BWW Interviews: Part One - Conversations with the Cast and Crew of McCallum's LES MISERABLES
BroadwayWorld is thrilled to share with you a two part interview series featuring the cast and crew of Les Miserables which opens at McCallum Fine Arts Academy next Thursday, February 27th.
Epic, grand, and uplifting, Les Miserables engages the emotions of audience members worldwide. Its sung through opera style gives it appeal to exceptional singers, dancers, and production artists. The story line takes place in 19th century France. Jean Valjean is released from 19 years of unjust imprisonment only to find that mistrust and judgment are all he has waiting for him. In hopes of starting a new life, he breaks parole, thus initiating a life-long struggle with Inspector Javert, who refuses to believe a prisoner such as Valjean could change into a good man. During the Paris student uprising of 1832, Javert must confront his personal belief system when it is Valjean who surprises him by sparing his life and saving the life of his adopted daughter's love. His world view shattered, Javert takes his own life and finally leaves Valjean to make peace in his own life. Les Miserables is a powerful affirmation of the human spirit and that is what makes it a masterpiece.
Les Miserables, produced by McCallum Fine Arts Academy, plays McCallum High School at 5600 Sunshine Drive, Austin 78756 starting Thursday, February 27th thru Sunday, March 2nd. Performances are Thursday thru Saturday at 7pm with matinee performances on Saturday March 1st and Sunday March 2nd at 2pm. Tickets are $6 for students, $10 for seniors, and $15 for adults. For tickets and information, please visit http://www.mactheatre.com/
Today, we bring you our interview with cast members Sage Stoakley, Dylan Tacker, Quinlyn Tesar, and Janine Dworin who play Fantine, Javert, Eponine, and Mme. Thenardier respectively.
BWW: There are few shows that are as well-known or as well-loved as Les Miserables. What was your reaction when you found out that McCallum decided to produce the show this season?
SS: I FREAKED out! I absolutely adore this musical and it has always been a dream of mine to perform in this show! I was also unbelievably overwhelmed when I got the role of Fantine, since it has always been a favorite role of mine! I think McCallum will definitely do the show justice!
DT: At the time that Les Miserables was announced as the Spring Musical for the 2014 Season, I had only just begun working with the Royale Court Players, so the idea of creating the musical phenomenon in our new theatre was astonishing- I was ecstatic.
QT: First off, producing Les Miserables has been something many of us in MacTheatre have been greatly awaiting, and once the movie came out and we were officially to do the show, everyone was so excited! Personally, I was thrilled that we were putting on a rock opera with such intricate plot and influence, and such a large cast to boot. I felt that we could truly do the show justice, and began to learn all of the music for a chance to be in the ensemble.
JD: When I first found out, I was, of course, super excited! It's something I've always wanted to be a part of and it's great to be able to cross off this show from my bucket list!
BWW: Tell me about the character you play in the show?
SS: I play the role of Fantine in the show. She is one of the female leads, but sadly, dies a very tragic death. I would say that she represents the tragedy and dream of Les Miserables. She has this inner conflict between her daughter and herself. She wants to save her daughter, but she knows she will have to push herself to do horrible things in order to support her. She ultimately chooses to let go of her soul and provide her daughter, but sadly pays the price for it, ultimately dying in the end.
DT: In this show I play Inspector Javert, a parole officer with a strong sense of justice. Javert's desire for order and balance replaces his set of moral beliefs, and anyone that cannot uphold his ideals is seen as an enemy.
QT: Eponine Thenardier is the daughter of M. and Mme. Thenardier, innkeepers who swindle people out of money. Years later, when the family has lost the inn and sunk into desperate poverty, Eponine is forced to grow up fast and mask her feelings. With so little food, the family continues to beg and trick for money, leaving Eponine with a confusing conflict of morality. Eponine really grows throughout the show: in the beginning she is a little girl whose con-artist parents dote on her; then she is street smart and tough, having faced the miseries of the time and has become well versed in hiding her fears; then she finally comes to terms with the disappointment that is life, accepting the hand she has been dealt. Despite her parents' influence of greed and dishonesty, Eponine shows Marius to Cosette, realizing he is in love with her, and even stands up to her father and his gang when they attempt to rob Valjean and Cosette. I feel that Eponine is too often confused with the cliché archetype of the lovelorn outcast, and that her character has much deeper meaning. She is the embodiment of finding inner strength and independence. The trials of her life represent the very corruptions in France at the time that were cause for the rebellion.
