BWW Interviews: Peter Lockyer on LES MISÉRABLES, Coming to Austin May 29-June 3
“2010 marked the 25th anniversary year for LES MISÉRABLES. It is now the longest running musical in the world and in October 2010, celebrated its 25th anniversary with a theatrical first - three different productions of the same musical staged at the same time in one city – the star-studded concerts at The O2, the acclaimed new 25th Anniversary Production (which completed its sell-out UK Tour at London's Barbican Theatre) and the original production, which continues its record breaking run at the Queen's Theatre, London.
The New 25th Anniversary Production has been a huge hit all over again, currently breaking box office records across North America and in Spain, with other productions due to open worldwide in Canada, Australia, South America, South Africa, Korea, Japan and China over the next three years” (www.lesmis.com).
In April of 2012, Peter Lockyer joined the U.S. Tour cast taking over the role of Jean Valjean. Peter Lockyer played Marius on Broadway many years ago and now has this new opportunity to play Jean Valjean. I recently interviewed Peter and learned a lot about his career and how he feels about being part of musical history.
It’s hard to believe you have been in the business for over twenty years (you’re so young). Tell me a little about your career and how you got started.
I am older than I look and I moved to New York 2 weeks after I graduated from high school and I did graduate a little early. I thought about going to college at the time, but I wasn’t the best high school student in the world. I was busy thinking I was going to do either sports or theatre. I didn’t think that grades mattered. Little did I know that they actually do and to be the best actor, you have to be the smartest person in the world. I moved to the city and started to audition and starting working right away. I started as a dancer in 42nd Street and toured Europe for a year. After that, I just rolled with it and moved on to other jobs. It seems strange that it’s been over 20 years, but I guess it has been.
What are some of the other shows that have done over the years?
I am a child of the long runs. I did Miss Saigon for two years where I met my wife. I did Les Miz initially starting in 1996. I played Marius for 6 years. I did Phantom for 4 ½ years and La Boehme. Those are the highlights. I'm so thankful to Cameron Macintosh; I can’t say it enough. I’ve said it to him 5 million times but he’s given me the career.
As you said, you met your wife doing Miss Saigon; I just wondered exactly how you met. I love to hear a romance. Can you tell us a little about that?
I still remember February 8th, I joined the first national tour of Miss Saigon and the very first person I ever met from the company was Melanie. I walked into the theatre and she was standing there and I met her first. Five minutes later we were kissing onstage. We tried to hold off; we didn’t think it would be smart to date someone that was in the company. You get these ideas in your head that you shouldn’t date people from the work, but where else can you meet people? We held off for all of a month and started dating. We’ve been married 16 years and together for 18. It’s a sappy love story onstage and offstage.
We talked about LES MISÉRABLES and how you played Marius for so long and now you’re playing Jean Val Jean. Is this the first chance that you’ve had to play him?
I accidently did a very short run of it in a community theatre in Hawaii, my wife is from Hawaii, my wife and I directed a theatre production of Les Miz years ago. I had guys lined up to play Valjean and one by one they fell away. I went through like 12 guys. We were 2 weeks into rehearsal. Finally the theatre said, “Well, you just do it.” At the time I couldn’t even conceive of myself doing the role. I ended up doing it and I didn’t really rehearse it because I was directing the show. I would be on the microphone from the house. They would be doing a scene; I wouldn’t be on the stage. I literally just stepped into it and it was during that time that my wife said, “You know, it really works. You’re doing a great job. I know you didn’t think you could do this but this is something you can really do someday in a first class production.” Fast forward a few years and this came up. I’m just so thrilled and honored to be doing this and with great people involved. The directors and our resident director, Michael O’Donnell who put me into the show here with the directors James (Powell) and Laurence (Connor) blessings have allowed me to sort of make things my own within the confines of the show. We’ve changed a couple of major things and a lot of little things that make it feel very personal to me. It’s pretty exciting for me.
What do you think the differences are between playing Jean Valjean and Marius? Which is more difficult?
