BWW Interview: Huffman and Clifton Explore Opposites of Villainy in Otterbein's LES MISERABLES
Alex Huffman and Hayden Clifton both play roles that could be considered the bad guys in Otterbein University's production of LES MISERABLES.
However, the personalities of the two characters couldn't be more different. Clifton plays Javert, a ruthless police officer who spends nearly 17 years tracking down Jean Valjean (Jordan Donica). Huffman takes on the role of Thenardier, a deceitful inn keeper who, with the help of his wife (Corinne Munsch), provides much of the comic relief in the intense musical.
The musical opens Thursday, Oct. 3 and closes Oct. 12 at Fritsche Theatre at Cowan Hall (30 S. Grove St. in Westerville).
"It's been a big change for me," says Clifton, a senior from Fort Worth, Texas. "I tend to get cast as a song and dance man, the romantic lead. It's been fun to play a character with a darker side. It's a nice way to go out in my senior year."
Javert is what one could call a noble villain. He's unrelenting in his pursuit of Valjean, a man who spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, because he is convinced Valjean or Prisoner 24601 must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for violating his parole.
To fully understand the character, Clifton spent hours reading up on the character, researching life in France in the time surrounding the June Rebellion, and studying pictures of people of that time period. He also looked at how other actors had portrayed Javert in various productions of LES MISERABLES.
"I tried to figure out what made these people tick," Clifton says. "Javert is so perfect and he wants to follow the law. He thinks he's doing right when most people think he's doing wrong. He never experiences anything of grace or love and that ultimately leads to his demise. I hope my version of Javert is something people haven't seen before."
Huffman's Thenardier is the polar opposite of Javert. He's a villain who would sell his own grandmother if he could turn a profit on her. When Fantine (Marina Pires) asks Thenardier and his wife to watch over her daughter Cosette (Heather Dell) while she works in Paris, the two see it as a financial opportunity rather than a moral obligation. The Thenardiers mistreat Cosette while spoiling their daughter Eponine (Lizzie Wild) with the money they receive. The Thenardiers then sells Cosette to Valjean, who promises a dying Fantine he will find and take care of her daughter.
"Thenardier is ruthless. He will do anything for a buck and never has a second thought for anything he does," says Huffman, a junior who graduated from Olentangy High School. "I've seen him played just for laughs. He can become almost cartoonish and too big. I want to (make) him a little grittier, nastier and true to life."
Otterbein's musical also stars James Sanders as Marius and Lizzie Wild as Eponine.
Both the antagonists and protagonists of the Otterbein production will be competing against a common opponent during their run: the movie version of the musical that was released in December, 2012. The movie version, which starred Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, grossed $441,809,770 worldwide.
Huffman says to treat the movie and the stage versions of the musical as separate entities.
"When I saw the movie, I kept it completely separate from the play," Huffman says. "Each is its own creation. The movie had its perks in showing intimacy and the different layers of characters you might not have seen. On stage, though, you see the spectacle and you get to see the music performed live. It's a gorgeous story to see live."
"Although it is the same music and the same script, the movie is very different from the stage show," Clifton adds. "(Audiences) need to see the show in its original context. It is such a different experience to see something in a movie theater and seeing it live right in front of you.
LES MISERABLES will performance Oct. 3-12 at Fritsche Theatre at Cowan Hall. Performance times are 8 p.m. with the exceptions being a 7:30 p.m. premiere on Oct. 3 and a 2 p.m. matinee on Oct. 5.