An emotional goodbye to 'Les Miserables': Broadway's second-longest running show closes

Monday, May 19th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Now there is only ``Phantom.''

``Les Miserables'' closed out a 16-year Broadway run Sunday after 6,680 performances, leaving Andrew Lloyd Webber's ``The Phantom of the Opera'' as the only remaining big British musical of the 1980s left in New York.

``Les Miserables'' _ second only to ``Cats,'' Broadway's longest running show _ went out in a joyous, emotional celebration. The invitation-only audience at the Imperial Theatre included members of the original 1987 cast, friends and relatives of the current cast and members of the show's creative team.

Red, white and blue balloons and streamers as well as confetti engulfed theatergoers at the raucous curtain call that had them standing and cheering.

The evening had the feeling of a high school reunion as present and former cast members and others connected with the show greeted each other enthusiastically before the curtain went up. Feelings ran high throughout the entire evening.

``I feel like I am watching 16 years of my life go by,'' said Alan Wasser, the musical's general manager.

The final performance lasted well over three hours as theatergoers regularly interrupted the proceedings with repeated bursts of applause. After the cast took their bows, producer Cameron Mackintosh; the show's authors, Alain Boulil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, and its two co-directors, Trevor Nunn and John Caird, took to the stage to express their thanks.

``Time for au revoir,'' Mackintosh told the audience as he lauded the final cast and ``all the great, fantastic casts we've had before.''

After the speeches, some 40 children who had appeared in recent high school productions of ``Les Miserables'' gave mini-reprises of the show's better-known songs _ to wild applause.

The evening's emotional highlight was the linking of those students and two members of the original cast. Seventeen-year-old Chris Alan Derflinger, who played hero Jean Valjean in a Metuchen (N.J.) High School production, joined Randy Graff (Fantine) and Frances Ruffelle (Eponine) for a number that had some members of the audience sniffling.

``Les Miserables,'' based on Victor Hugo's epic novel, opened March 12, 1987, winning eight Tony Awards including best musical. Grosses for the New York production alone have totaled more than $410 million, and the musical is still out on the road with a tour that has been booked into 2004.

The English-language version of ``Les Miserables,'' which tells the story of Jean Valjean and his pursuit by the relentless Inspector Javert, had its premiere in London at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Barbican Theatre in October 1985 and moved that December to the Palace Theatre, where it is still running.

In the last few years, the big British musicals have slowly been disappearing from Broadway. ``Cats,'' the Lloyd Webber feline extravaganza, folded in 2000 after 18 years and 7,485 performances. ``Miss Saigon,'' another Boublil-Schonberg show, closed in January 2001 after a 10-year run.

``Phantom,'' which opened in January 1988, is in third place on the Broadway long-run list with 6,382 performances as of Sunday. It will move into the number-two position early next year.