ArtBeat: ACA announces specially commissioned 'Les Mis'

Mike Dunham
In this May 14, 1926, file photo, Matthew A. Henson points to a map of the North Pole in New York.
Cast members, both past and present, take the final curtain call in the long-running Broadway musical "Les Miserables" at New York's Imperial Theatre Sunday, May 18, 2003.
Savannah Rae Gagne
Courtesy Arctic Siren Productions

In 1990, a touring production of "Les Miserables" fell flat at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Presented by the same Canadian company that had earlier brought "Cats" to Anchorage with happy success, local arts observers suspected that the show would sell up to 35,000 seats. Instead, "Les Mis" sold about 21,000 total tickets and only one of the 16 performances sold out.

It hasn't been back since -- at least not in a professional production (West did a high school version in 2003 and there may have been other area school or amateur outings) -- a notable absence for the show that's billed as "the world's longest-running musical" and currently filling houses in its third Broadway incarnation.

That absence ends this fall. The Anchorage Concert Association announced last week that it will present 13 performances of "Les Mis" Oct. 17-26 as part of its 2014-15 season. More than present, actually. ACA will be, in some ways, the show's producer, teaming up with national director Andy Ferrara of Los Angeles-based Plan-B Entertainment to create a new "Les Mis" for Anchorage.

"It's not a tour," said ACA executive director Jason Hodges. "We've hired Plan-B to produce it for us." Such commissioning may seem new in Alaska, but it's fairly common in the Lower 48, he said.

The show will rent sets and put together a cast of 30; some are "Les Mis" veterans and others are looking at their parts as a kind of dream role, Hodges said. "One of the challenges with any sort of touring production is that an actor has to commit to going on the road for a year. There are some fine actors who don't want to be gone that long, but they're eager to take six or eight weeks to do this role of a lifetime."

Auditions will take place this summer and initial rehearsals will take place in California. The tech rehearsals will take place in Atwood Concert Hall in the week or so before opening night. As the "owner" of the show, so to speak, ACA will have the chance to "input it," in Hodges' words -- suggest different ways to approach scenes and fine-tune special effects.

Hodges was not concerned about the 1990 problems. "The reviews when it opened in London were awful," he said. "But sometimes the audience response gains momentum and things change. At this point in time, the music has culturally permeated society."

ACA decided to take the step in part because audience surveys indicated high interest in "Les Mis." "They told us what they wanted to do and the initial response to the announcement has been pretty phenomenal," Hodges said. "It provides the Concert Association with a little more opportunity to select shows that the market might be more interested in seeing."

Hodges acknowledged that the Oscar-winning 2012 film version may be helping boost interest in the musical.

The first chance to reserve tickets will come as part of ACA season packages that will go on sale later this month. Single tickets will go on sale on July 7. More information is available by calling 272-1471 or online at

Artist's death cancels museum show

Terry Adkins, a New York artist and musician who was an Anchorage Museum artist-in-residence in 2011, died from heart failure at the age of 60 on Feb. 7. An exhibit of his work that had been planned to open at the museum last Friday has been canceled.

Part of Adkins' work in Alaska involved traveling north to get a feel for Inuit culture and how it may have played a role in the life of Robert Henson, the African-American attendant of Robert Peary. Henson accompanied the declared "discoverer" of the North Pole on his various expeditions and is said to have become particularly close to the Native people on whom Peary relied; several young Greenlanders were introduced to me as descendents of Henson when the film "Inuk" received an Anchorage screening earlier this year.

Adkins' idea for an art show based on Henson, "Nutjuitok (Polar Star)," was not a reality at the time of his death. In a press release, museum director Julie Decker said, "While the exhibition cannot happen as scheduled, we will work with Terry's family, friends, students and colleagues to see that the Arctic work is shown in the way Terry would have wanted it, whether it be here or elsewhere in the world."

The New York Times' obituary referred to Adkins' work as "genre-blurring," a mix of sculpture, found objects, and music (he was a saxophonist). He lived in Brooklyn and taught art at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he also maintained a residence.

Local singer at motocross competition

Before the racers rev their engines at the International Loretta Lynn Amateur Motocross Championships in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., in August, Anchorage teenager Savannah Rae Gagne will belt out the national anthem. Gagne, 17, is a student at South Anchorage High School and a return performer at Arctic Siren Cabaret. She's also avid MXer, both as a rider and a fan. You can see a recent video of her at

Gagne is not involved in the next Arctic Siren Cabaret, a fundraiser for the Alaska Fine Arts Academy. (She'd better be getting ready for finals!) But that will take place with talent galore -- singers Janet Asaro, Robin Bassett, Dawn Berg, Shonti Elder and Erin Ingle and the precise backup of the Kevin Barnett Quartet. It takes place at Tap Root, 3300 Spenard Road, at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 11. Tickets are $15 at Find out more at

Art folks recognized by downtown group

The 2014 Heart of Anchorage Awards were announced by the Anchorage Downtown Partnership on March 29 and we were pleased to see some of our favorite people honored. The awards "recognize employees of downtown businesses or organizations who go above and beyond normal job responsibilities with outstanding or unusual service." The main Heart of Anchorage Award went to Nancy Harbour, who has run the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts since 1997. The George M. Sullivan Awards went to Sue Linford and Dick Reichman. Linford was actually acknowledged for her contributions as the for-profit Linford of Alaska company, but we know her best as a tireless booster of the arts. Reichman got the not-for-profit edition of the award for his work with Cyrano's Theatre Company, which will premiere his latest play, "Audition," on April 25.

'Carmina Burana' discount

Next weekend's performance by the Anchorage Concert Chorus will feature a version of Carl Orff's profane cantata "Carmina Burana" as performed by 200 singers or so. The "Joyful Noise" concert will also include stirring work for choir, brass and percussion by Brahms, Schutz, Vaughan Williams and others. The program will kick off in Atwood Concert Hall at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 12, and tickets are available at We're told that tickets purchased by today (April 6) can receive a 15 percent discount. Enter the passcode "joyfulnoise".

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.