‘Les Mis’ an emotional tale of redemption

Paul-Jordan Jansen, left, stars as Javert and David Felty stars as Jean Valjean in Fuse Productions’ “Les Misérables.”
Paul-Jordan Jansen, left, stars as Javert and David Felty stars as Jean Valjean in Fuse Productions’ “Les Misérables.” Photos provided

Les Misérables,” an epic and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit, will be presented this weekend by Fuse Productions.

This modern classic written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg is the winner of more than 100 international awards and has been seen by more than 65 million people worldwide. The musical is based on French poet and novelist Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Misérables” and features one of the most memorable scores of all time, with music by Schönberg, original French lyrics by Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel and with an English-language libretto by Herbert Kretzmer.

“Les Mis,” set in early 19th century France, is the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant, and his quest for redemption after serving 19 years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. Valjean breaks his parole and starts his life anew after a kindly bishop inspires him by a tremendous act of mercy, but he is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector named Javert.

The production is directed by Richard Biever, along with music director and conductor Dan Riddle and choreography by Jill Brighton.

“ ‘Les Misérables’ is an epic show in every way: cast size, scenically, costumes, length, the amount of music — you name it,” Biever said. “Add the fact that we’re producing it in Eisenhower Auditorium, and the scale grows even bigger.”

The cast includes State College-area professionals, alumni of Penn State’s musical theater program, Penn State students and actors from New York City.

“Three Actors’ Equity actors, several current Penn State students, a PSU professor of voice — Richard Kennedy as the bishop — and some of the finest local singer-actors are coming together to create one of the most exciting theater experiences State College has ever seen,” Biever said. “This production has a powerhouse cast.”

Valjean, played by David Michael Felty, is the central character, and it’s a role Felty has performed more than 700 times. And, including his time on the national tour, Felty has been in “Les Mis” more than 2,000 times in various roles.

Felty, a native of Hershey, was nominated for a Carbonell Award for his appearance as Jean Valjean at the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables, Fla., in 2009, and he is an Actors’ Equity Association member.

The character of Valjean has significant depth and range, and his journey and the show’s themes resonate with audiences.

“It’s a story of redemption and struggle, and of joy and anguish,” Felty said. “In a musical theater sense, you would be hard-pressed to find songs that are better for a Broadway tenor belter.”

In the role of Cosette will be Lisa Rogali, a music education major at Penn State. Rogali has performed in opera and musical theater productions throughout her career as a student and hopes to continue with her studies in graduate school in opera performance. Rogali was last seen as Musetta in Puccini’s “La Bohème” at Eisenhower Auditorium in March.

After his release from prison, Valjean breaks parole, turns his life around and assumes a new identity as Monsieur Madeleine, a wealthy factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer.

Fantine is a single mother working in his factory, trying to support her daughter Cosette, who is being raised by an innkeeper and his wife while Fantine labors in the city. Valjean later adopts Cosette and raises her as his own, with loving, fatherly care and protection.

“To me, Cosette is much like a beacon of hope throughout the show and is truly a complex character full of life and heart,” Rogali said. “As the orphaned child of an unwed mother, she is exploited and victimized as a child by the Thénardiers until she is adopted by Valjean.”

The cast also features Actors’ Equity Association members Paul-Jordan Jansen as Javert and Becca Ayers as Fantine, and many others.

“Les Misérables” engenders passion in audiences, with redemption as the key theme of this classic musical.

“I don’t know a person who doesn’t have regrets or who hasn’t made mistakes and feels the need to be forgiven — and this show puts that idea front and center, along with a magnificent score of hit songs,” Biever said. “I’ve heard from many, many people that ‘Les Mis’ is their favorite show and they go on to tell me how the show moves them emotionally.”

Felty hopes the audience leaves feeling moved and inspired, as “Les Mis” has done for him over the 16 years he has been involved with it.

“I also hope the audience realizes how fortunate they are to have the kind of talent pool to pull from here in State College in Fuse Productions,” he said. “It has been an honor working with them.”

Despite being set in a different era, “Les Misérables” and the struggles and relationships between its characters are still relatable to audiences today.

“ ‘Les Mis’ is a show about the people, for the people,” Rogali said. “It will leave an audience with a true sense of community and a feeling of being part of something special.”