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Duluth Playhouse goes big on ‘Les Miserables'

Anna McRae Simpson (from top left), Mike Pederson, Beth Anderson, Andrew Kimball and Kayla Mudget perform during a July 8 rehearsal of the Duluth Playhouse production of “Les Miserables” at the Marshall Performing Arts Center on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus. The production moves to the DECC for its performances. (Clint Austin / / 3
Ali Littrell-Finstrom (left) and Adam Sippola perform during a July 8 rehearsal of the Duluth Playhouse production of “Les Miserables.” (Clint Austin / / 3
Mike Pederson (from left), Adam Sippola and Scott Hebert perform during a July 8 rehearsal of the Duluth Playhouse production of Les Miserables at the Marshall Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Minnesota Duluth. The production moves to the DECC for its run of performances. (Clint Austin / / 3

A local theater company will celebrate its 100th season with the biggest-budget, largest-cast and the most collaborative project to ever play on its stage.

Except it won’t even be on its stage, it will be on an even bigger stage.

Duluth Playhouse’s production of “Les Miserables” opens its four-day run Wednesday at Symphony Hall at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

“You know, we figured if we were going to celebrate, we were going to go big or go home,” said Christine Seitz, executive director of the Playhouse. “We were looking for something that would have that big splash, something that would be able to demonstrate the talent in our town.”

Between actors and support staff, about 100 people are involved with the show. Members of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra will perform live, and Robert Gardner of the Minnesota Ballet has done the choreography.

It’s expected to draw an audience that exceeds the Playhouse’s home capacity.

And as for the show’s $300,000 budget, which is about three times the theater’s usual budget for a musical, well, that’s been topped:

“Budgets are made before you start productions,” Seitz said.

“Les Miserables,” based on the novel by Victor Hugo, is the story of the tribulations of an ex-con, a relentless justice-seeker, a single mother who couldn’t catch a break but is vulnerable to consumption and an orphan who thrives under her adoptive father’s care.

The story, set during the French Revolution, is billed as one of the most popular musicals in the world. According to the New York Times, it has been seen by 65 million people in 42 countries, not counting the 2012 film that made $450 million.

“It’s the strength of the story and the strength of the performances required to do it well,” Seitz said. “The music is extraordinarily challenging, you need a professional orchestra, the creative work behind it is mammoth and requires a great deal of investigating into what’s really going on in these scenes.”

Sarah Killough left Duluth 10 years ago and works in casting in New York City in addition to performing professionally around the country. She plays Eponine, the pampered daughter of the Thenardiers who ends up running street scams and falling hard for Marius.

Killough said she heard the performance had spots for equity actors and she liked the idea of performing someplace where her family could easily attend a show. A little trivia: She’s the third generation to perform at the Playhouse, a line that includes grandparents Josiah and Pearl Fuller and uncle Jim Fuller.

“This feels really great,” Killough said. “When I left Duluth, there weren’t opportunities in the arts. Coming back, there are so many opportunities.”

Killough said some of her castmates would fare well in the auditions she works at as an assistant casting director.

“I look at people and say, ‘You can do this, and you can do this.’ ”

 The musical is directed by Dorothy Danner, who has directed almost 200 operettas, according to her bio, including musicals and plays, and has earned critical acclaim for a Julliard production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a PBS tribute to Gilbert and Sullivan and a televised staging of “Ballymore.”

She also has appeared in nine Broadway shows and is part of a theatrical lineage that includes Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Dorothy Danner directed Lyric Opera of the North’s production of “La Traviata” in 2013.

“She cares a lot about the book and not just the way the musical is done,” Killough said. “She’s movement-oriented. This isn’t a dance show, but knowing how your character moves is important.”

Seitz said it was important to get a director “who not only enjoys the thorough, deep work that is involved, but can also master the imagery. This show requires painting a picture in details.”

Jennifer Graumpann Campbell, a classical soloist who teaches voice lessons and directs the Lake Superior Youth Chorus, plays Cosette.

It’s a role that she’s been preparing for for much of her life.

“I’ve been singing along with (‘In My Life’) since I was 12 or 13,” she said.

Campbell said when she tells people in the community that she’s part of the cast, she’s met with excitement.

“From the get-go, from auditions, I knew that this was going to be a big deal for Duluth,” she said.

If you go What: Duluth Playhouse production of “Les Miserables,” directed by Dorothy Danner

When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; runs 7:30 through Saturday

Where: Symphony Hall, Duluth Entertainment Convention Center

Tickets: or at the DECC box office