Stars in their multitudes turn out for the world premiere arena spectacular ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’
Ask a handful of theater aficionados what they think of Les Miserables and the other musicals from the French team of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg,, and you’re likely to get only love-it-or-hate-it answers: Either it’s glorious, epic Broadway or bombastic quasi-opera.
But ask some Broadway singers what they think of it, and you get an unqualified enthusiastic response: It’s phenomenal.
“Most people will place Les Miz as one of their all time top five musicals of all time — I mean, up there with Rodgers & Hammerstein,” says Stephanie J. Block, the Broadway star of Boublil and Schonberg’s The Pirate Queen. “It’s one of the best, most epic, most beautiful, impassioned and moving musicals. As soon as you hear the downbeat [of the overture of Les Miz], you know you’re in for something special.”
Dallas has already proved its passion for Les Miz; the recent national tour revival was not only the highest-grossing two-week engagement yet to play the Winspear, it was the most made by the tour anywhere. Ever.
So it’s little surprise the city was chosen for the world premiere of the arena production of Do You Hear the People Sing?, a massive concert performance featuring songs from their two biggest hits (Les Miz and Miss Saigon), as well as their less-well-known Pirate Queen and Martin Guerre.
The lineup of talent assembled for the show is enough to send a theater queen into seizures: Tony winners Brian Stokes Mitchell and Miss Saigon herself, Lea Salonga; Terrence Mann (who originated the role of Javert), Peter Lockyer and Block, who just last week took over for Sutton Foster on Broadway in Anything Goes. She will be in Dallas, though, for this performance.
“I’d only leave a Broadway show for Alain and Claude-Michel,” she says.
Indeed, audience members have Block to thank in part for the production altogether.
She first met Boublil and Schonberg when she was auditioning for the lead in The Pirate Queen in 2006. In fact, they’d decided to give her the role … she just didn’t realize it.
“They are very old school European and I did not get a whole lot of emotion coming from them. The next phone call I got was to fly to Ireland to meet with them. I had no idea if I had the role or not, but they thought I know I was cast! Since then we’ve had a lovely relationship.”
So good, in fact, that the impetus for Do You Hear came during an evening with Block, her husband and the composing duo.
“Over lots of wine one night, Claude-Michel asked, ‘Do you think my music would work in an orchestral setting?’” Block was sure it would. Last fall, she and the other cast members tried it out in Indianapolis — “a bit of an experiment,” she calls it. “It was thrilling.” But the show opening at the American Airlines Center is far grander.
“To hear all of their hits in one night with an 80-piece orchestra? Singing this brilliant music with a 100-person choir [including members of the Turtle Creek Chorale]? Add to that Lea Salonga, Terrence Mann, Brian Stokes Mitchell… It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Coordinating so many pieces for a one-off concert has been daunting — “a mystery,” Block calls it. Each performer has rehearsed their songs separately, as have the orchestra and choirs; two full rehearsals this week were all they had time for before the massive opening.
You might expect that wouldn’t be such a big deal — after all, most of these singers have already appeared in multiple Boublil-Schonberg shows. Only it’s not that simple.
“In Les Miz I want to play every part!” says Block. She does get to take on Madame Thenardier opposite Mann. But he’s changing roles.
“I’m not singing Javert — Stokes is,” says Mann, who last revisited Javert in the final three months of the recent Les Miz revival on Broadway. Instead, he’ll tackle the songs of The Engineer from Miss Saigon and other roles.
“Terry is the nicest guy in the world, which is why it’s funny he plays villains so well,” Lockyer says.
There’ll also be some new music to even die-hard fans: The team has composed a new song for Ellen in Miss Saigon called “Maybe” which has been performed in a production in Europe, but will get its American debut Friday. That’s pretty exciting for a singer — and an audience.
“I don’t know how you’re gonna do this again,” Block says. “If you are a music lover you want to be in the audience. It’s why a lot of people like to go to opening nights — to witness something for the first time.
Why would you miss it?”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 23, 2012.