BWW Interviews: LES MISERABLES' Jason Forbach
LES MISERABLES is one of the most beloved stories by theatre fans all around the globe. Based on the book by Victor Hugo, it tells the story of one man's fight for redemption and touches on the universal themes of forgiveness, love, and loyalty. Jason Forbach plays Enjolras in the current U.S. Tour cast. Originally from Kansas, Jason grew up playing music and later went on to earn a Master of Arts in vocal performance. He finally realized his passion for musical theatre and moved to New York to pursue the dream. Jason was kind enough to answer some questions about his experiences defending the barricades.
What was it that first drew you to the theatre and inspired you to want to perform professionally?
I've always loved all kinds of theatre and music. I played all kinds of instruments when I was younger, so I was a musician first and was honestly a little too shy to be a music theatre kid. I started as a journalism major and realized my passion was music. I got my masters in opera and performed with them, and then realized that that I had been denying myself of what I loved. Then I moved in 2005, so it's something that I've always known but I didn't always allow myself to pursue, so I'm kind of new to the game.
What would you tell someone or what advice do you have for someone who, like you were, may be too shy to pursue theatre?
Well we always have a lot of different interests, and it proves to me that there's no timeline on anything if you come to terms with what your real passion is and you get the guts to pursue it. The right time is always at that moment when you make that decision and it doesn't matter how old you are. My family has always been pretty supportive and it turned in my favor. To those who are at a desk job or maybe waiting tables, that dream can always stay alive if the passion is there.
What was your very first experience with LES MISERABLES, even before you were in the cast? Did you read the book, see one of the movie adaptations, or the show?
I saw the show several times and I was a huge fan of the show. I auditioned for the 2006 revival and they wouldn't even let me in the door because I was a non-union actor. I've always loved the show. I saw it when I was little growing up in Kansas City, and just like everyone else it blew me away. I fell in love with the character Enjolras. I've always loved him and was so impressed by him, and thought wow I could never play that role. I read the book in its entirety when I booked the show, which was a massive undertaking, but I'm so glad I did it. It's great to apply what's in the book to my performance. The show is three hours, but there's so much in the book that's not on stage that helps inform who these people are.
Has being a part of the cast given you a different understanding or appreciation for the show than you had before you were in the cast?
I think so. I think we have to live through this revolution every night and we have to rally support for a cause we believe so much in, and fight and die. And, we see our brothers die and make difficult choice and I think in experiencing that I have such a deeper understanding in my own life of what it's like to fight for what you believe in. I have a greater connection to my friends, and when you say goodbye or mourn a loss, you know, we go through those things every night. I'm more emotionally connected to what we're fighting for on stage as well as off stage. The struggles these characters are facing are so universal and everyone is fighting for redemption and love. It's Valjean's second chance to make his life right and everyone can relate to that. It reaches young and old, and everyone is connected to this story. There are so many people who were only exposed to it [the show] through their high school productions and Glee and television, and it's creating a younger audience for us. You can hear the younger audiences screaming and applauding after every number, and it's amazing to have that energy in the theatre every night.
LES MISERABLES is such a compelling love story, and not really a love story in the way you might at first think. What do you think makes LES MISERABLES different from other more traditional boy-meets-girl love stories?
I think it is first and foremost a story of one man's redemption, and the love that comes out of that is for Cosette and for wanting her to continue on in the best possible life he [Valjean] could provide for her. And, I think that is what touches people most. I think that's the centerpiece of the story.
Tell me a little bit about the character that you play.
He [Enjolras] is a student revolutionary that rallies a bunch of other students and intellectuals in France to rally against their government. He's an incredibly passionate, intelligent man and one who is knowledgeable about fighting for what he believes in. And so he leads all of these people to battle which happens in Act II, and what is most fascinating in this current political climate in our country, he is passionate about his own cause, and captivating and charismatic and passionate enough to convince other people to fight for and die for a cause that he is so passionate about. It's been an interesting and rewarding challenge.
Your character, Enjolras, has a pretty intense presence in the show. What are some of the things you do to prepare to play him every night?
I have to be in as best shape as possible. I have to work out every day and be in good vocal shape. It's a vocally demanding role. I have to watch what I eat. I have to be very focused before the show. I have to find my zone once the show starts because that's exactly who he [Enjolras] is. He has this laser focus. We're in new cities all the time, so we have new crew and the nature of live theatre is that there's stuff happening around you and you have to be incredibly focused. That's kind of how I need to prepare. I have to have the whole mind-body routine to get into that character.
What is something that you have learned about Enjolras from playing this role that audiences might not quite have the same understanding of?
I think he is a popular character and true fans probably have a good sense of him. I think it's passion for his beliefs and his people. It's very easy to seem dominant, and easy to command and give orders, but the challenge is that he's also a compassionate man for these people. So, it's striking that balance between leading, taking force, taking command, but also reaching out a kind hand to the people you're fighting for.
When playing the same character and singing the same songs night after night, how do you keep your performance exciting and new?
We've done the show almost 800 times now and it can be taxing. I think it's less about being bored because there's always different elements. What's different every night is the audience, and I have to think that these are people are seeing this for the first time. I always have people come up to me after the show and tell me "I've always wanted to see this show" and I always think of that. During the ABC Café scene, it's very challenging and as soon as I feel that sense of energy from the audience I have to re-rally my own energy because the one element that's different every night is the audience.
I have to ask just because I'm quite a fan of his, but what do you think about Aaron Tveit playing Enjolras in the movie adaptation of LES MISERABLES that is set to hit theaters in December?
I love him. I'm a huge fan of him. I saw him multiple times in NEXT TO NORMAL and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. I think he's phenomenally talented. I've always loved his voice. In a cast where there's a lot of Hollywood hitters and people are wondering if they can sing the most challenging score every written, he's the one element where I'm thinking well he's going to sing it amazingly. I'm curious because it [the movie] looks cool. We're all excited about it. The director came to see our show in Chicago during pre-production [of the movie]. With this 25th anniversary re-conceived and re-staged show, it's much more real. It's funny to see the little ways this re-imagining has influenced the film from the colors and texture, and it's cool to be a part of it especially right now. When the film comes out it'll just reach such a wider audience. I think he's going to be great in it.
If you had the chance to play another character in LES MISERABLES would you take it, who would it be, and why?
It's funny, I think if I were to play another character it would be the ultimate challenge if I could sing Valjean. I think it would just be overwhelming to sing that role and the ultimate challenge, so maybe one day. But, Javert is such a bad ass. You strut out and sing for a few minutes and strut off stage again.
What is the one thing that you hope audiences take away from the show every night?
I hope the audience walks away feeling that they have emotionally traveled with us on the journey and they can feel the passion that we have for telling the story. That would make me the most proud, if they transported and what they see is so real that they were experiencing the story as if it was living before them.