Betsy Morgan was 8 years old when she saw a touring production of “Les Misérables” in Chicago for the first time. She doesn’t remember much about the Victor Hugo musical but does recall being enthralled by its beauty and grandeur.
“It was the epic nature of the show,” said Morgan, who was already acting professionally at the time. “The songs were so different yet so familiar at the same time. I just loved it. I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to be in this show one day.’”
More than two decades later, her dream came true. Since January 2011, Morgan has been traveling the country playing the role of courageous heroine Fantine in the 25th anniversary production of “Les Misérables.” The show opens at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre for the Performing Arts for eight shows beginning Tuesday, Oct. 30.
Morgan said the audience is in for treat.
“It’s a beautiful story, and audiences can expect to see everything they loved about the (original) show,” Morgan said. “For audiences who haven’t seen it, they will be pleasantly surprised at the fresh new take we have given it.”
Based on the 1862 French novel by author Victor Hugo, “Les Miz,” as it is commonly called, is an epic story of passion and destruction in 19th century France. It illustrates the cold, harsh times of the period through the story of Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who breaks parole to better his life.
The all-new production features dazzling new staging, new orchestrations and re-imagined scenery incorporating 21st century technology. It includes special effects and projections of Hugo’s paintings and other images that complement the narrative.
It was the creativity and inspiration of producer Cameron Mackintosh and his team of directors, writers, lyricists and musicians that moved Morgan to audition for the role of Fantine, a down-and-out factory worker who turns to prostitution to provide for her daughter.
“I was actually in a big successful Broadway show at the time,” she said, referring to the revival of “A Little Night Music,” in which she worked with the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch.
“I really had to think about it,” Morgan said. “Did I really want to pick up and leave home?”
After speaking with the team, it was a no-brainer.
“When I heard what they wanted to do with the show -- keeping intact everything we love about ‘Les Miz’ but leaving everything else up for reinterpretation – there was no doubt in my mind. The second they said that, I was on board,” Morgan said.
“It’s a rethink,” she said of the show. “They’ve approached it with the technology that we have today. It’s a little bit grittier. We get in the audience’s face and show them the brutal reality of what this time was like and how these amazing characters find hope in all of that.”
As Fantine, Morgan sings one of the show’s most powerful songs – “I Dreamed a Dream.” Her character is depressed, poor and dying, and the song, written by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, harkens back to a happier time.
The score also includes the classic songs “On My Own,” “Stars,” “Bring Him Home,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” “One Day More,” “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” “Master Of The House” and many more.
“Les Misérables” originally opened in London at the Barbican Theatre on Oct. 8, 1985, transferred to the Palace Theatre two months later and moved to its current home at the Queen’s Theatre on April 3, 2004, where it continues to play to packed houses. When “Les Miz” celebrated its 21st London birthday on Oct. 8, 2006, it became the world’s longest-running musical, surpassing the record previously held by “Cats” in London’s West End.
The Broadway production opened at the Broadway Theatre on March 12, 1987, and moved to the Imperial Theatre on Oct. 17, 1990. running for 6,680 performances. It returned to New York in 2006. To date, “Les Misérables” remains the third-longest-running Broadway production of all time.
On Christmas Day, the big-screen version of “Les Miz” opens in movie theaters nationwide. Morgan said she and her cast mates are eagerly awaiting its release.
“We talk about it all the time,” she said.
They are also thrilled that their next stop is New Orleans, where they plan to take in the sights, sounds and flavors of the Crescent City when they are not on stage.
“Every four months, there’s a city that we get really excited about visiting,” Morgan said, “and New Orleans is one of those cities.”