Thursday, February 28, 2008

J. Mark McVey

Les Misérables in Concert.

I was delighted to learn that Mark has been cast in a concert version of “Les Miz” to be performed this summer at the Hollywood Bowl. Mark is one of my favorite people in show business, and he’s a terrific Jean Valjean, as I know from seeing him twice in the role on Broadway. I wish I could be there to hear him again.

The concert also will feature Brian Stokes Mitchell as Javert and Rosie O'Donnell as Madame Thénardier. Richard Jay-Alexander, the Broadway producer-director who has staged concerts for Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand, Betty Buckley and Bette Midler, will direct the Aug. 8-10 performances. The concerts will also feature musical direction by Kevin Stites, who was the musical director and conductor for the recent Broadway “Les Miz” revival; Stites will conduct the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Melora Hardin, the singer-actress who plays Jan Levinson on TV's "The Office," will be Fantine; “Spring Awakening”'s Lea Michele, who played the young Cosette in the original Broadway production of “Les Miz,” will be Eponine and Aaron Lazar takes on Enjolras, a role the actor played to much acclaim in the “Les Miz” revival.

The original Broadway production, directed and adapted by Trevor Nunn and John Caird with Richard Jay-Alexander as associate director, ran from March 12, 1987 to May 18, 2003. It won eight 1987 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The recent Broadway revival, also directed by Caird, played Nov. 9, 2006 to Jan. 6, 2008. I think it should have played forever.

For tickets to the Hollywood Bowl concerts, call (323) 850-2000. Visit for more information.

Just in case you missed my review of Mark’s CDs, posted last spring, I’m moving it up so you will know about these great recordings. I listen to them often, especially the one of Christian music.

I met Mark in early 2003 when I interviewed him about the unfortunate closing of the original production of “Les Miz.” He was a longtime, and wonderful, Jean Valjean. We sat in the quiet theatre before an evening performance and talked of faith and theatre -- two of my favorite subjects. Before I left he gave me his CDs “Broadway and Beyond” and “If You Really Knew Me, The Music of Marvin Hamlisch.” Recently he sent me a much earlier collection of spiritual songs, “One Among Few.”

Composer Phil Hall, whose songs Mark has frequently recorded, says Mark has an angel in his voice. I would go even higher. Mark has God in his voice, and in his life and work as well.

For “One Among Few,” he wrote the words and music for the title song and “Let the World Know.” The first is a passionate song of praise -- “He is the glory./Jesus makes me whole./He’s one among few I can count on in this world./Jesus, I love you.” It’s a song about believing in yourself, and when you find that hard, all you have to do is turn to Jesus for a helping hand. The faith that this song conveys must surely have been challenged -- and strengthened -- through living the difficult life of a performing artist.

“Let the World Know” is one of those rousing commissioning songs I love. He starts off with some advice -- “The trick to living this life is keeping it together,/believing in yourself,/that’s the major key.” -- and he offers some advice for doing just that: “Trust your instincts./Know your weakness./Don’t let another man’s words ever get you down./Stand up tall and be proud for what you believe in./Build your house on solid ground.” And then the jubilant chorus: “Let the world know that you’re out here./Set your sights and goals a bit too high./Keep your faith and your courage growing./Seek the truth and your soul will fly.” Listening to Mark sing these songs will definitely make your soul fly. Also on the CD are songs by Phil Hall and classics like “Amazing Grace” and “The Lord’s Prayer.”

The other two CDs feature show music, which also lifts my soul. I love the way Mark blends songs on “Broadway and Beyond,” pairing “Anything Goes with “A Lot of Livin’ To Do” and “I’ve Got Rhythm” with “Fascinating Rhythm,” to name two of my favorite selections. He ends with a song he sang so soulfully for all those years as Jean Valjean -- “Bring Him Home.” I’ve seen him leave an audience in tears with that one.

“If You Really Knew Me” is the first CD collection of Mr. Hamlisch’s music. Some of these songs I knew because they’re from shows, others I didn’t. I enjoyed encountering the new ones, starting with the first number, “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” a lively song that always lifts my spirits. The first time I heard “One Song” on this CD, I shouted, “That’s a Broadway Blessing song,” and so it was that fall when Mark sang it for us at this interfaith service I have been producing since founding it in 1997. Mark sang it again for United Nations Sunday at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine and really impressed the UN folks. He was supposed to sing “Ordinary Miracles” at last year’s Blessing, but work got in the way so he sent us a terrific replacement in John Tracy Egan. They’re both beautiful songs on a CD of lovely music. Mark and Mr. Hamlisch tour extensively performing these songs, by the way.

To find out more about Mark, his CDs and where he will be performing, check his web site at

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