JD: I play Madame Thenardier, one of the most hated villainesses in all of musical theatre history! She's terrible, there are absolutely no redeeming qualities to her. She's an all-around disgusting woman. But dang, she's a great character to play!
BWW: Are you like your character at all?
SS: Somewhat. Fantine is very quiet and reserved for the first part of the show, kind of keeping to herself, which is nothing like me. But later, when she shows some of her feisty side I relate to her more. But sadly, Fantine is a very tragic character who is kicked out of her job, turned into a prostitute, and then dies which I can't relate to because, that has never happene to me!
DT: I identify with Javert's strong sense of balance and order, but his desire for redemption and recognition by God pushes him over the edge, making him a cold heartless machine. I choose not to live with this image of the world. So, to answer your question, no- I'm not very similar to my character.
QT: Everyone who has ever had a conflict of morals, disagreed with their parents, or felt unrequited love can identify with Eponine. Her life is a constant struggle between finding what is right and the negative influence of her family; Marius' love for Cosette and following her heart. Making the moral choices rather than the desirable ones is not difficult to relate to as well, though Eponine has endured many hardships not directly portrayed in the musical that have shaped her character.
JD: I hope not! I guess parts of her peek through when I get angry, but she's no one I'd want to be compared to!
BWW: What's your favorite part about your character?
SS: My favorite part about Fantine is definitely her relationship with Jean Valjean. Their connection is fascinating to me. Valjean is with Fantine when she is dying and is almost like this savior to Fantine and the two of them share a deep connection through Cosette. When Fantine comes to Vallean in his death, she is the one figure in his life that is closest to family and she is his savior! I think their relationship is beautiful.
DT: My favorite thing about Javert is that though many actors play him as a heartless villain, there's so much subtext and underlying emotion that it's almost like a game to discover what goes on in his mind. With his set of laws and ideals replacing his capacity for redemption from the law, he must take actions and make decisions that he deems "worthy under God's eyes." I'm privileged to be portraying such a complex character.
QT: Eponine's self-sacrificial love is her own personal tale of redemption, of giving her life for Marius. This is her final act of defiance, and the long held back emotion surges to give her truth and rest in her dying breath. Like Valjean and Fantine, she has had life throw curves, but has chosen the just path, saved in the eyes of God, as we see her return to take Valjean to heaven. She has finally escaped the harsh realities of her life, and has found peace. Though I love how she was always tough and strong, her true strength can be found in her decision to give her life for love.
BWW: I've heard that your director, Joshua Denning, is taking a more steampunk, rock opera edge with the show. What has it been like to work with a familiar show but with that sort of unconventional style?
SS: I think it's very cool! The set has really been greatly affected by his vision of the show. It is this very dark concoction of moving buildings with intense backgrounds. I think it is refreshing to not have a completely classical version of Les Miserables and it has been a joy to work with. I also think the audience will respond to it well, even though it may not be what they are expecting!
DT: I've always been a huge fan of Joshua Denning's creative directing- it makes the show that much more memorable! However, when working on such a time-honored show like this one, it's important to return to a traditional style of performing to create a perfect blend of originality while upholding the power and passion that Les Miserables possesses.
QT: I think the rock musicality adds an edge to the show and keeps it from sinking into a despair-ridden show. The orchestrations are kept in a way that we get a new flair to the music without losing those lovable melodies and general feel of the show.
JD: Josh is taking the show in is a fresh, dramatic, and edgy place. The "steampunk" styling is most obvious in the set and costumes, but as an actor, I've been trying to also incorporate this theme into my physicality, becoming mechanic as well as evil.
BWW: Has the steampunk and rock style informed your characters or performances at all?
SS: Some of the actors in the show have changed small things. The singing is a little more rock based for some of the men, but in general people have been acting and singing it no different. But the hair, makeup and costumes have been greatly affected!
DT: The style of our show gives me certain elements to consider, but I never settle any gesture into place until a set has been officially completed. I can tell you honestly that since day one, this show's appearance has changed greatly- that's why it's so important to have a thorough understanding of a character that can be transferred to any working space and any set.
QT: The set looks fantastic! The costume designers have also done an excellent job with this style- it's really coming together thematically, and strips a layer of softness from the musical, defining the look. The set has sharp, yet vague edges and colors that are more interpretive, which I think really gives a new light to the story.
BWW: Speaking of Mr. Denning, he actually starred in ZACH Theatre's recent production of Les Miserables. How has his experience with the material helped this production?
