What happens when you stage the musical Les Misérables and hire a director who’s never seen a production of it? For Liesl Tommy, who grew up in South Africa, directing Les Miz at Dallas Theater Center was an opportunity to contemporize the show and to toss out the turntable and a certain iconic red vest. Below, Tommy and her costume designer Jacob A. Climber explain the different design elements if DTC’s Les Miz, with an accompanying photo gallery. —Diep Tran
Liesl Tommy, DIRECTION: The absolute first thing I wanted to do with Les Miz was figure out how to tell the story of a student uprising. I’ve lived through student uprisings as a child in South Africa, so this was very real to me. And now we have such vivid images of revolution in terms of the Arab Spring, and unrest all over Europe and in South Africa. It felt right to tap into those images.
[Set designer] John Coyne and I talked about what a society that has been oppressed looks like, and what extreme poverty looks like, because those are the circumstances that take people to the streets. We began with images of shantytowns and bleak industrial wastelands, and John came up with the idea of these shanties stacked into towers, spanning three levels. With guards in those towers, it looked like a maximum-security prison.
Jacob A. Climber, COSTUME DESIGNER: Our aesthetic involved kind of cherry-picking points of interest through the last 15 years of revolution, big business and poverty—and to not just make it French and Western, but pull people from highly populated parts of Africa and Asia. These are poor people in urban areas everywhere.
I wanted the revolutionaries to feel rich, young and hot, and a bit like dandies. When we first meet the students, they’re in blazers, neck scarves and skinny pants, and then they move into skinny cargoes, flat vests, sleeveless shirts and red bandannas. Of the team, I’m the one who knows Les Miz the best—I saw the original Broadway tour when I was eight, and again two years later. And I was like, “Enjolras wears this awesome red vest, and every production I’ve seen is about the red vest and the red flag. That’s already been done, but there’s something there that’s important.” So Enjolras [John Campione] wears the first red beret you see, along with beautiful red boots and a cargo vest with huge tigers embroidered on it. Everyone’s sad and grey, and he’s this amazing streak of color; it lays everything in place. I also enjoyed the berets, because they’re French and a Che Guevara reference. They’re very punk-rock, these revolutionaries.
Les Misérables—a musical by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, adapted by Trevor Nunn and John Caird from Victor Hugo’s novel—ran June 27-Aug. 17 at Dallas Theater Center. The production was directed by Liesl Tommy and featured music direction by Sinai Tabak, choreography by Christopher Windom, set design by John Coyne, costume design by Jacob A. Climer, lighting design by Colin K. Bills, sound design by Ray Nardelli, fight direction by Jeffrey Colangelo, hair, wig and makeup design by Rob Greene and J. Jared Janas.