Iconic ‘Les Misérables’ marks 25 happy years 

click to enlarge New role: Peter Lockyer, who appeared as a different character in previous productions, plays Jean Valjean in the 25th anniversary tour of “Les Misérables.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • New role: Peter Lockyer, who appeared as a different character in previous productions, plays Jean Valjean in the 25th anniversary tour of “Les Misérables.”

Back in 1985, San Francisco defeated Miami in the Super Bowl, unemployment hovered just above 7 percent and TV’s “Dynasty” was a ratings winner. But it was a major drama unfolding onstage that generated the most buzz that year, as audiences came out en masse to applaud what was destined to become the second-longest-running musical in the world: “Les Misérables.”

The 25th anniversary touring show, which was first re-imagined in 2010, hits the Orpheum Theatre this week.

It’s hard to deny the allure of the breathtaking, Tony Award-winning masterpiece created by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, based on Victor Hugo’s revered novel. Back in the ’80s, it was initially met with mixed reviews by critics, but theatergoers cheered its ability to capture the essence of life, hardship and “living” as it chronicled many stories and characters — from factory workers to prostitutes — in early 19th-century France amid revolution.

Those attributes have been in the forefront of Peter Lockyer’s mind for some time. Lockyer, who appeared as the character Marius for many years in productions of “Les Misérables,” suddenly finds himself in the lead role as the beleaguered Jean Valjean — thief, prisoner, repenter, transformer.

“There are so many characters and so many lenses of life that Hugo wrote about that in its totality, we get a complete human experience,” he says of the show’s ongoing popularity. “There are little shades of every character within us and you feel as if you’ve experienced a ‘life’ after the show.”

For the 25th anniversary outing, producer Cameron Mackintosh delivers a bold spectacle in which set designers Matt Kinley and Paule Constable offer re-imagined scenery and staging. Audiences will notice inspirations from several of Hugo’s own paintings in the set, which, combined with new orchestrations, create a more gritty, intense vibe.

Of course, songs that won audiences over from the beginning are still intact: “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Stars,” “Bring Him Home,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” “One Day More” and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” among others.

“The show is part of my blood and DNA and means a great deal to me,” Lockyer says. “Stepping into this new role, I had some nervousness because I wanted to do it justice. I’m taking the journey of a hardened criminal who has gone through redemption and experienced grace. It’s an amazing journey to take. How can you get tired of that?”

Audiences certainly haven’t.

Les Misérables

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug. 5
Tickets:  $31 to $200
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

The song goes on

  • 60 million Approximate audience members since debut
  • 10,000 Performances as of January 2010
  • 5,000 Items of clothing in show
  • 85 Wigs in show
  • 70 Theater awards won
  • 21 Languages into which show has been translated

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Greg Archer

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