SS: Immensely! I think he came into the production having a much clearer view of what he wanted and how much work the show was going to be. He definitely knows the show better than any of us, which is a trait that directors should have. I think it has made him very decisive and clear on what he wants which has made the rehearsal process much more joyful for the cast!
DT: We're all very lucky to have had our director starring in Les Miserables before we started the rehearsal process. There are plenty of things we as actors can learn through the development of a show, and once a show is over, I always wish I could have gone back and changed one insignificant issue with how I reacted to a certain scene. But with Joshua Denning's creative image and a cast of brilliantly talented singers and dancers, this show has quickly become one of the greatest shows I've experienced with MacTheatre.
QT: Since Mr. Denning is so familiar with the libretto, undertones, motifs, and characters, he is able to show the truth of the musical while taking new perspectives on the creative aspects. Having already acted in Les Miserables, he will be able to build on or take from what he gathered from months of rehearsal.
JD: He's very comfortable with the show and while he did participate in ZACH's show, this version is very original and new!
BWW: There are so many great performers that have starred in Les Miserables at some point, and most of those performances have been immortalized thru cast recordings or YouTube videos. Do you have a favorite Les Miserables performer?
SS: OH YES! My favorite performance of all time is the 10th Anniversary Concert edition of Les Miserables! Every principal is in my eyes, spot on and they are all immensely talented. I would definitely recommend that recording out of the many others.
DT: Select performers have earned their title as the greatest portrayers of Jean Valjean and Javert through the 10th Anniversary London Cast Recording of Les Miserables, including such names as Colm Wilkinson and Phillip Quast. Whenever I have difficulty searching for a certain emotion in some scenes, I listen to the 10th Anniversary Album to uncover the underlying meaning of songs such as "Stars" and "Look Down."
QT: Lea Salonga is probably my favorite- she was in two main productions of Les Miserables, once as Fantine and once in the 10th Anniversary as Eponine. Her versatility extends to both characters, and her voice is phenomenal. She is adorable and quirky in her acting, but powerful in her singing.
JD: Jenny Galloway is the BOMB.
BWW: What's been the best part of the rehearsal process?
SS: The singing! The music in Les Miserables is so monumental and well known, getting to sing and be a part of such an amazing cast and bring the music to life has been extraordinary! Every time I hear the cast sing with the orchestra all I can do is smile because it is truly beautiful.
DT: One of the greatest elements to a show is that when working with so many talented people the work becomes less of a chore and more like one big game of "pretend." My favorite thing about the world of drama and musical theatre is that you meet so many talented people with common interests that making friends is never impossible.
QT: I really enjoy Sitzprobe! This is where the cast runs just the songs of the show, but with mics and an orchestra. People just sit onstage in chairs and get up to sing. I was blown away by the quality of the mics and the great sound they produced- especially with group numbers! The power of the voices and the orchestra together for the first time is chilling and kind of beautiful.
BWW: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
SS: My favorite moment would be the finale. It is so beautiful the way Jean Vallean dies and everyone comes in for a final reprise of "Do You Hear the People Sing." It brings tears to my eyes every time we perform it, and I think it is a fabulous way to finish a show!
DT: One of my favorite moments of this show takes place around the beginning of the second act, when the students wheel in a massive barricade of chairs and broken furniture. Once they've finished piling more chairs and tables around the base, they all sing in chorus one of my favorite songs of the show- "Red and Black." The students cast to fight on this barricade are all people who have worked together for numerous hours on several shows, so it's not hard for our barricade boys to act even somewhat brotherly.
QT: My favorite song is probably "One Day More." The big, loud, closing number to Act One is breathtaking in its progression of plot, and it intertwines all of the leading characters' personal struggles and determination among the crowd of revolutionaries preparing to fight. With so many singing at once, it is chaotic yet somehow unified and hopeful in its promise for a new day to come.
BWW: Any last remarks for BroadwayWorld readers?
SS: If you live nearby or you just have an interest, please come support us! We would love to see you there! Vive la France!
DT: I'd like to let these readers know just how grateful for all of the support I've been given from my family on this performance. It means the world to me that I've been blessed with a cast of such talented people and a spectacular director to guide me. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the show!
QT: I am so grateful to have this experience - Victor Hugo's book is truly a masterpiece, and I am ecstatic at the chance to be part of the cast of such an incredible rock opera/musical. It's going to be a great show; thank you so very much for your time!
JD: It's been a lot of fun and I hope everyone enjoys it!