Maui Arts & Entertainment

Les Mis’ Musical Director On Why You Need to See It

Listen to this Article
3 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

By Vanessa Wolf

Bob Willis at rehearsals at the Maui film studio. Photo courtesy Jack Grace

Bob Willis at rehearsals at the Maui Film Studio. Photo courtesy Jack Grace.

MAPA’s production of Les Misérables ends on Sunday.

Based on Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel of the same name, the musical is set in early 19th century France.

It tells the story of Jean Valjean, a burly French peasant of abnormal strength and potentially violent nature, and his quest for redemption after serving 19 years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread to give to his starving sister’s child.

He breaks parole, deals with a real jerk of a guy, gets caught up in the politics of the time and sings a lot of songs along the way.

We talked to Bob Willis, the show’s musical director about how this gargantuan production came to be.


Maui Now: How did you come to be the musical director of Maui’s first-ever production of Les Misérables?

Bob Willis: I started something called the Maui Masterworks Festival four years ago.

When we finished the Haydn Creation in August 2012, the players wanted to keep going. I told them, “There isn’t a vehicle.” They said, “START ONE like you started this.”

We sat down and thought about starting a group, and the result will be the Maui Chamber Orchestra. We will have out first concert this October. We decided we would move the Masterworks festival from August and make that the second concert of the new MCO season. This left a hole in what has become a summer tradition.

At that point, I started thinking about doing a musical. The best one to start with was, of course, Les Mis.


I signed up to get a notification of when it became available, and – as it turned out – so did MAPA.

MAPA has been around for a long time, and I’d only been doing this for four [years], so naturally they gave the rights to MAPA.

I went and saw the director, David Johnston. He was thinking of doing a small, scaled down version of Les Mis. I told him I would bring the orchestra and chorus, and it got HUGE quickly.

Bob Willis conducts the 25-person orchestra at the MACC. Photo courtesy Jack Grace

Bob Willis conducts the 25-person orchestra at the MACC. Photo courtesy Jack Grace.

MN: The English language version of the musical debuted in London almost 30 years ago. Why did it take so long to bring it to Maui?

BW: Because they held the rights for 27 years. Normally a musical releases its rights after about five years after it has been on Broadway, but not this time.


MN: A Hollywood film was made of the musical just last year. What can those who’ve seen the movie expect from the live performance?

BW: A better performance, for starters. NOTHING beats a live performance. I think audience members are more involved in a theater performance than they are a movie any day of the week.

MN: The production features a cast of 80 performers and a 25-piece live orchestra. Have you ever been involved in a production or musical this size?

BW: Nothing this big so far as theater goes. I once conducted the Mozart Coronation Mass with a choir of 300 and orchestra of 85; but that was a concert, not theater.

MN: What’s been the most memorable moment of the show so far?

BW: The “ah-ha” moments: when all the pieces fall exactly into place and you see it on people’s faces and hear it in their voices. It makes it all worthwhile.

Working with the Les Mis cast. Photo courtesy Jack Grace

Working with the Les Mis cast. Photo courtesy Jack Grace.

MN: How do you think a production of this size and scale might change the theater scene here on Maui?

BW: I personally think the bar has been raised for theater performance here. It certainly has for those who saw it and participated in it.

MN: What play or musical would you most love to direct here on Maui?

BW: Oh there are many: Assassins, Paint your Wagon, Candide, Chess, and several Sondheim pieces. I can’t wait to do Wicked and Kinky Boots.

MN: Friday, Saturday and Sunday mark the final run of Maui’s first production of Les Mis. What would you want people who haven’t yet seen it to know?

BW: Wayne Gretzky said “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” We took a BIG shot with the size of this show, and there is no turning back now. If you haven’t seen it, please don’t miss this chance!

Les Misérables runs Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the MACC. Tickets are $15 to $65.

Have an idea for a fun, funny or thought-provoking story or topic? Get in touch: we want to hear from you. – Vanessa (

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Make the most of your Maui vacation with these top-rated activities: Maui Top 20: Maui Visitor & Tourism Information


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Maui Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments