OAKLAND -- The popular musical "Les Misérables" comes to the stage in the Oakland hills this month.
Based on Victor Hugo's novel, "Les Miz" will be performed from July 10-20 as part of Producers Associates' 48th season presenting the Woodminster Summer Musicals.
"The show itself is timeless, with themes and music that speak to everyone in different ways," said Juliet Heller, a San Leandro resident who plays Fantine, a poor unwed mother, in the production. "Each character is redeemed by love, and the show's themes of redemption, love, forgiveness and reinvention are universal."
The show is considered a pop opera, since it has very little dialogue. It has run nonstop in London for nearly 30 years and an acclaimed film version of the musical was released in 2012. The first U.S. production was one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. Its most popular songs include "I Dreamed a Dream," "On My Own" and "One Day More."
Set in 19th Century France, the musical tells the story of Jean Valjean, a peasant freed after 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. He decides to break parole and is pursued by police inspector Javert. The emotional story of their conflict is combined with other dramatic themes, such as the fight for social justice and the Paris student uprising of 1832.
"The show focuses on the dark side of people and includes prostitution, robberies and death," said Oscar Tsukuyama, an ensemble member and recent graduate of Skyline High School in the Oakland hills. "Still, it is uplifting ... while showing all the issues connected to" social unrest of the period.
The musical's official start is July 11, but a dress rehearsal on July 10 is open to the public. Children who attend a show with paying adults get in free on all nights except July 10. The production is directed by Joel Schlader and Brian Allan Hobbs leads the live orchestra.
Jerry Lee plays the part of Valjean and Anthony Rudolph portrays Javert. Other key performers include Emily Kessell and Jennifer Mitchell as Fantine's daughter, Cosette; Adam Maggio as the man who falls in love with Cosette, Marius; and Catherine Gloria as a spoiled child who later lives on the street.
"There's lots of action in the show and beautiful songs. Some songs have a positive message, and in the play, there are good guys that win," said Madison Jane Schlader, a fifth-grader at Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Alameda, who plays a street urchin and is the director's daughter. "My favorite song is 'Master of the House.' It has great rhymes and parts that keep repeating."
Sophia Tuma, a 9-year-old from Berkeley who is part of a street gang in the musical, thinks the best song in the show is "At the End of the Day," and she's enjoyed working with the "really good singers, actors and actresses."
Overall, the musical has appeal, she added, "because it's an interesting story about people with very hard lives."
To play a street kid, Tuma has to wear both a costume and a layer of cocoa powder.
"It makes me look dirty," she said.
For those who have seen the movie, "The live show enhances the story in some ways," Heller said. "On stage, there's a different interpretation by the director and actors. Live theater is always about new discoveries. No performance is the same every night."
"The show is so much more than its themes and is very uplifting," she said."It is a musical that will continue to live on for many years to come."
What: "Les Misérables"
When: 8 p.m. July 10-13, 17-20
Where: Woodminster Amphitheater, 3300 Joaquin Miller Road, Oakland
Cost: $18 to $59
Information: 510-531-9597, www.woodminster.com