COURTESY OF OMAHA PERFORMING ARTS (DEEN VAN MEER)
Ron Sharpe as Jean Valjean in the New 25th Anniversary Production of Les Misérables.
You think no one can love Les Miserables more than you and your friends who rate it the greatest artistic achievement of the entire 20th century. And then you talk to Ron Sharpe. He'll return to the Orpheum Theater next week as Jean Valjean in Cameron Mackintosh's 25th anniversary production of the most popular musical in the history of the world. Such claims seem outrageous, even for a show seen by about 60 million people in 42 countries and 21 languages. Then put yourself in the shoes of Sharpe, who has performed in it more than 3,500 times, the only man to play both Valjean and Marius on Broadway. He was Marius earlier in Omaha and his future wife Barbra was Cosette. So they crossed the river to Council Bluffs and got married. Once while playing those two roles, they joined an online group chatting as the romantic couple and told the others, "We really are Marius and Cosette," and they were showered with cyber love. Ron tells Samantha, 16, the oldest of their four children, "You were in Les Miz, but you didn't get your Equity card 'cause you were in momma's tummy." ("She can sing better than both of us," Sharpe adds.) And son Logan, nearly 9, auditioned for Gavroche, the waif, and, "I'm sure he'll play it some day." If all this isn't enough to convince Sharpe that he's starring in "the greatest show of all time," he thinks of his father. "He's blue-collar, a railroad guy" with a tear rolling down his cheek while his son sings, "Bring Him Home." This writer was recently reminded that he forgets to breathe when Valjean pleads with God to hear his prayer as battle rages in the streets of Paris. If you've seen the public television production of the show's 25th anniversary celebration in London, here's another reason to envy Ron Sharpe. He was among those invited by Mackintosh to participate in that grand party with its creators, the cast past and present, the London symphony and a chorus of hundreds. "I sat in a chair next to so many Valjeans." Like most of us, he agrees that none sings the role quite like Colm Wilkinson, "no one else has that presence." Earlier, Colm advised him, "You have to pace yourself," when singing the role eight times a week. "You can't sing as loud as you can all the time." During intermissions, Sharpe brings his voice to a different, softer place for the second act delivery of "Bring Him Home." That London event added to his thousands of memories of lives affected by the musical treatment of Victor Hugo's classic novel. He recalls when the full ensemble ended the evening singing, "Will you join in our crusade?" and a man stood up in the fifth row, "like, yes, I'm going to join." For nearly nine of the last 21 years, he has performed in Les Miserables . "I've worked with every director who has directed the show." Before playing Marius, the romantic lead role, he was Feuilly, the student warrior who sings, "Drink with me to days gone by." This journey began soon after he left the University of Illinois and was working as a vocalist in Nashville. He was driving, listening to a cassette of the cast album, and "I thought everyone in it sounded like me." About then a semi-trailer from the show rolled by on the highway and his future seemed preordained. He won't be surprised if his children find Les Miz roles in the future. Over 2,500 productions are scheduled and being performed in schools across the UK, US and Australia. The original cast recording went platinum and it was only one of 36 cast recordings. The video of the 10th anniversary Royal Albert Hall concert sold millions and the 25th anniversary dvd is off to a fast start. When rumors spread that it would be part of the Omaha Community Playhouse season a decade or so ago, season ticket sales soared. That didn't happen because touring companies have returned several times to the Orpheum and the Lied Center in Lincoln. The only down side of this story is that us enthusiasts feel terrible about friends who've never experienced the great pleasure it brings. If you can find a ticket anywhere in the house, grab a seat before it's gone again. Chances are you'll sit near someone who has seen it umpteen times. If it's me, I promise not to sing along. And know my tears are of joy. Les Miserables runs April 26-May 1,Tues.-Thurs. at 7:30 p.m., Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 2 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., presented by Omaha Performing Arts at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Omaha at 409 S. 16th St. Tickets start at $25 at ticketomaha.com or 402.345.0606.