Musicals- Taken Off Guard

Well, there are many many incredible things about the musical theatre world. One of the best things to do are exploring the characters. When I have seen a show more than once, there is a chance you might be taken off guard. Taken off guard means you find something in a character you are not expecting. I will give two examples below.

Les Mis

US Tour

Before the US Tour, I saw productions at community college and in the West End. Yes, I was taken off guard in the West End production, but not quite as much as what happened during the US Tour. Coming into the US Tour, I was smart by making the decision to not compare my US Cast with My West End cast.

It existed in the love triangle found between Marius, Cosette, and Eponine. I usually expect Eponine to be the strongest actress or a Marius just as good, but something happened that made me really view the love triangle from a different perspective. Pretty much, what happens when your favorite character in the love triangle, but someone else was the strongest- that was the case. The actor, who played Marius, was the strongest in the love triangle.

Joshua Grosso

For starters, I did get to see him in person twice- as well as his Cosette (Jillian Butler). Both times, Joshua Grosso was a standout and even better than the two Eponine actresses I saw. With Joshua Grosso, I found this unique awkwardness found in Marius that made the character more charming. He literally treated falling in love with Cosette like “I don’t even know what to say”- that did feel like this was his first time in love. For whatever reason, Jillian Butler was able to strongly connect to his Marius. Due to that, I was able to explore Marius and Cosette a deep further while at the same time not ignoring Eponine.

Another incredible example of being taken off guard did happen at “A Little Fall of Rain”. There are several ways to portray that particular scene- with Joshua, he focused more on comforting Eponine than the heartbreak he was feeling: he decided to show the heartbreak after she died- both times were effective. People might say he wasn’t showing enough emotion, but don’t forget he also is showing compassion during this scene. His chemistry with Jillian as well as the little things he did with his character almost made him a core favorite character.

Due to all of that, he became my favorite Marius.

Wicked

Mary Kate Morrissey

She was a standby when I saw her as Elphaba. I knew coming into Wicked, I would be more vulnerable and emotional. That was because I was coming in knowing “I’m Not That Girl” was a heartbreaking love song. I thought that was when things would change. Turns out I was wrong. She was able to express the entire first act in a more innocent voice, and at “Defying Gravity”, she changed her voice to more mature. This is what really surprised me with emotions: “No Good Deed”. I really am not the biggest fan of that song, but she was able to find a way for me to find some appreciation of the song. For years, this particular song was emotionless, but this time around I finally felt emotion. I was feeling anger and frustration during that song. I always thought “No Good Deed” will always stay emotionless, but this time around it actually stuck.

Placement and Staging of Musical Songs

One of the best parts found in musical are the emotions found in the songs. They are felt strongest in the songs- the songs are the first step that makes me fall in love with a musical. I think there is something about placement and the staging of the songs that can affect the emotion. I will explain below.

Placement

The perfect example of placement is found in Les Mis. “I Dreamed a Dream” is Fantine’s solo, and I have seen this particular song found in two different times of her story. Due to seeing the movie and the stage show, I know how placement can affect the songs. In the stage show, “I Dreamed a Dream” is sung before “Lovely Ladies”. With that placement, you will feel the heartbreak, but at the same time feel this kind of hope. By this moment, all that has happened to Fantine is that she got fired. So there is a little amount of hope.

Well, look what the movie decided to do: they decided to place “I Dreamed a Dream after “Lovely Ladies”. Out of all the Les Mis scenes-“Lovely Ladies” is the hardest scene to watch. By that point, Fantine has been fired, sold her locket, her hair, and turned to prostitution. That allows “I Dreamed a Dream” to be more heartbreaking. The most devastating version I saw of this song was found in the film. With that change, it allows the actress to go more in depth about the emotional nature of the song.

No matter who I get as Fantine- it is always “I Dreamed a Dream” where I really start becoming an emotional wreck.

Staging

This is another Les Mis example. “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is about survivor’s guilt and belongs to Marius. I have seen various ways of this song staged. I think the best example given to this song belongs to the 25th anniversary production. There is just something about the candles that brings out more emotion. Literally, for the entire number, Marius is holding a lighted candle. Eventually all the students come out with a lighted candle as well, but eventually those get blown out leaving Marius all alone in the dark. I actually saw this type of staging done with two actors- Erik D’Esterre and Joshua Grosso.

While I may not exactly remember the portrayals of the Les Mis characters during the community college production, there is some staging I remember. Such as the candle example- I almost feel as if CPCC took some of their inspiration from the 25th anniversary production.

Five Years Ago- A Dream

Well, what is hard to believe is that I was in England five years ago. My family arrived on July 29th. When we landed in London, I did not even believe I was actually in London. It took until seeing West End fliers that I actually knew for a fact we were there. One of the first things we did was get some coffee at Costa Coffee. We ended up being the same Costa my family would be meeting the rest of the 72 pilgrims: just so we would know where that was.