Can you believe that’s the first time anyone has asked me that question? The differences between them: at the time I was in my early 20’s playing Marius, I had a lot of physical energy and exuberance and I channeled a lot of that into a very young interpretation of him. Physically running up the original barricade which was taller than this one though in perspective it doesn’t so from the house so it’s pretty impressive to see the set because the barricade looks massive but physically it’s a little shorter than the original one. Walking up and down that barricade as Marius is exhausting. It’s the difference of a man that’s been through a life and a boy that’s just beginning. I needed to wait this long to begin playing this part (of Jean Valjean) to have a little perspective on life. I think that’s the major difference. Vocally, Valjean is one of the most difficult things ever written for musical theatre. I’m having fun exploring that. But, Marius is no walk in the park either. Both are challenging in their own ways. I think in my early 20’s, vocally, Marius was challenging because I hadn’t done that much. Jean Valjean is challenging because of the way it was written difficultly. Thankfully, I have a little bit more time behind me, a little more experience to understand how to pace myself and do things.
When you came into this touring company, you were the new kids on the block (Timothy Gulan as Thénarier, Lauren Wiley as Cosette, and Jason Forbach as Enjolras); did they help you to blend in with them very quickly? How did it feel to come in as an outsider?
You always feel as a replacement coming in, you feel a little nervous about fitting in. The way it works is that you usually rehearse in a studio without the company for a little while and that’s what we did here. We new kids rehearsed all together. It was nice coming in with a bunch of new people because we formed our own little safety before being integrated into the company. I will have to say that this is the easiest it’s ever been integrating into because people are just so opened armed beyond what you would think. People were so welcoming and happy to have new people, new energy. It was the best of all possible worlds. It felt like coming home especially for me because Les Miz is just in my bones and my blood and it felt like I was coming home to a family.
Did you read LES MISÉRABLES by Victor Hugo?
Oh, boy, you’re going to ask me that, aren’t you? I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, I read the abridged edition. I think it was 400 pages. I looked at the Waterloo section a little and I thought, “There’s no way that I’m reading that.” It informed me more when I was figuring out how to play Marius than Valjean. Valjean is so well written in the musical. There aren’t missing scenes, there aren’t missing arch points; it’s all there on the page. I didn’t have to search for who Valjean is.
I have become a Twitter freak recently and it’s thanks to you and Andrew Varela (who plays Javert on the current tour) to be perfectly honest. I started to read Andrew’s tweets and then you came on after him and I started to follow you too. Was Andrew the reason you got involved?
I’ve become a freak too recently. I’m not on Facebook because I tend to overdo things so I think I would spend too much time on Facebook so I never joined. Twitter is so like texting to me and I am a big texter. I text with my friends and with my wife quite a bit. It seems so much easier than anything else. When I got the job, Andrew said, “Lockyer, are you on Twitter?” And I said no. And he said, “You gotta get on that.” So, I looked into that and I thought, “Well, you know what, while I’m out on tour it might be a fun thing for me to chronicle all things that are going on for my family and friends to follow what’s happening. It’s easy to get lost out on tour a little bit. I’ve heard from my family that they love what I do. I leave little pictures of where I am or something like that. I started doing it and I find it fun. It’s fascinating to see the response and I’m starting to get questions. I think it’s really cool to have a connection with fans and with people. We’ll see where it goes. I think it’s exploding even more than it ever was in the last year, don’t you?
I agree and I still say it’s all Andrew’s fault for me.
Andrew’s a crazy “Twitterer.” Andrew will say, “Can I Tweet that?” And I will say, “No, not everything has to go on Twitter.
You and Andrew are enemies onstage; do you feel like you are doing competing with him on Twitter? It seems like he is trying to outdo you on Twitter.
