The musical "Les Miserables," based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, first captured the hearts of theatergoers when it opened 25 years ago. Now the show comes to Washington for the 10 time. Cameron Mackintosh's exciting 25th-anniversary production utilizes Hugo's paintings, new staging and fresh orchestrations. Broadway star Peter Lockyer portrays the central character, Jean Valjean.

"I feel so blessed and honored to be playing one of the best roles every written," he said. "My first role in the show was as Marius in the 10th-anniversary tour of 1997. I repeated that role during tours of China and South Korea. At the time, I was young and never thought about playing Jean Valjean. Now I understand him and try to present him in a large arc. When a man comes out of prison after 19 years, he is hardened and has to learn to open up. It takes him a while to decide he will engage in a different kind of life with society.

"This production will be new to many who have seen the show in the past. Instead of the old black-and-white set, Hugo's paintings are projected on the back wall and scrims. They throw a splash of color that surprised me by how different it looks. There are no new songs, but the music feels newer because of the instrumentation that gives a romantic, pensive nature and Jane Austen-like sense of drama.

"The songs by Schonberg, Boublil and Natel are beautifully structured and lyrically written. When they first put the musical together, they used all their mental faculties to express an idea in a single word. 'Bring Him Home' is one of the best songs ever written. Each night I know the audience is waiting to hear it because they bend nearer."

'Les Miserables'
Where: National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
When: Thursday to Dec. 30
Info: $40 to $198; 202-628-6161;

Lockyer went directly from high school into performing. He appeared on Broadway in "La Boheme," as Chris in "Miss Saigon" and as Marius, followed by a tour of "The Phantom of the Opera." He also played Yonkers in the made-for-TV version of "Gypsy," starring Bette Midler.

Looking back on all his theatrical experiences, Lockyer ranks "Les Miserables" as the most satisfying because it is one of the few musicals that draws audiences back time and again.

"The people I meet at the stage door have taught me that the story means many things to people," he said. "I've met those who have been in prison and I have learned that it helps them adjust to life on the outside. I also meet vets who are trying to understand their place in society after having seen and gone through so much. People who have lost someone have a special place in their heart for the show. Now we are seeing a new generation in the audience who share the many different ways the story affects them. Jean Valjean is truly one of the greatest characters in literature."