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Les Miserables is big hit in Tehran.

A Farsi production of the musical play "Les Miserables" has been packing in the crowds ever since it opened in November.

"Les Miserables" first opened in Paris in 1980, but subsequently became a huge hit in translation all across the English-speaking world, where it is commonly called "Les Miz."

But the adaptation of the play for the Iranian stage--it is being performed in the luxurious Espinas Hotel--involved more than just translation.

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.

There is 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 big-budget 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 six nights a week ever since it debuted in November.

When a reporter from Agence France Presse (AFP) attended, it was a mainly young, well-heeled crowd, which could barely control its excitement at a rare chance to attend a musical in Tehran.

"It was so much more than I expected," gushed Maryam Taheri, a 45-year-old housewife, after the show. "The acting, the music, the lighting, it was all perfect."

Foreign-made TV, film and cartoon versions of "Les Miserables" have been frequently shown in Iran, where the original 1862 Victor Hugo book has also been translated into Farsi.

The classic work even has the stamp of approval from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenehi, who has described the book as "a miracle among novels, ... a book of kindness, affection and love." The lavishness of the production has brought its share of criticism, however.

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

Tickets are priced between 500,000 and 1.85 million rials (roughly $5 to $20), which puts the play well beyond the means of most Iranians.

"No Miserables allowed in," said the conservative daily Javan.

Director Hossain 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 told AFP. "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."

The director's love for musicals started around a decade ago when he saw "Oliver Twist," based on the Charles Dickens classic, in London.

"I was depressed for days, thinking why can't we do this? I vowed to myself that I would one day make a musical in Iran."

He did precisely that, bringing "Oliver Twist" to the stage in Tehran last year.

And now he has established a production company to train a new generation of musical directors. "I've opened the door for musicals in Iran, and now, like a relay race, others must advance it to a point that there won't be any difference between Iran and Broadway."

Caption: TOP ATTRACTION--The actresses' hair is all fake, but the play is the thing right now in Tehran.
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Title Annotation:Culture: From then to now
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Jan 25, 2019
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