It's not due to arrive at the Kennedy Center until Dec. 17 but that's not keeping those responsible for the current London hit musical "Les Miserables" from trumpeting a little advance notice for the play's American premiere. "With the big shows you can't start talking about them too far in advance," said Cameron Mackintosh, who is coproducing the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Actually, nine months notice may be pressing things a bit for Mackintosh, who said he was promoting "Cats" in Australia two years before it opened there.

Costs for the U.S. production of "Les Miserables," which will move to Broadway following its eight-week run at the Opera House, are expected to be $4- to $4.5 million, according to Mackintosh, who appeared yesterday at a slide preview of the musical with writers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, and John Caird, who is sharing directing duties with Trevor Nunn, coartistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

There is currently "an enormous popular appetite for epic theater," observed Caird, who, with Nunn, codirected "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby," which is being revived in London, and is scheduled to open here at the National Theatre at about the same time as "Les Miserables."

Reached by telephone in London, where he is currently in rehearsals for the new Tim Rice/Abba musical "Chess," Nunn said working on three productions simultaneously was "not that complicated."

In comparing his staging of "Nicholas Nickleby" with "Les Miserables," Nunn said the latter had "much, much more simple a skeleton to reveal. The bones of the plot are so much clearer."

He did note, however, that "adapting a great work of literature can quickly lead to intellectual snobbery" on the part of the audience.

"I don't recommend that everyone should rush to the great novels and turn them into theater -- and more difficult than that, musical theater," said Nunn.

It might come as a surprise then that one of Nunn's future projects is a musical adaptation of Anthony Burgess' novel "A Clockwork Orange."

Student Productions

Six plays have been selected from 587 entries as finalists in the 18th annual American College Theatre Festival and will be presented in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater between March 31 and April 12. This year's festival features four original works, the highest proportion of new plays ever presented at a national festival in ACTF history.

The Irene Ryan Evening of Scenes, a perennial favorite, will be April 6, with 12 regional prize-winning college performers competing for two $2,500 scholarships. Free tickets for all events will be distributed on a first-come, first-admitted basis -- with a limit of two tickets per person, per show -- on Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Grand Foyer of the Kennedy Center. Seats not claimed 10 minutes before curtain time will be made available to those not holding tickets.

From the Congressional Record

"I spent about half the time writing and half the time weeping," said Gus Weill of his play "Rosenfeld's War," which receives its first public reading Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington. The play, which Weill described as "almost documentary" and "90 percent absolutely true," follows a bill introduced in Congress in the summer of 1939 that called for immigration quotas to be increased to allow 10,000 primarily Jewish refugee children to emigrate from Europe to the U.S.

"What finally happened to that legislation is totally shocking," said Weill, whose play is based on Congressional Record archives. "It's difficult to write about the Holocaust," he said. "The human being doesn't have the faculties of summing up that much horror." Weill said that by focusing on "one small incident, maybe that way I can bring it closer to home."

Talent Hunt

The Friends of the Kennedy Center are seeking entertainers of all kinds to donate their talents to the second annual Open House -- "INSIDE/OUT" -- a daylong festival to be held in and around the Kennedy Center June 22. Auditions for the free event, which last year drew more than 50,000 spectators, will take place at the Kennedy Center March 25-27 from 6-10 p.m. Audition appointments can be made today and tomorrow from noon to 5:30 p.m.; call Susan Lamb at 254-8700.

Helen Hayes Nominations

Nominations for the second annual Helen Hayes Awards will be announced tonight at the residence of the British Embassy. The awards presentation will be April 28 at the National Theatre, with Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach serving as masters of ceremonies. Tickets for the black-tie event are $250, which includes a preawards cocktail reception hosted by Hayes at the Octagon, orchestra seating for the ceremony and a postawards gala at the National Press Club, or $100 for mezzanine seating and the gala. Only mail orders will be accepted, with checks made payable to the Washington Theatre Awards Society, 2233 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20007.