Broad­way hits Iran

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Culture -

IRA­NIAN the­atre 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 Tehran 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.

This is, af­ter all, the cap­i­tal of the Is­lamic repub­lic, even if the block­buster show in the lux­u­ri­ous Espinas Ho­tel feels a world away from the usual stereo­types about Iran.

The con­ces­sions to the gov­ern­ment’s view of Is­lamic rules are often sub­tle.

There is, for in­stance, al­ways at least one other voice ac­com­pa­ny­ing an ac­tress when she sings – since fe­male so­los are taboo – although spot­ting the sec­ond voice can be tricky.

All the other sta­ples of a big­bud­get 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 was a mainly young, well­heeled crowd, and they could barely con­trol their ex­cite­ment at a rare chance to at­tend a mu­si­cal in their home city.

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 new pro­duc­tion is be­ing hailed as the most spec­tac­u­lar play yet staged in Iran.

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

The play has come at a volatile mo­ment in Iran, when anger at eco­nomic in­equal­ity and cor­rup­tion dom­i­nates po­lit­i­cal de­bate.

Tick­ets, priced be­tween 500,000 and 1.85 mil­lion ri­als (roughly RM20 to RM80), are be­yond the means of most Ira­ni­ans.

“No Mis­er­ables al­lowed in,” said a con­ser­va­tive daily, Ja­van.

Di­rec­tor Parsaee said con­nect­ing with Tehran’s elite was part of the point.

“This story is rel­e­vant to all times, and all places, and that in­cludes to­day’s Tehran. 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.” Much of the show seems to run against Ira­nian taboos, not least the mixed danc­ing and drink­ing in broth­els and inns.

But Parsaee, who used to head the per­form­ing arts de­part­ment at the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Is­lamic Guid­ance, knows the red lines well.

“The re­view board saw the play in its en­tirety be­fore we were al­lowed to be­gin our run,” he said.

“They found it com­pletely com­pat­i­ble with the rules and reg­u­la­tions. No taboos were bro­ken.” – AFP Re­laxnews


A scene from the mu­si­cal pro­duc­tion Les Mis­er­ables, per­formed by Ira­nian artists at the Espinas Ho­tel in the cap­i­tal Tehran. This lat­est ver­sion is be­ing hailed as the most spec­tac­u­lar play yet staged in the coun­try.

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