Les Mis' Shanghai opening to make history

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 June, 2002, 12:00am

Les Miserables will open in Shanghai today, marking the first full production of a Western musical in China.

'Bringing Les Mis to Shanghai has taken many years,' producer Cameron Mackintosh said. 'It's something I've dreamed about. For us, to come to China has always been our ultimate goal.'

The show will run for three weeks, until July 7.

Some 90 per cent of the seats for the 21 performances were already sold out, officials from the Shanghai Grand Theatre said.

Les Miserables is the second-longest-running show on Broadway and more than 49 million people have seen the production worldwide over more than 15 years.

The actors, orchestra and crew for the Shanghai run are largely drawn from the American tour, and organisers vowed the show would rival performances on Broadway and London's West End.

'You must realise the people you have here on stage are practically the best cast that you can have in a theatre. It will be a first-class production of the show,' composer Claude-Michel Schonberg said.

Colm Wilkinson will play Jean Valjean, the leading role he created in the original London and Broadway productions.

Ticket prices range from 3,000 yuan (HK$2,820) for the best seats on opening night, to between 1,500 yuan and 80 yuan depending on the seat, date and time of the performance.

The producers estimate it has cost millions of US dollars to bring the show to Shanghai. The move required air-lifting some of the sets.

Mr Mackintosh said the production would lose money in China, given the considerable expense, but some of the shortfall would be made up from a four-week run in South Korea immediately after Shanghai.

'The most important thing that we hope to achieve is to see if the big audience of China likes this kind of musical,' he said.

Les Miserables, which is set in 19th century France, glided past the Chinese censors unchanged since officials from the Ministry of Culture and the Shanghai Grand Theatre had already seen the production overseas, he said.

Some people in China are familiar with the story because the Victor Hugo novel, published in 1862, has appeared in Chinese, as well as a movie version.

Mr Mackintosh said he hoped to bring other productions to China, such as The Phantom of the Opera, and could also help to stage a Chinese version of Les Miserables using local actors speaking in their native language.

'We would love the Chinese theatre to have its own productions, and us to be a helpful part of that,' Mr Mackintosh said.

In Shanghai, the show will be in English with Chinese subtitles.