BWW Interviews: Toronto's Thenardiers - Cliff Saunders and Lisa Horner

By: Dec. 13, 2013
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Les Miserables opened on October 9th in Toronto, kicking off the 50th Anniversary Season for Mirvish Productions and marking the long-awaited Canadian return of the mega musical. The new '25th Anniversary Production' has been receiving rave reviews, and is Broadway bound in March of 2014. BWW has been bringing readers coverage featuring many of the cast members as we discuss the importance of Les Miserables and of this new production to Canadians.

Today we're talking with the deliciously dynamic duo who take on the despicable roles of The Thenardiers - Cliff Saunders and Lisa Horner. They bring a unique flavour to the roles, portraying the characters darker than I've ever seen them while still getting some of the biggest laughs of the show.

BWW spoke with them about what it's like to play the villain, beat up on little children and provide the comic relief in a production that has a whole lot of misery:

We've been asking everyone what their first memories of Les Miserables are, but as I understand it, Cliff had never actually seen a production before. How is that possible???

CS: I was busy that day. (laughs). Honestly, I'm not a huge musical person so it wasn't really on my radar. But then as so many people I respected started raving about it I started to think that maybe it should be, but I ended up missing it. Nothing against musical theatre of course, it just wasn't my area of interest. The only musical theatre shows I know are the ones I've been in, and even that's questionable! Then the movie came out and I didn't see that either - and now here we are.

To be fair, I had heard Susan Boyle sing I Dreamed a Dream, and I remember thinking 'well that's a nice song'. So when we started rehearsals I knew the songs I auditioned with and that one! That was it. I'm the newbie.

So what put it on your radar now? 25 years later?

The casting director thought I would be good for it! I knew it was a singing show so i didn't think I would be considered, but it was great that they thought of me and I'm glad they did because it's an incredible show.

How about you Lisa? When did you first see the show?

LH: I saw it in 1991 and I had just graduated from theatre school and I went to see one of the first previews. Everyone from my class was going and I was in the last row of the Royal Alex and it blew my mind. I mentioned to someone else that I grew up on musicals on Sunday afternoons and this was very different than anything I had ever seen that way. It was so passionate and gorgeously sung and I was blown away by it. It's been part of the spine of musical theatre since I joined the professional community.

You guys play the most despicable people in the show and yet oddly, you provide the comic relief. You're downright gross but also quite funny. How do you find that balance?

CS: Believe me, it's something I think about because I get really nasty at points, and I worry that the audience might not like me and therefore might fail to laugh at me later. But they always laugh. So I stopped worrying and started to just take comfort in the fact that it's right for the show.

There has to be a danger with my character - there's even a line in the show that says 'watch out for old Thenardier'. So if you play him as just a buffoon no one will worry or be afraid. Even dangerous people can have a sense of humour, but it can't take away from the danger. Plus we have the honour of connecting with the audience and having that inside 'wink' with them. Sometimes you just have to go for it and hope the audience comes along with you.

LH: Exactly. I'm horrible when I first appear. I mean, I'm being awful to this little child. So I struggled with that at the beginning but as Cliff said, if you play the way it's meant to be played it'll be ok. You've established who you are but then you get into these scrapes that are comically funny so it pays off for the audience because they want to laugh. So I trust that every scene you bring what you want to bring to it. It's meant to be dark, but it's comically dark. It's meant to be that way.

It would be interesting to play to people who had never ever seen it before because sometimes I feel like there's a 'ta da' aspect when Mme Thenardier comes out. So maybe if people had never seen it before they might be like 'hey wait, why is she yelling at this child'. I find them an interesting drop in the show because in the book they're HORRIBLE. Boubil said in an interview that they changed the tone of the Thenardier's to lighten up the tone of this tragic and horrible story.

They say that playing the villain can be one of the most fun jobs, but most of the characters in this get a redemption in the end and you don't. Does that bother you?

CS: I think we do get redemption, because to our characters, redemption is ending up on top. We're like cockroaches, we know how to survive and get money and we get money at the ball. It's like what goes on today - people think that getting ahead is just money and that's what 'rich' means. So in that sense, we DO get redemption.

LH: It's survival of the fittest. Everyone on the barricades dies and 'we're still there'.

CS: We don't sing with all the dead people at the end because we're still alive. So it may not be redemption, but it suits the characters.

And what of the Les Mis 'purists'? Those who are worried about the 'changed' production? Do you think they will be able to enjoy this new version?

CS: Based on what people have said who have seen it so far, they say you just can't stop watching. It's respectful of the show but refreshing enough to make it interesting for someone who has already seen it. And those who have seen it many times have said they're on The Edge of their seat.

LH: The packaging of it was never the point. It was a legendary production and it should stay that way. The play is the thing, the point is the text and the music and that is intact. So I think that anybody who is moved by the story or the music will want to come see that. It's there in spades and it's great to have a different take on the visual aspects of it because of Victor Hugo's paintings. They're going to a different place and getting deeper into the book. As a purist it may actually be beneficial.

CS: But what I would say the most for the reason to come is that once they see Lisa and I they will forget about the revolve all together.

LH: Revolve? Revolve the Thendardier's back in!

When and Where?

Les Miserables

The Princess of Wales Theatre

On now until Feb 2nd, 2013

Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at

For more information on Les Miserables return to Broadway, please visit the official website at or follow them on twitter: @lesmisbway


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