BWW Interviews: Rivals No More - Chatting with LES MIS Toronto's Eponine and Cosette
Fans of Les Miserables have long drawn lines in the sand when it comes to the show's young leading ladies, Cosette and Eponine. Often proudly declaring themselves either #TeamEpo or #TeamCosette long before it became 'cool' to do so, young fans of the musical would generally feel quite strongly about one or the other lady and either love or hate Marius's decision to choose Cosette over Eponine.
It's a love triangle that has endured and engaged the hearts of theatre goers for more than a quarter of a century, and in the new 25th Anniversary production it's been slightly re-imagined, with some unique changes that shake things up and flesh out both of the roles.
BWW sat down to talk with the women who portray the characters in Toronto's production, which opened last week at The Princess of Wales Theatre. Samantha Hill (Cosette) and Melissa O'Neill (Eponine) come bounding into a private room at the theatre for our interview, giggling and cracking jokes and coming across as the best of friends. Upon first meeting, it's hard to imagine there could possibly be a rivalry on stage. But they are quick to open up about the love triangle, the changes to the new production, and the opportunity they are being given to live their dreams:
Let's start with your first experiences with Les Miserables. Can you recall when you were first introduced to the show?
SH: My first introduction to Les Miserables was in high school when we did the production! I was 15, in the ensemble and understudied Cosette.
KC: So you and Perry have something in common! Didn't he play Marius in his high school production?
SH: Yes! I never went on as Cosette though, which is good because I wasn't terribly prepared. But it was still my most favourite high school memory and now I feel like I'm going full circle in bein able to do it here.
That being said, I'm one of the few people who's never seen a professional production, so I've been joking about being 'sick' so I can sneak out and watch this beautiful production. I got to see a bit of it in rehearsal and it's gorgeous.
MO: I grew up listening to it on a casette tape. The first time I saw it was about seven years ago in this very theatre. I was fifth row orchestra, and it was right after Canadian Idol had happened so I got to go backstage afterwards and I met the Eponine. She was played by Melissa Lyons and I remember being super star struck. Now here I am in the same theatre playing the same role. It's amazing, I still have that ticket stub on my fridge.
So this really is a dream come true for both of you? Do you ever feel a bit of pressure knowing that young girls in the audience may have the same reaction you guys have had and end up dreaming of doing this one day?
SH: I would see that as a perk! You hope to touch at least one person in the audience, and if seeing this show inspires someone to do this for a career or to see more theatre that's a bonus. I would have been happy doing anything in this show. Seriously. I remember when I auditioned I wanted to yell "I will stand in the back and wave a little flag!" It's one of those shows. The music is so incredible and you just want to be a part of it in any way you can.
MO: I'm sure that people might feel pressure, but for us it's liberating to know that people are already so familiar with the roles. It gives us the freedom to know that we don't have to worry about that and instead we can look for truths in the moments that we share with the audience. We can be right in each and every moment.
Let's talk a bit about the love triangle and how the show has been re-imagined. In the past, there was always a lot of rivalry from an audience perspective, especially from young girls who felt that Marius should have chosen Eponine. What do you guys think about that? Any rivalry here and how have the changes made Marius's choice make more sense to the audience?
SH: Well first, Cosette has been re-imagined a lot, even in terms of her costumes. The point is to bring her into the light and have her be a breath of fresh air with some vivacious energy that makes her exciting to play. I think she's always been like that, but it's clearer now that the show has gone back to the novel a bit. She's braver, more feisty and I've really enjoyed that.
So it should be obvious why Marius chooses Cosette. The audience should empathize with Eponine, but you sould see the instant love between Cosette and Marius and just KNOW that's how it should be, and then the audience should understand that Eponine never really had a chance. It makes it more heartbreaking and more real.