‘Les Mis’ marked a turning point in SWOC’s operations. This was our first co-production with the Bunbury Entertainment Centre (BEC); the first show for which we hired a professional director; the first time we held open auditions for a production; it had a large cast of 83, and was an enormous success.
The initial suggestion came from Greg McGrath, manager of the BEC, whose enthusiasm carried us through various difficulties. Andy King was the director, and he brought energy and theatrical experience and expertise which inspired us, amazed us, and instilled in us a new sense of commitment to a show.
And it was a genuine contemporary opera! Costumes were hired from a Queensland company, and the dramatic set, centred on a reversible two-piece barricade, was built robustly by Gino Maratea – the first of many.
Music was not Andy’s strong suit, but Marguerite Monagle, our own MD, held her own with Andy and together they brought the cast to confront the audience strongly with ‘At the end of the day’, soar to the heights of ‘One day more’ and bring them to their feet in the rousing finale ‘Do you hear the people sing?’
The auditions attracted several leads from out of town, including Rob Hill (Javert), who has never left, and quickly became part of the backbone of the company, as did another newcomer, Peter Eckersley. This production was a highlight in over 100 performers’ lives – who can forget the standing ovations from successive full houses? – and motivated SWOC to revisit Les Mis ten years later in the same venue.
Les Misérables ran for ten shows in the BEC, several of them playing to full houses, and it still holds the box office record for what is now the Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre.