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Iranian director's unique take on Les Miserables

China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-07 09:14
Theatregoers take a selfie picture at the Espinas Hotel in the Iranian capital Teheran before watching Les Miserables. ATTA KENARE/AFP


TEHERAN, Iran - Iranian theater director Hossein Parsaee calls Victor Hugo's classic a "masterpiece without borders" but his groundbreaking production of Les Miserables that has hit the stage in Teheran has a few unique twists.

For a start, none of the actresses are allowed to reveal their own hair, and in case their wigs look too natural, the poster advertising the show carries a bright red notice underscoring that their locks are fake.

Nor do the actors and actresses touch hands, or have any other physical contact throughout the musical.

All the other staples of a big-budget musical are here: a live orchestra, billowing dry ice and dazzling light displays.

With a cast, crew and orchestra of over 450, the production has played to sold-out 2,500-strong crowds for six nights a week since it debuted in November.

It is a mainly young, well-heeled crowd, and they could barely control their excitement at a rare chance to attend a musical in their home city.

"It was so much more than I expected," gushed Maryam Taheri, a 45-year-old housewife, after the show. "The acting, the music, the lighting - it was all perfect."

Foreign-made TV, film and cartoon versions of Les Miserables - a French 19th-century epic on sociopolitical tumult, crime and punishment - have been frequently shown in Iran, where the book has also been translated.

The classic work even has the stamp of approval from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has described Victor Hugo's book as "a miracle among novels... a book of kindness, affection and love".

The lavishness of the production has brought its share of criticism, however.

Tickets, priced between 500,000 and 1.85 million rials (roughly $5 to $20), are beyond the means of most Iranians. "No Miserables allowed in," wrote conservative daily, Javan.

Director Parsaee said connecting with Teheran's elite was part of the point. "This story is relevant to all times, and all places, and that includes today's Teheran. It's about the class divide, the social breakdown and the poverty that exists today," he said.

"It's a reminder to the audience that other classes exist and we need to see them and know about them. It's a serious warning."

The director's love for musicals started around a decade ago when he saw Oliver Twist, based on the Charles Dickens classic, in London.

"I was depressed for days, thinking why can't we do this? I vowed to myself that I would one day make a musical in Iran."

He did precisely that, bringing Oliver Twist to the stage in Teheran last year.

And now he has established a production company to train a new generation of musical directors.

"I've opened the door on musicals in Iran, and now, like a relay race, others must advance it to a point that there won't be any difference between Iran and Broadway."

Agence France-presse


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