I don’t think I’ve come into his league as far as Twitter goes at all yet. I think I’m ready to start a Team Valjean because he has this Team Javert thing going on. Andrew and I came up through the ranks together. We were in the company in New York together for so many years. The show is so special that you form bonds with people unlike other shows. It’s so trippy and fun to be playing these roles with him. I think it helps that we get along. It’s so much fun to play onstage. I trust him. That’s what it is. We have such a trust level professionally for each other because we both know each other’s work ethic and our interest in being as good as we can be. It’s fun…and the Twitter thing; if I get up to as many followers as he has…oh, it’s on. (Follow Peter Lockyer on Twitter @Peter_Lockyer and help Team Valjean)
Before you come to Austin, you will be in Florida. Do you fly or drive that long of a distance?
Most everyone on this tour flies. I happen to choose to drive. I’ve toured a lot before and I have learned over the years that I prefer to drive. My wife is out with me most of the time with our dog. We love that time in the car. I love to drive across country and stop in unexpected places. I can always beat the trucks (9 semi-trucks are needed to transport the set to each city). There’s never a chance that I’ll miss a show. It does get tiring and some of the jumps are long and arduous for the company. I look forward to the drive. How many people get to say that they get to play a role like this and driving across the country enjoying life like that? It truly is a blessing. I’m not taking it for granted at all. I’m contracted until February and I’m going to enjoy every second of it.
You should chronicle your journey and take a lot of pictures and post them on Twitter as you’re travelling.
Great idea. I should. The interesting thing about Twitter is that I think there is a fine line between tweeting too much and tweeting too little. There are some people that I follow that Tweet too much. If I start Tweeting too much, you Tweet me and say, “Hey dial it back a little, Lockyer.”
You’re not overdoing it. And neither is Andrew…yet.
Have you ever been to Austin before?
Yes, I love, love, love, love, love, love Austin. It’s one of my favorite cities on tour. I could live there. It’s great. I was there with “Phantom” years and years ago; maybe 2005 or 2004. The food there is unbelievable. I love college towns so that’s great. The lake is completely unexpectedly beautiful. The folks there are so laid back and cool. I really dug it.
Is there anything specific you want to do while you are in Austin?
There was a pool there and I can’t remember the name I’m going to seek out again because it’s a naturally fed pool and it’s outside and I like that (Barton Springs Pool at Zilker Metropolitan Park). We try not to schedule too much and sort of go with the flow. We will eat at Magnolia’s.
Do you have any advice for anyone who is thinking about pursuing a career in theatre?
I think I’m in the minority in how I answer this. I tend to believe that the best performers that I run into are the smartest people about life. For me that means doing something other than majoring in theatre. I know that every theatre department across the country’s going to be mad at me for saying that; unless the theatre department is attached to a really strong liberal arts department, that’s an exception. I feel a lot of times we in this business tend to get too polarized in our thinking about theatre and lack the ability to view life through different lens. I feel that those people who have studied other things, whether formally in school or learned it on their own, things like chemistry and such; I went to school late. I got my degree in Education in 2007. I did my first two years in undergrad while playing Marius and my second two while I was in Phantom. I met an incredible English professor; I was taking this essay writing class and it was called, “Technologies of Gender.” I was the only guy in the class. (This professor) opened my eyes to so many things. If you study other things, you can learn so much about other people’s lives and when you step into other people’s lives, somehow you play them a little better. Sometimes a lot of kids coming out of conservatories are a little too young minded.
And the follow up question to that, which I think you already answered, if you had not become a performer, what profession would you have pursued?
I guess I already did. I would teach for sure. I have a degree in teaching. I’m certified in New York. I love to go out and do teaching artist things. If the time comes where people don’t want to hire me for things, I will probably turn to teaching. I love it so much.
LES MISÉRABLES comes to the Texas Performing Arts which is on the main campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Its diverse programs including music, theatre, Broadway, dance and concert attractions make it an ideal location for large Broadway productions such as LES MISÉRABLES. The show opens on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 and runs until Sunday, June 3, 2012. Some seats may still be available by going to their website Texas Performing Arts.
Photo Credit: Sarah Voisin
Peter Lockyer as Jean Valjean