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'Les Miserables' sets box office record

Lacey Reimnitz, as Fantine, sings “I Dreamed a Dream” during a rehearsal of the Dakota Wesleyan University-led production of “Les Miserables,” which ended a six-show run on Sunday. (Candy DenOuden/Republic)

It's over.

That's the sinking feeling the cast and crew of "Les Miserables" have been coming to terms with for the last few days. Sunday's performance capped the six-show run that showcased months of rehearsals and preparations for more than 100 people in the Dakota Wesleyan University-led retelling of the much-beloved stage production.

Combining the DWU theater and music departments, along with ample support from community members, show director Dan Miller declared the production a success, noting that box office numbers for "Les Mis" surpassed the previous record holder of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

Miller noted that "Les Mis" had a total attendance of 1,700 people, selling out four of its six performances. In 2011, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" saw an attendance of 1,200 people over the course of four shows.

A Facebook page dedicated to the production, DWU - Les Miserables, saw an influx of comments, congratulations and lamentations -- as well as celebratory pictures of the newly clean-shaven after months of growing facial hair for their characters -- following the show's final curtain.

"So 'Les Miserables' is over, and I gotta say I'm feeling a little bit ... miserables," one commenter noted, a reference to the play's title, which in English is often translated as "the miserable ones."

Miller, also the DWU theater department director and assistant professor of theater at the university, provided some final reflections on "Les Mis" in an email interview with The Daily Republic. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: You said "Les Miserables" is likely the biggest production ever put on by the Dakota Wesleyan theater department. Did it turn out the way you hoped it would?

A: Yes, absolutely. We had about 1,700 people come to see this amazing production, so as far as box office numbers, this surpassed our past biggest production of 2011's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which had about 1,200 audience members. As for size of cast, set, orchestra, crew, it was definitely the largest undertaking ever done by the DWU Music and Theatre departments.

Q: Did anything not turn out the way you'd hoped?

A: As a director, there are always things I would've liked to have done differently or had more time to work on. For example, we wanted to build a rolling sewer for them to crawl out of, but we ran out of time. I wanted to spatter the stage floor with a few more colors to give a better texture, but we ran out of time. We wanted to do some lighting special effects for the battle scenes, but we ran out of time. Because this was presented in the Sherman Center, a shared space, we had one week to build and get all the tech set up and one week to rehearse in the space before we opened. So you can see we were under the gun due to time constraints.

Q: You and your cast and crew spent more than five months rehearsing and preparing for "Les Mis." How do you feel now that it's over?

A: Ask anybody who was involved in this production and you will get the same answer ... sad. We put a lot of time and energy into this production. We worked very hard for a very long time and then worked very hard to present extraordinary performances to audiences and then ... it's over. This Sunday we had a 2 p.m. performance. The show ended at 4:45 and by 9 p.m. the Sherman Center was empty. The entire set was struck and everything cleaned up and put away. "Les Miserables" was over.

Q: One of your conditions for doing this play was that Clint Desmond play Jean Valjean. Why?

A: As the Director of Theatre I need to approach each production as a producer. I need to know we are capable of doing a show well, with the resources at hand. I knew that if we did this show it would be a huge undertaking and if we were to do this piece of art any justice I would need two very strong lead men. I know Clint very well and I know that he is an extraordinarily talented individual, and I knew that if I could get him to play the lead I would be assured of an amazing Jean Valjean. Then all I had to worry about was finding a Javert and about 20 other principal characters, but I felt that if I had Clint as Valjean I would feel comfortable about approaching this behemoth of a production.

Q: DWU's theater and music departments have seen strong growth in recent years, but you're still the only professor in the theater department. Do you see yourself trying to do a show of this magnitude every year?

A: No! This show was way too much for a one-man theatre department. Yes, I have amazing students who do help out quite a bit, but this was just too much for a small, one-person department such as ours. As each year passes, I get a little older, I am discovering that I am not able to do it all by myself anymore.

Q: Is this the first show you've directed that utilizes a live orchestra?

A: Nope, but this is the first time I was in total awe of what the orchestra was doing. It is non-stop music from start to finish and this orchestra was outstanding. In fact, I had someone ask where I got the recording to go with the show and I had to point out that it was a live orchestra. They were absolutely shocked and impressed.

Q: We talked about "magic week" in the days prior to opening night. What was some of the magic that you saw take place?

A: Absolute character development. Actors became the characters and their mannerisms changed and they all started doing things, as the character, and some were not even aware that they were doing it. Absolute character immersion.

Q: Ticket sales were strong throughout; how many nights did you sell out?

A: We sold out four of the six performances. However, we oversold our last three, adding seats because people wanted badly to see this production.

Q: In the last year, you've built a new theater-in-the-round, done some rearranging and now put on one of the most beloved musicals of all time. What's next for the DWU theater department?

A: We will be announcing our season in late April, but I can tell you that our musical next year will be in partnership with the Mitchell Area Community Theatre and it will be "Scrooge, the Musical" in December.

Q: One last question. Is it "Les Mis" or "Les Miz"?

A: Either one.