Van Wezel hosts its biggest production ever

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SARASOTA - The world's most popular musical, Les Miserables, opens at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Tuesday night. It's the longest-running musical ever, and the biggest production ever to play the Van Wezel.

The show runs through Sunday. It took 9 trucks to bring it in, and two days to unload it.

But when the curtain goes up, you'll see a spectacular production with all the high-tech bells and whistles Broadway is capable of producing.

Les Mis travels with 89 people and everything needed to put on the show. "Our stage, all the lighting, all the sound, all the scenery, a full orchestra…everything is us. And so our imprint is always the same, what is different is what’s in the wings, because every theater has different size wings. This theatre has ample space here for us," says production manager Trinity Wheeler.

And they definitely need the ample space and special equipment. "It's so crowded in the wings off-stage, that we hang a lot of scenery pieces from motors above everybody's head. Then when we need it, it comes down, goes into place, comes back off, then goes back up again," says Van Wezel technical director Steve Brown.

Wheeler says some of scenes are actually projected pictures. "All our projections go on the back wall. It’s not a screen as you would think...actually projected onto that surface. All these towers will move on and off, and those sliders will turn and rotate and lots of different art scenery will come in from the wings."

“And it's all run by computer, so they push a button and it makes a scene change. So there is very little that people actually have to do," says Brown.

But one thing people do have to do: bring the story alive.

Peter Lockyer plays Jean Valjean. "It's such a perfectly written show that you just experience it. I try to get out of the way, as my ego, Peter…and let the story tell itself."

The music helps. "We have ‘On My Own, we have ‘Bring Him Home’ that I sing in the second act, is one of the best songs ever written. And every night, before I sing it, I know the audience is waiting for it, so I do my best every time with it."

He says he is inspired by the way the show touches its audiences. "I meet people after the show that are so affected by this show. I met a woman who was wrongly imprisoned, like Valjean…the book got her through her time in prison. I've met war vets that have lost loved ones and friends."

Les Miserables runs through Sunday night. The minute the show is over, the crew starts loading it back up. It'll take them until 5 o'clock the next morning, and then they'll head to Ft. Myers. They play about 250 cities a year.