One of the ‘world’s most popular musicals’ visits Richmond

The cast of Les Miserables triumphantly poses during their performance. Photo courtesy of Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MURPHYMADE

Natalie Barr, Staff Writer

Chloe Hawkins, Spectrum Editor

A story of rebellion, true love and loss is showing at Altria Theater on VCU’s campus this weekend. 

Over 130 million people worldwide in 53 countries and 22 languages have seen Les Misérables, according to Broadway in Richmond’s media and public relations director Cindy Creasy. Les Misérables is undisputedly one of the “world’s most popular musicals,” stated in a press release from Broadway in Richmond.

VCU freshmen Penelope Copetas and Jackson Huff walked into Altria to inquire about student rush tickets and stumbled upon two free tickets to the opening night of Les Misérables, according to Copetas.

Both Copetas and Huff had never seen Les Misérables before and did not even know what the musical was about, Copetas said.

“So, here we are. We’re going in fresh and blind,” Copetas said. “I’ve heard about it and wanted to see it, that’s why we went out for student rush tickets. We’re ready to watch.”

Copetas is a fan of theater and has seen a number of shows at Altria, she said. It was Huff’s first time at Richmond’s theater and he was taken away by the architecture, according to Huff. 

Copetas and Huff were both amazed at the end of the show, Copetas said. Copetas felt a little overwhelmed with the storyline since she had no prior knowledge, but loved the music, set, visual effects, and would watch Les Misérables again, she said.

“It was incredible, I’m so happy we came,” Copetas said. “I loved the little boy [Gavroche], Jean Valjean and Éponine. Éponine’s solo was so beautiful.”

Ben Cherington, a Les Misérables swing member, juggles 11 different roles throughout the show, not knowing what role he will take on that specific performance until he receives a text, according to Cherington.

“That is extremely daunting,” Cherington said. “The biggest challenge is really just having to keep track of not only what happens on stage, but also all the backstage traffic.”

Cherington is “no stranger” to Les Misérables, he said. His parents played the VHS of the show’s 10th anniversary “constantly” growing up, and the audition process came easy for him, he said.

“It’s been in my mind and my soul for over a decade now. To be performing it now is a really special experience,” Cherington said.

Les Misérables has been a show since Cherington was in high school, he has felt “ready” to perform in, he said. Cherington enjoys having the ability to transform into different roles, as every character brings their unique challenges, he said.

“It’s very cool to do a role that you’ve never done before, and one that I’ve done before I can feel confident about it,” Cherington said. 

Cherington got his start in theater in fourth grade because he wanted to direct a Star Wars movie, he said. He continued doing musical theater throughout his life and went on to a performing arts high school. He then graduated from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama in 2020, according to Cherington.

The performance at Altria’s Theater feels like a “homecoming” for Cherington, as his sister currently goes to VCU, and his older sister graduated from the university, he said.

“I grew up going to Richmond all the time,” Cherington said. “It’s gonna feel really special to perform there for the first time.”

Cherington and his fellow Les Misérables performers started the tour back in October, he said. The majority of the performances are one week only, with a few locations having longer show times, according to Cherington. 

“We’ve done a number of special cities to me, we went to Pittsburgh, and we are going to D.C. pretty soon, which would be the area that I’m from. So, I’m really looking forward to that,” Cherington said.

The performers that make up this Les Misérables tour are filled with a lot of younger performers and bring a “reinvented fresh production” to this memorable show, according to Cherington. He has always appreciated how Les Misérables allows people to connect with the performance in a different way throughout their life, Cherington said.

“The special thing about it is that if you’ve seen it before, seeing it again will open your eyes to something new, and if you haven’t seen it before or even if you’ve seen the movie, seeing the stage production is going to open your eyes,” Cherington said.

Sophia Dramm, Les Misérables attendee, said the musical made her very emotional in a good way. She was impressed with the singing, especially Jean Valjean and Eponine’s solo performances, Dramm said. 

“One of the best musical performances I’ve ever seen —  so emotional. As you can see from my red eyes, I cried eight times,” Dramm said. 

This was Dramm’s first time at the Altria Theater, as she is a Chicago-native, according to Dramm. She considers herself a part of the “theater scene,” and said she saw Les Misérables on Broadway in Chicago a couple weeks ago with her boyfriend Jack Morrissey. 

“We loved it so much we were seeing it again,” Morrisey said. “World Class Theatre … It was indistinguishable from what we saw in Chicago.”

Victoria Morrissey, Les Misérables attendee, has seen this show several times, according to Morrisey. This performance felt very personable to her compared to others, she said.

“I’ve never seen a cast of actors ‘be the people’ more than they were,” Morrissey said. “We saw more improvisation — they lived the character, they owned it.” 

Les Misérables will be on tour at the Altria Theater located at 6 North Laurel St. in Richmond, Virginia starting March 22 until March 26 with a variety of show times.

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