Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Aug 13, 2013
08:50 AM
Stage Write

Misérables en Scene

Misérables en Scene

Photo by Mike Brown

"Master of the House" with John Jajewski as Thenardier and Katrina Brunner as Madame Thernardier

Like a mob storming a barricade, it was probably inevitable that a slate of stagings of Les Misérables would follow the long-awaited release last December of the musical’s stage rights after 25—25!—years.  (That’s longer than Jean Valjean’s prison stint.) Combined with Tom Hooper’s big-screen version making last year’s Oscar finalist list, Les Mis has been front and center in the pop-culture consciousness for much of the last year. 

And so it’s been in Madison, where a July staging by Middleton Players Theatre has segued into the current big-budget production by Four Seasons Theatre, which opened in Madison College’s newly redesigned Mitby Theater last Friday and runs through this Sunday. 

Staging Les Mis has been something of a personal castle in a cloud for Four Seasons, says publicist Sarah Marty, who took a brief break from buying dry ice and using a staple gun to shore up the on-stage barricades to talk about what’s at stake for her company. And we’re not just talking Javert versus Valjean. 

“It’s a show we’ve wanted to do since we started in 2005,” says Marty. “So when it became available, we just jumped on it. Our thought was, ‘If we don’t do it now, we’ll never do it.’” Les Mis actually bumped another Broadway staple, Avenue Q, off the planned Four Seasons docket. 

Obviously, staging an A-list Broadway musical with high production values is a major swing for the fences, even for a company as established and careful as Four Seasons. For starters, it’s not a cheap show: As a point of comparison, Four Seasons’ stagings of My Fair Lady and A Little Night Music carried budgets of $80,000 and $90,000, respectively. The budget for this Les Mis is a whopping $120,000.  

To be labeled a success, ticket sales for the show’s ten-night run have to cover the show’s costs, including $50K for personnel costs and $18.5K for the stage rights. The most expensive floor seats are $35, less than half of what it would have cost you to catch the touring production of Les Mis that breezed through town three years ago. 

Still, Marty’s confident that her company’s investment will pay off.

“We’ve built a reputation of doing a lot on a not very big budget, by investing in things like costumes and lighting,” says Marty. “Our show also features an almost entirely local cast of actors. We’re banking on people responding to that.”

And in the unlikely event Madison audiences are suffering from Fantine overload?

“We have some money in reserve,” says Marty. “We’d have to touch that, and we’d take a look at next season’s budget.” Four Seasons also enjoys strong grant support from the Madison Community Foundation and the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission.

Interestingly, Four Seasons and Middleton Players actually agreed to work together to accommodate their stagings—they made sure not to overlap show dates or audition schedules.

”Madison’s a big town full of theater-lovers,” says Marty. “There’s room enough for both.”

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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