Groundbreaking, Diverse Cast Raises Curtain on Les Miserables

A groundbreaking cast takes the stage Friday at Dallas' Wyly Theatre for a multicultural performance of Les Miserables.

It’s one of the most famous plays of all time, yet the award-winning musical about the French Revolution has almost always had white actors in the lead roles.  The Oscar-winning 2012 film adaptation had white actors in all the lead roles, as well.

The casting director of the Dallas Theater Center's show says this production might be the most ethnically diverse cast ever assembled for the show

It was a trailblazing decision, producers said, in order to reach a new generation of fans here in North Texas.

Hundreds of people every night will see this production of Les Mis. When the curtain rises, people might be surprised to see the actor playing the lead role of Jean Valjean.

"Hugh Jackman played him in the movie, several amazing musical theater actors have played him throughout history, and now, in North Texas, it’s me. A very different face, for Les Mis," said actor Nehal Joshi.

Joshi is the son of Indian immigrants, playing the lead in one of the most famous musicals ever written. The role has never been played by an actor of Indian descent in almost 25 years on Broadway.

"I just think it’s amazing that I, as an Indian-American actor, will get to do this play set in France in the 1800s. I think that’s an incredible thing," Joshi said.

Les Mis tells a story of love, loss, struggle, and redemption during the French Revolution. It premiered on Broadway in 1987 and the original run lasted until 2003.

A 2006 revival lasted for just two years, but now the musical has been back on Broadway since March 2014.

Most of the roles have traditionally been performed white actors playing the French peasants, but for this production Dallas Theater Center decided to hire a uniquely diverse cast.

"It is different types of people unifying for a common cause," said Justin Keys, a black actor playing Marius.

"If you go to any urban place, you don’t just see all white faces. So I think it’s important for people to see a community as we would see it today," he added.

A black actor has never been cast as Marius in any of the Broadway productions, although a black understudy has occasionally filled in for the role.

"When creating any urban community, in my eye, you need a bunch of different colors," Keys said.

The Dallas Theater Center has actors of various nationalities and races in many of the lead roles. The point, the actors said, is to highlight today's diverse community right here in North Texas.

"I hope it’s inspiring. I hope they see me up on stage, and think they’re being represented," Joshi said.

The play opens June 27 at the Dallas Theater Center. Performances run until Aug. 17.

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