With arms full of freshly washed costumes, employees moved along the winding halls below the auditorium stage. Braided wigs were lined up along walls of exposed brick in preparation for the opening night of “Les Misérables.”
It took approximately 20 hours for the crew to unload all of the stage props and equipment. A crew of about 100 additional local employees began the process at 8 a.m. Monday when the touring team arrived in Bloomington.
“We’re like a little city that supports itself,” stage manager Jess Gouker said.
Backstage, coffee makers and microwaves were stored wherever space was available. A rack of mock firearms was tucked close to the scenery and a tank of liquid carbon dioxide, which would later be used to create smoke effects.
All members of the set-up crew were fitted with bright yellow, green and orange safety helmets. The lights from their headlamps bounced along the stage.
Equipment, props and personal items were transported via 11 semi-trucks. The show is performed by 38 actors with a 16-member orchestra and remaining crew. In total, the show travels with around 80 people.
“Most Broadway tours downsize when they tour, but this show stays the same,” production stage manager Jack McLeod said. “It’s rare for something this big to play at Bloomington.”
“Les Misérables” typically performs at least eight shows in one location, McLeod said. While this is uncommon for the IU Auditorium stage, there are typically few exceptions due to the large nature of the show that prides itself on its similarity to their Broadway performances.
“I’m just appreciative that we were able to get a bit of the bigger theater picture,” audience member and Edgewood High School junior Wesley Santy said. “Getting to see this version in the City of Bloomington is very cool.”
“Les Misérables” revolves around a group of lower class Parisians in the midst of the June 1832 Rebellion.
Opening night was the first for the five children in the show. Minors in the musical sign for six-month intervals at a time and must be accompanied by a guardian. They are expected to participate in school 15 hours per week with a teacher who also travels with the cast.
The show additionally works with IU students through a teaching program titled “Operation Observation.” Students shadow stage managers and employees during the performances as well as follow along with light and sound cues.
“They can take what they’ve learned and apply it to what really happens during a show,” McLeod said.
On opening night, the curtain rose to reveal the wooden, crumbling buildings of 19th-century Paris. Billowing smoke crept across the stage from the canisters that had been transported in earlier that day. The actors peered into the audience wearing the costumes and wigs meticulously prepared by dozens of staff members.
“Even from the opening moments, it seemed like every set felt unique but was also very encompassing,” audience member and Edgewood High School junior Mycal Stewart said.
“Les Misérables” will run at the auditorium from Feb. 4-9. Tickets can be purchased at the IU Auditorium’s website.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified the June 1832 Rebellion portrayed in "Les Mis." The IDS regrets this error.