Last year, Brad Barbaro made his Manatee Players debut as Juan Peron in "Evita." It's a good role in a famous musical, but really, Barbaro said, it wasn't the one he wanted.
"It was a foot in the door," he said. "It was a way to become part of the Manatee Players family. I did it because I was hoping someday they'd do this show."
The show he was hoping they'd do is "Les Miserables."
At the time Barbarbo had no idea how long he'd have to wait. But this week, only 10 months after "Evita" closed, the Manatee Players are staging "Les Mis." Barbaro will play Javert, the cop who relentlessly pursues petty criminal Jean Valjean through the decades.
It's perhaps the show's most emotionally complex part.
"It's my dream role," he said. "I spend of lot of time answering people who say, 'Oh you're playing the villain.' But he's not a villain at all."
"Les Mis" opens today. It's the first show of the Manatee Players 2013-14 season, the company's first full season in the new Manatee Performing Arts Center.
The famous centerpiece of "Les Mis" in its first Broadway run was a turntable that was used to change scenes and to mark passage of time. A revival replaced the turntable with sketches by Victor Hugo, the author of the source novel. The Manatee Players staging uses neither.
"It's our own staging," said director Rick Kerby. "I have a very creative set designer (Kirk Hughes) and together we've come up with some really interesting ways of setting the story."The cast is one of the largest in Manatee Players history, with more than 50 actors, and Kerby said he's really happy with the work they're doing.
The hundreds of people who attended the Crystal Gala at the performing arts center last weekend got a sneak preview of the show and the cast when Sarah Cassidy, who plays Fantine, delivered an emotional performance of "I Dreamed a Dream," the song that has become the show's signature number.
Cassidy, like Barbaro, said this is her dream role.
"In my mind I'm still 10 years old and singing these songs in my bedroom," she said. "My sister and I used to put on costumes and sing this score."
Kenn C. Rapczynski agreed that the cast is exceptional. He's a longtime professional actor from New York who retired from theater but couldn't stay away.
"I got the bug again," he said. "This is my first show in 13 years."
Rapczynski plays Valjean, the central character in the sprawling play.
"The talent pool in this show is amazing," he said. "Wait until you see it. I am absolutely honored and humbled to be part of this cast."
Details: Aug. 8-25, Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26-$36. Information: 941-748-5875, www.manateeplayers.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.