Tis’ the return of Les Miserables to the community theatre circuit in 2017 and Nova have assembled a fantastic cast for their upcoming production. Let’s face it, Les Mis is the one show every (well pretty much every) theatre person wants to do, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the cast are absolutely buzzing in the lead up to opening night.
We sat down with four of their principals; Amy Larsen (Eponine), Robert Clark (Javert), Marcus Favrin (Marius) and Melissa Harrington (Fantine) to get their take on how they are planning to tackle such an epic show.
TP: How long has Les Mis been on your bucket list?
Amy: At age 12, I saw the Australian production of Les Mis at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne and I can still vividly remember being moved to tears by the show. I had never had such an emotional reaction to a musical before and I knew from that moment that I wanted to be in Les Mis one day. I especially related to the character Eponine and fell in love with the songs “On my Own” and “Little Fall of Rain”. I was lucky enough to be cast in a production of Les Mis for Warragul Theatre Company in the year 2000. I got a call-back for my dream role but I was unfortunately too young. I never dreamt that at the ripe old age of 33 I’d finally have the opportunity to play Eponine, but here I am!
Rob: Since I was 17, so pretty much half my life…. Having only been introduced to the world of musical theatre, outside of school about that time, I saw a couple of productions of it in around 2001 and was captivated. With Javert being on top of my list of dream roles, timing has never been in sync for a production, with work and personal commitments overpowering the possibility, until now.
Marcus: Les Mis has been on my bucket list for 16 years! Ever since I watched the VHS version of the 10th Anniversary concert when I was 5, it was the show on top of my bucket list so being able to be apart of this production is a dream come true!
Melissa: It wasn’t. Die hard fans will hate me and I am actually a terrible example of a music theatre lover. I have never seen Les Mis in full and only knew a few staple songs. It has been a joy to come into such a classic show with minimal knowledge of other productions. Fantine is definitely a dream role now.
TP: What is the challenge with staging a show like Les Mis?
Amy: Les Mis would have to be one of the most popular musicals ever written, so I think any Production Team taking on the show would feel some kind of pressure in casting the roles and when trying to come up with a concept that is new and exciting but also stays true to the original concept and way it was written. So many people (like me) know the show and music back to front, so you can’t help but have certain expectations when you go to see a production of Les Mis.
Rob: Whilst many see and focus on Les Miserables being a very technically challenging show, for me, whilst this is true, more so, it encompasses a lot of complex emotions that test the ultimate battle between ‘head and heart’, that some musicals or materials just don’t explore in as much detail. Some define Les Miserables (almost) as an opera. Through that, it expresses the full gamete of human emotions. There are characters that are very black and white and others who are very much the opposite, with most, extremely complex. This is amplified, by performers entering a world, that very few us, in our own environments can appreciate or truly empathise with on a daily basis, and perhaps that’s the greater challenge.
Marcus: As Les Mis is such an iconic musical, everybody has pre-conceived ideas so trying to find the balance between paying tribute and keeping it fresh can be difficult, but you just try to strip it back to the original intended meaning of the lyrics and make it as honest as possible.
TP: What is the creative concept behind this production?
Rob: It’s a traditional take on the classic, sticking true to the nature of the material. Of course all productions aim to put their own stamp on the material and the unique connections with the characters is something that all of the cast have tried to establish, particularly within the larger group scenes.
TP: What is your favourite song or moment in the show?
Amy: That is a tough one as there are so many great moments and songs, but my favourite would have to be singing “Little Fall of Rain” with Marcus Favrin who plays Marius. It’s such a sad and tender moment which I hope will come across for the audience. My favourite moment to watch during rehearsal would have to be The Confrontation between Val Jean and Javert. Chris Hughes (Val Jean) and Robert Clarke (Javert) sing it so well and with such intensity, it’s just an awesome scene to watch and listen to!
Rob: I’d like to say the whole thing. This show is a rollercoaster of emotion and it’s a massive challenge to withdraw from that ‘grip’ that holds you, and come back to being the person you are on a daily basis, particularly after scenes such as ‘Fantine’s Death’ or ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’. It’s those ‘hear a pin drop’ moments that evoke such a sense of emotion and connection that smack you in the face like a wet face washer. There are a couple of special moments for me. Fantine’s Death scene is one of the most powerful moments of the show, displaying a genuine vulnerability in each of the characters. Fantine, played by Melissa Harrington and Jean Valjean, played by Chris Hughes, both have exceptional vocal quality and such power in their voices, that they’re able to command a scene and evoke such sense of emotion through the subtle changes within their vocal tone, that you almost forget that you’re in the rehearsal room… The other, and I’ll preface this with, often without taking a breath, I’d say “Stars”. Whilst this song shows a side of Javert that is vulnerable and really in many ways defines why he is, like he is, I guess, my favourite song in the show is ‘The Confrontation’, between Val Jean and Javert. The power of the music aside, it’s like two bulls going toe to toe. Both characters have a higher purpose for their actions and neither is willing to concede fully, which is amplified throughout the show in these characters multiple times.
Marcus: I actually have 2 standout favourites that I cannot choose between, Bring Him Home and Little Fall of Rain. They are such iconic scenes that express such emotion and see the vulnerable sides of the characters which sing these songs.
Melissa: My favourite part of the show is Fantine’s Arrest. It is just such a fun sing and one of her most emotionally charged moments. As a performer that’s the good stuff. The gritty, dirty, ugly, let it all out on the stage moments.
TP: What’s the rehearsal period been like?
Amy: The rehearsal period has been pretty intense as you’d expect with a show like Les Mis, but there have been a few funny moments. One that springs to mind was in the Beggars scene where I have to lightly shove Marius in to the path of Cosette enabling their first romantic moment together. I was very “in the moment” (possibly over acting) on this particular day, and instead of lightly shoving Marius into the path of Cosette, I shoved him so hard he fell backwards, pushing Cosette over, landing right on top of her. Noel our director yelled out “Not so f***ing hard next time”. Yep, awkward!
TP: How have you prepared for this show? Have you done much character development?
Amy: To be honest, I’ve probably been in some way preparing for this role since I first saw the show at age 12, but I have been watching and listening to different recordings of the show in order to find an interpretation that best suits my voice and the way I want to play the role. The cast have also been working closely together during and outside rehearsal, collaborating with different ideas which has really helped with character development.
Rob: I was given a book recently by Sanford Meisner and one quote stuck with me. “Over time, the meaning of the past changes…”. I’ve tried to draw on my own personal experiences and bring them to the character of Javert. I actually see a lot of myself in Javert, ironically I also connect quite strongly to the character of Jean Val Jean, which creates somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde comparison. As a Health Inspector in my spare time outside of theatre and my relationships with morality and the law, have guided my decisions in some way.
Marcus: In preparing for this show other than using my own ideas to portray the character I actually watched many different versions of Les Mis, pulling ideas from each version and thinking of ways in which I could use them in my own performance. Character development for Marius was quite difficult as he needs to show both a softer side when with Cosette and Eponine, and needs a much firmer brave side when with the students as he wants to be seen as courageous.
Melissa: The beauty of coming in with not a lot of prior knowledge of the material was that I was able to go to the score and the text and build it from there. I read through the Fantine section of Victor Hugo’s novel, I will get to the rest one day…, which gave me a greater understanding of Fantine’s upbringing and what lead to the point that we meet her in the musical. Fantine is a beautifully written role and I am very excited to get the chance to play her.
Les Miserables opens at the Whitehorse Centre on October 28 and runs through until November 12. Many of the shows have sold out, but two additional performances have been added. For more details CLICK HERE