportune moments. (“Lovely ladies, come along and join us” is one inexplicable favorite.)

Barth’s favorite earworm tale: One time he was running a half marathon. “I couldn’t get “Eponine’s Errand” out of my head, the very end of it, which is something along the lines of: ‘You see, I told you so / There’s lots of things I know / Ponine she knows her way around.’ And that just cycled through my head for the entire half marathon.”


In the end, why is ‘Les Miz’ so popular?

One word: redemption.

“Jean Valjean’s story is a story of redemption that speaks to the power of the human spirit. And so we spend a lot of time watching him sort things out. And watching him impact all of the others around him in his life … The universal themes of redemption and forgiveness and young love and people coming together to stand up for the things in which they believe speak to a wide body of our population.”

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (1)

  • There are many reasons Les Mis is so popular- epic, passionate, powerful, inspiring

    In January, I saw the stage show a 7th time (after all, I am obsessed with the musical)


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