During the 19 years actor Ivan Rutherford toured and starred in productions of the legendary musical "Les Miserables," having logged more than 2,000 performances as the lead Jean Valjean, he never played any of the famed stages and marquees of Chicago.
"While many of my years were in New York on Broadway, including the 20th anniversary revival, I also did the national tours, just never any through Chicago," Rutherford said during an interview last week. He was in between curtain times reprising his role of Jean Valjean for a new production of "Les Miserables," finally for Chicagoland audiences, at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
"To be in this production with new staging, such a great cast and playing this intimate space gives this story and the musical numbers a new life so this also becomes a new experience for me as well."
In celebration of the stage space's 30th anniversary, Drury Lane Theatre selected the passionate and moving musical journey, which opened Tuesday, April 8 and continues until June 8. Directed by multi-Jeff Award winner Rachel Rockwell, Rutherford is cast opposite Jeff Award-winner Quentin Earl Darrington as Javert and Jennie Sophia as Fantine.
The sweeping tale of "Les Misérables" features a book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, and music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Based on Victor Hugo's classic novel, "Les Misérables" travels through three turbulent decades of 19th century France. Steeped with romance, passion, suspense and humanity, it is the story of the fugitive Jean Valjean, who is in a lifelong struggle to evade being captured as he is relentlessly pursued by the sanctimonious Inspector Javert.
"Les Misérables" is the winner of more than 50 international theater awards, including eight 1987 Tony Awards (two of which were for Best Musical and Best Score) and the musical has been translated into 21 different languages and has been seen by more than 65 million people worldwide.
This production also stars Jeff Award-winner Mark David Kaplan as Thenardier as the story's conniving innkeeper with Sharon Sachs as his bawdy barkeep wife Madame Thenardier and Christina Nieves as their long-suffering daughter Eponine while Skyler Adams plays Marius opposite Emily Rohm as Cosette. Jeff Award-winner Roberta Duchak serves as Musical Director. The colossal French Revolution-era set is by Scott Davis with Lighting Design by Greg Hofmann and Projection Design by Sage Marie Carter.
Rutherford, who arrived in Chicago March 3 to begin rehearsals, said he is excited to be able to call Chicago his temporary home for four months during the musical's run as a special milestone chapter in the Drury Lane history.
During the past 30 years, Drury Lane Theatre has provided 10,208 performances staged, 7,683 actors have been employed, and more than 9 million people have enjoyed the venue's 308 productions and concerts. And along the way, Drury Lane has hired more than 10,000 musicians, designers, and crew members.
"Working with Rachel Rockwell has made this run something special because she understands all of the challenges of stage for both actors and the production process," Rutherford said.
"The story of my character Jean Valjean is also something special for me at this point of my career because I feel I understand him now better than ever. When I started in 1995 with this role, I only had one child. Now, I have three. The struggles faced as a father are so much more clear to me now, as I think about what Jean Valjean is going through."
As for the attention and audiences last year's big screen adaption of "Les Miserables" garnered, Rutherford has his own opinion.
"It was a movie and that treatment of the story was very clear," he said.
"Yes, it did attract new audiences who didn't know the characters and the journey. But seeing the story on stage is the way this journey is intended."