Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

Sierra Repertory Theatre will open its 35th season on Saturday with the epic musical "Les Miserables."The production - complete with a huge cast, complex characters and elaborate costumes and sets - will also mark the start of SRT's 35th anniversary season.

It plays Saturday through May 4 in East Sonora.

This is the first time SRT has staged "Les Miz" and the show has it all: themes of love and compassion, intense drama, a dynamic musical score and first rate singing from beginning to end.

Plus, presenting "Les Miz" in SRT's intimate, 200-seat space will give theater-goers a chance to be swept up in the emotion of the production close-up, said SRT Producing Director Dennis Jones, who is also directing the play and designed the intricate sets.

"Imagine, people will be seeing this incredibly epic musical from no more than 10 rows away," he said.

"Les Miz" enjoys the reputation as one of the most popular musicals in the world. Based on Victor Hugo's classic novel, it tells the story of Jean Valjean, a prisoner who skips parole in hopes of starting a new life.

He's pursued relentlessly by police inspector Javert, who refuses to believe Valjean can change his ways. Along the way, Valjean and a slew of characters are swept into a revolutionary period in France where a group of young idealists make their last stand.

Since it premiered, "Les Miz" has been seen by more than 65 million people and won numerous awards, including eight Tonys.

The Broadway production is one of the longest-running musicals in history, behind "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera."

"Les Miz" is a three-hour production, most of it sung, so Jones had to search for actors who are also accomplished singers.

Jean Valjean is played by Cliff McCormick, who has performed throughout the Bay Area, including the title role in "Jesus Christ Superstar" and both title roles in "Jekyll & Hyde."

Eric Jon Mahlum plays Inspector Javert. Mahlum appeared in the Broadway production of "Wicked" and has played featured roles in numerous national tours and regional theater productions across the country.

Also joining the cast are Chris Vettel, who plays the innkeeper Thernardier, and Scott Sowinski, who plays the revolutionary Enjolras.

In addition to playing the pastor in last year's Sierra Rep production of "Church Basement Ladies," Vettel sang for four seasons with the Opera Company of Boston before performing in national and international tours ("Annie," "Sunset Boulevard" and "Cabaret") and at regional theaters across the country.

Sowinski has performed extensively in New York and in regional theaters, as well as undertaking such roles as Anthony in "Sweeney Todd" for New York City Opera and appearing on opera and concert stages around the world. Sierra Rep audiences may remember him from his turn as Tony in SRT's "West Side Story."

The sets are anything but routine, since the story takes place in a variety of places. They include a prison, a factory, a red light district, a hospital, a dingy street and more.

Costumes are detailed and in the style of the 1800s. Guest costume designer is Ryan Moller (2012's "Cinderella").

Guest lightening designer is Christopher Van Tuyl and the musical director is Sean Paxton.

SRT's resident artists are also working on the show, including properties designer Mercy Sharpe and stage manager Doug Brennan.

Thursday and Friday performances begin at 7 p.m., Saturday evening performances are at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. Select Thursday matinees begin at 2 p.m.

A talkback with the cast and crew is scheduled for March 13.

Tickets range from $26 to $42 depending on the performance.

Opening night - long sold out - includes a pre-show reception, gala dinner, silent and live auction, and desserts.

Seats are still available for a director's brunch and matinee performance set for Sunday, April 6, at the Black Oak Casino Hotel and East Sonora theater. For brunch reservations, call SRT Development Director Beverly Handelman at 532-0502, ext. 111, or email

For all other performances, call SRT's box office at 532-3120 or visit the theater's website at