BWW Interview: Jimmy Smagula of LES MISERABLES at Majestic Theatre
As LES MISERABLES continues to tour in North America, audiences continue to enjoy this timeless musical. The musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel, is one show that no one should miss. As the show continues its journey, BWW caught up with Jimmy Smagula who plays the comedic relief, Thenardier.
What made you take an interest in performing in the first place?
LES MIS is the very first Broadway show I ever saw when I was a kid. I was 12, my dad took me to see it because I had a young friend who lived in a neighboring town in New Jersey who got into the show was as young Cosette. I didn't really know what it was. I loved to sing and I play piano and stuff as a kid but going to see LES MIS on Broadway when I was 12 is the reason why I'm an actor. Thirty years later, to be in the show is a dream come true.
Thenardier is a character that takes some of the seriousness away from the show. His comedic antics along with Mde.Thenardier keep the audience laughing. We aren't supposed to like him, but he brings on the welcomed relief from some of the seriousness of the show. What are some of the things you enjoy most about playing Thenardier?
The ark of this character for an actor is incredible because he goes from what most would consider on the top of the world to losing everything and becoming a murderer. He goes from bad to worse which is the reverse of most characters in most shows. Most people that you're watching in a show go from a bad situation to redemption. Jean Valjean does that. He takes a bad situation and make lemonade out of lemons. It's the opposite with Thenardier. As time goes on, things get worse and worse.So that is actually really fun to play and something that I enjoy about this character, although you're absolutely right in saying it he is the comic relief, he and his wife, Mde. Thenardier, are the comic relief. That is a gift because I get to come out and let the audience roar with laughter. It's fantastic to be able to do that. What I also love is the dark side of this guy. We talk about God in this play so much. For some characters God is the only hope they have to get out of their terrible situations. Thenardier talks about how God doesn't exist. That was huge for me, working on this character and trying to figure out how he really ticks. All of these characters talk about God so much, call on God for help and guidance. Thenardier says God is dead. That's very important. He's very fun and funny but it's also a multi-layered character and that's what drew me to wanting to play that character other than the fact that it's my dream come true to be in LES MIS.
You told me you'd seen it when you were young but did you envision yourself playing Thenardier? Or was it Jean Valjean?
I always pictured myself playing Jean Valjean and when I was 26, I had four callbacks to understudy Valjean in whatever Broadway production was on Broadway. It probably was the original production and I didn't get the job. That was fine and you move on and you go but there's always that little voice in your head going, "I wish I could be in LES MIS because it's the reason I'm an actor." In my childhood bedroom, [I would] sing these songs and now I'm doing it on a stage. That is incredible so I always thought I would play Jean Valjean. But, I really enjoy playing Thenardier. It's such a gift to be able to make the audience laugh at a show that's called The Miserables.
Knowing what this role entails, has there ever been any mishaps in the time that you've been doing it?
Not yet. Every one of us in the show, our stage management, our company management and our crew; because the show is 32 years old and because LES MIS is so revered around the world; I don't know one person on our staff that doesn't revere the show in the way that I revere it. There aren't a lot of things that go wrong. People do their jobs and we have the greatest stage management team, the greatest company management team, and the greatest cast. It's an incredible cast of actors and singers and it's a beautiful show. There hasn't been anything since I started so that's been good.
Having gotten a chance to see it back when it was touring the last time, I actually interviewed many members of the cast and I noticed that they said what you said about everybody being so careful and and make sure that everybody is safe and protected. The whole fight scene with Jean Valjean and Javert has to done very carefully.
We rehearse those things everyday. We have a fight call before every show . We rehearse all of the fights. If anybody ever feels wonky or unsafe or has a question or problem, they are addressed. That's part of the fun of being in the show. I did seven Broadway shows before doing this tour. Every one of them, you are a team and a family and you rely on each other so much whether you are the star of the show or you're in the ensemble. We all rely on each other's professionalism and we all rely on each other so much. It's a wonderful bonding experience and it's a wonderful experience to trust people and for them to trust you. We all have each other's backs.
This is a beautiful show. Part of the fun for me and part of the gift is that I get to go around the country and around North America and tell the story. We're not just sitting in New York. We're coming to you. That's really exciting. People don't have to get on the plane. They don't have to get a hotel room. They drive over to their theater in Austin or San Antonio or wherever we are. They get to see a first rate incredible Broadway experience right there in their backyard. That for me is exciting. I have enjoyed it, even the limited time I've been in the show. I enjoy seeing the country and meeting people and seeing places that I never would have gone before. Seeing the experience that people have in seeing our show, that's been this tremendous experience. I feel grateful to be a part of it.
Don't miss your chance to see LES MISERABLES when it comes to San Antonio from September 17-22, 2019. Tickets can be purchased at the Majestic website or in person at the ticket office.
PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Murphy