BWW Interviews: LES MISERABLES' Aaron Walpole on Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, Broadway and More
Les Miserables has been delighting audiences in Toronto since it opened in October of last year, and a few of its cast members are now Broadway bound for the show's big debut in March.
St. Thomas native Aaron Walpole is one of those Canucks headed to the Great White Way. Walpole has been with the new production of Les Miserables longer than most involved in the current production, as he actually joined the US tour before it came to Toronto and performed across Canada as well. He's an ensemble member as well as being the Valjean alternate, and in Toronto has been playing the role of Valjean every Thursday night.
We sat down to talk to Aaron about what Les Miserables means to him, what it's like alternating roles and how he keeps his voice and body in shape to tackle the very demanding role of Jean Valjean:
First off, congratulations on the very successful run of Les Miserables in Toronto and news that you will be going to Broadway! It's certainly seems like 2013 was an exciting year. What's been the highlight of the journey so far?
I've had many incredible moments from making my debut in the role of Valjean in New Haven, CT to meeting the Sir Cameron Mackintosh, however, the most memorable moment was not only meeting Colm Wilkinson, but witnessing, first hand, his incredible stage presence. That is something I will never forget.
Can you remember your first experience with LesMiserables?
I was 11 years old when I first saw the production at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and even though most kids my age would identify with Gavroche, I found myself falling in love with the role of Valjean.
Much has been discussed about the 'changes' to the new 25th Anniversary production of Les Miserables - what do you think it is that has made it so successful? Do you think Broadway is ready for this new version?
It's a scaled down version, which allows for a level of intimacy with the characters in the story that is supported with artwork, created by Victor Hugo, setting the scenes. This production tells the story by enveloping the audience and pulling them into the world of Les Miserables. This show will make you laugh, cry and hopefully, inspire you to be selfless in life.
You were on tour with Les Miserables before the Toronto production - how have you grown in the role and how do you continue to keep it fresh every night?
Many people wonder how we can do eight shows per week and not get bored. The answer is every day is different, not only for you, but for all of your cast mates as well and every audience is different. Therefore, no two shows are identical no matter how hard you stick to your directed blocking and choreography. I have a great time in my regular ensemble track playing many different characters. I change my ad libs and such every show while keeping with my directed blocking which keeps every show fresh and never boring or monotonous. It also helps being able to play Valjean at least once a week.
How do you balance having to play dual roles? You have an ensemble role most days and the 'alternate' for the role of Jean Valjean - is it hard for you to keep them straight? What is the biggest challenge transitioning between the two?
It is never hard to keep my various roles straight. Every scene in the show is different in every way. I wear different costumes, the music is different, and the set is different. The only time I feel any confusion is when I'm on in the role of Valjean and while sitting in my dressing room I hear the music leading into the Attack On Rue Plumet. That is my "Brujon" cue and my heart skips a beat, but I quickly recover. As far as a challenge in transitioning between the two tracks, thankfully, with as much rehearsal time as I've had, there is none.
Valjean is a very demanding role both physically and vocally - how do you prepare and how do you keep yourself conditioned to handle the role?
I have trained my voice to handle hours of singing anything and everything from opera to heavy rock since I started singing at ten years of age. I started and couldn't stop and it's given me "cords of steel" which have only been brought down by coughing from the common cold and extreme dry air. As long as I am responsible in regards to getting enough sleep, water and allow myself ample time to warm-up my voice and body, it's not that hard to do. Also, going to the gym regularly helps me carry Marius around the stage too.
On January 11th Colm Wilkinson returned to the show for the first time in many years to play The Bishop opposite Ramin Karimloo's Valjean - what has that news been like for the cast? What was it like to rehearse with him and has he given any tips as a veteran of the show?
When we found out the news that Colm was going to join us we were ridiculously happy. It was surreal. He actually came to the show on the Tuesday before the event to not only watch the show from a perspective he had never been in before, but to "shadow" Andrew Love as the Bishop ofDigne. I was on as Valjean that night. He was so nice that he spent time visiting and chatting with me as I began to get ready for the show that evening and then he went to themens' ensemble dressing room to hang out with them until places was called. It was weird performing the role knowing that the man responsible for me falling in love with Les Miserables and the role of Valjean was watching in the wings. I am so grateful that I could play that role for him that evening.
What are you most looking forward to about bringing this show to NYC and returning to Broadway?
I am most looking forward to sharing this beautiful show with more people. This show is the most beautiful show I have ever seen and nothing gives an actor more satisfaction than a standing ovation from a roaring crowd. Also, I really love good deli...
What would be your biggest piece of advice for up and comers in this business?
Train yourself to do anything and everything in the business. Never limit your options because that only limits your growth.
Finally, since the show is now in its final weeks - what would you say to encourage people to get out and see it if they haven't already?
This show will not only entertain you, but it will change your life. It did for me when I was eleven.
When and Where?
On Stage at The Princess of Wales until Feb 2nd 2014
To purchase tickets please call 416-872-1212 or go online at www.mirvish.com.