Despite the musical's title, Jerauld Reinhart, the man in the orchestra pit behind horn-rimmed glasses, will likely be beaming during this weekend's opening run of "Les Miserables," since the play denotes his 50th production of the Ross Summer Music Theatre in Merrillville.
"I've been always hoping for it [the anniversary]," said Jerauld Reinhart, who started the Ross Summer Music Theater (RSMT) 50 years ago and will turn 84 this year.
"Though I was ready for it last year."
Despite recent health woes, Jerauld has maintained a presence in every one of the 50 RSMT musicals and has had his hand in every level of play production. This year he is in the orchestra pit.
"You couldn't have kept him from it," said Margilee Reinhart, Jerauld's wife, who is helping with the tickets for this year's production.
"It's our baby."
RSMT started in the Merrillville High School's gymnasium, and as the program progressed, more adults, and eventually their children, joined the summer productions. In 1972, Merrillville High School opened an auditorium to house plays and other events – now named the Reinhart Auditorium. RSMT garners roughly 100 participants each year.
While this year's play is "Les Miserables," the story of Jean Valijean, a convict who receives an act of kindness from a bishop and sets forth trying to redeem himself and help others in return, according to Michael Reinhart, Jerauld and Margilee's son, it was not the first choice.
"We were going to do 'Spamalot;' we had the rights for 'Spamalot'," Michael said. "My parents were worried about if that was the appropriate one for the 50th – if people would come to see; do people know what it is? When 'Les Mis' became available, the full version, we said we should do it and do all the music."
"Since the movie came out, ['Les Miserables'] has such a following," Jerauld said. "We hope people come out and see it, because it is long."
"I think people that like 'Les Mis' will see any version of 'Les Mis'," Michael said. "Some of the people that weren't familiar with 'Les Mis' and saw the movie and liked it, they may want to come see the show and see what the differences between the play and the musical are."
While Jerauld and Margilee are still involved in the productions, their son Michael has taken the reigns.
"When you grow up with it, it just becomes part of your life," Michael said. "Unless you moved away, you never really got away from it. As my dad got older, we just started taking on more and more responsibilities. It just seemed to be the natural progression."
This sentiment of keeping the Reinharts involved in the production, in more than just name, seems likely to continue in the future through Michael's two sons, Lucas and Jacob, who have roles in this year's production.
"My parents always say they expect to see a Broadway show, not necessarily better than Broadway, but just as good as Broadway," Lucas said. "Just do not make people pay for something they don't want to see."
To help make each production as grand a show as possible, Michael said he tries to give each production "the same elements of gigantic sets and lots of people."
"I don't think we've ever really put on a stinker," he said. "You may not like the show, but I don't think anyone can complain with the way it was produced."
"[Our productions are] as close to Broadway or a Chicago production they are going to feel in a local place," Michael said. "There is a lot of good local stuff, but I think when they come to see this particular one, they will feel like they have been transported to New York to see a show. Big sets. Giant orchestra. Giant cast. And the technology we've added. We have 20-something moving lights. Extensive projection. So, I think for anybody that comes, this will be visually and audibly one of the best things they've seen in a while."