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'Les Miserables' opens at the Aurora with love, despair

Aurora Theatre prepares for Les Misérables production that will show in Lawrenceville July 25 - Sept. 8.


'Les Mis' at the Aurora

To read the three-part behind the scenes series, click below:

Act I: The rights

ACT II: The Cast

ACT III: Costumes and set design

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Aurora Theatre prepares for Les Misérables production

Aurora Theatre prepares for Les Misérables production that will show in Lawrenceville July 25 - Sept. 8.

Aurora Theatre prepares for Les Misérables production that will show in Lawrenceville July 25 - Sept. 8.

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The cast of "Les Miserables" at the Aurora Theatre. (Photo: Chris Bartelski)

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Madame and Monsieur Thénardier Marcie Millard and Anthony P. Rodriguez with the cast of Les Misérables. (Photo: Chris Bartelski)

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Natasha Drena as Fantine with the cast of "Les Miserables." (Photo: Chris Bartelski)

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Christa Beth Campbell as Young Cosette & Marcie Millard as Madame Thénardier. (Photo: Chris Bartelski)

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Daniel Forbes Jr. as Gavroche. (Photo: Chris Bartelski)

LAWRENCEVILLE — Since December, the Aurora Theatre has been working tirelessly to gain the rights, hire and rehearse with the cast, and create hundreds of costumes and a set to work through the entire show.

Now, the Broadway musical “Les Miserables” opens on its stage to kick off the venue’s 18th season.

“I have waited 30 years to do this show,” Aurora’s Producing Artistic Director Anthony Rodriguez said. “My father bought me the cast recording — on vinyl, no less — not knowing how this music would shape the person I have become.”

The story follows Jean Valjean (played by Bryant Smith), who is released from jail after 19 years but will never be a free man because of his past. He breaks parole with the help of a bishop (Shane Desmond-Williams) to start a new life.

Once Valjean is “on the loose,” police inspector Javert (Kevin Harry) hunts him down for the rest of his life, but the ex-con is a changed man. He vows to take care of a recently orphaned girl, Cosette (played by both Mabel Tyler and Christa Beth Campbell), whose mother Fantine (Natasha Drena) dies during a terribly poor time in France.

Besides the main story, there is revolution in the air and the people are ready for change. Valjean joins others in a revolutionary period in France, where a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade.

“I’ve seen it three or four times at other venues and I have to say that the production value of the set, music and choreography was just sensational,” said President and CEO of Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce Dan Kaufman. “This is a wonderful addition to the cultural and art scene here in Gwinnett County.”

There is one major difference about the Aurora’s production of “Les Mis” — it’s set on a smaller stage than it was on Broadway.

“The set was really imaginative,” Kaufman said. “They had to make one set do for the entire play. When you see it at big shows, (the set) goes up, down and around. The great thing about the Aurora is that it’s intimate. You are right there.”

Kathleen Jones and her 13-year-old daughter Shea had only seen the musical once before at a high school on a smaller scale. Aurora’s production blew the two away.

“It was incredible. Everything was just so good,” Shea said. “I guess I really liked it at the end when everyone was singing together.”

Kathleen added, “I thought the dad (Valjean) was the best. When he was singing ‘Bring Him Home,’ it was amazing.”

The Lilburn residents heard a woman sobbing behind them near the end of the musical, but they understood why she would cry.

“The play was fantastic because it was so moving. I didn’t know what to expect,” Kathleen Jones said.

As a part of the new season, the Aurora is starting an ARTS Revolution with a grand prize.

“This season, Aurora is starting its own revolution, a yearlong campaign that uses art as a catalyst to make our world a better place,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t think of a better way to inspire an audience into an ARTS Revolution than with ‘Les Miserables.’ Like the song says, ‘Who will join in our crusade, who will be strong and stand with me?’ I am lucky enough to live in a community where there is the resounding sound of a lot of individuals saying, ‘I will.’”

Those who become subscribers enter the chance to win two tickets to New York City with a hotel for two nights with Rodriguez and Music Director Ann-Carol Pence Oct. 19-21. On the trip, the winner will see “Annie” and “Kinky Boots” accompanied with dinner in Manhattan.

The shows for Saturday, Aug. 25 and 29 are sold out. There are no evening performances on Aug. 14, 21 and 28. “Les Miserables” runs through Sept. 8.