However, what is exactly the significance about July 30th, 2015. That was the day when it actually felt like my family was doing something. It all began on Platform 9 and 3/4 and getting Harry Potter souvenirs. After getting some lunch and visiting Paddington Station, we had to go back to our hotel. For the 29th and the 30th, my family stayed at a nicer hotel.

We had to go back kind of early to the hotel. That was really important for my mom and I. That summer, my mom and I already had one theater date: to Pippin at Blumenthal’s Belk Theater. But on July 30th, my mom and I had a 2nd theater date. This time, I was seeing a musical in The West End, but it was Les Mis. I think things came full circle from the time I saw Wicked on Broadway to the time when I saw Les Mis in the West End. My family had to get back to the hotel kinda of early afternoon to get dressed and to figure out how to get to The West End from our hotel.

There are multiple things I loved about that night. I am glad that my sister and dad got their own date. My sister is not into musical theater like I am. My mom loved musicals growing up- that is why we have been to as many theater dates we do. For another- this actually happened one day before the actual Bristol Pilgrimage. Still, how did this production end up being in 2015, two years after seeing the stage show for the first time. Well, I didn’t start convincing my parents to take me to Les Mis in 2013- there was no sign yet of going up early. But I was told it would be two days early November of 2014, but it was December of 2014 when I was told I would see a show in The West End: but which was it. I had to wait until June 2015 to figure that out: my mom texted me French Flag and Musical note Emojis, and I was confused. I then was told to check my email, and the moment I read Les Misérables, I ran up to my mom crying.

Well, the moment I saw the Queen’s Theater, it felt surreal. From that to buying souvenirs to noticing how close I was to seeing the set, nothing felt real. But the moment I saw that I heard the the first notes of the orchestra- I knew for a fact that this dream was becoming reality. Those first notes also told me that this production will be more than expected. I had one cultural shock in the West End: buying the playbill- I am so used to being handed the playbill at the door: not buying it.

“I Dreamed a Dream”

Since I am so used to the US Terms, I barely use the word Stalls to describe where I was seating. My mom and I were in the 9th row from the stage. I actually had an understudy this night= for Valjean. Little did I know I would see some of those actors again- just not in person.

My West End Cast:

Valjean-Adam Bayjou (understudy)

Javert- Jeremy Secomb

Fantine-Rachelle Ann Go

Cosete- Zoe Doano

Marius- Rob Houchen

Eponine- Carrie Hope Fletcher

Enjolras- Bradley Jaden

Thenardiers- Phil Daniels and Katy Secombe

My thoughts on the Cast:

This cast was brilliant. They literally were more than expected: that ranges from the ensemble to the principal actors. I might have had an understudy as Valjean, but it never felt that way. This cast will always be special to me due to living a dream with them. At curtain call, I never stand up until a lead comes, but this time, I stood up right away. This cast was actually my 2nd stage show- but 4th cast all together: that is if you include the film and 25th concert. Les Mis means a lot- Wicked might have sparked a love, but Les Mis transformed that love into a passion. Growing up I did not know the West End existed- it actually was Central Piedmont Community College’s production that ended up being the motor for wanting to see Les Mis in London. I never really get to see Big Name actors/actresses- usually I see actors that are not Big Names, but have the potential to become one.

There was something that was really new about this production. In the past, I NEVER found common ground or sympathy for Javert. But when I saw Jeremy Secomb as Javert, I finally could feel that sympathy that was missing. That is a huge reason why Adam Bayjou/Jeremy Secomb was my strongest Valjean/Javert dynamic so far. Well, my strongest love triangle dynamic was found in London as well: I find it interesting that your strongest dynamic for a subplot may not individually consist of your favorite actors/actresses for a character. That was the case for my West End love triangle.

Before this production, I already knew who these characters were. After all, I spent a lot of time watching the film, reading the book, and researching the musical. I already knew who I had an emotional connection with: Valjean, Fantine, Eponine, and Enjolras and the students- those are my core favorite characters. I started being an emotional wreck right after Valjean was released- and that lasted till the end. There were emotions I felt in characters that was never felt before. I think I know why: it wasn’t just because of the actors, but due to reading the unabridged book the same summer and living a dream were huge reasons why.

Here is what I did after seeing the West End Production. I made the decision to not compare future casts to these actors. That would be unfair especially if you have an understudy. In addition, you wouldn’t be able to see the casts for who they are. The US Tour followed after- in 2017 and 2019. I originally thought it was in the West End where I was the most taken off guard, but it wasn’t. It actually was found within the US Tour. Here is what is fascinating about three of my stage casts- my 2015/2017/2019 casts all had an understudy: Adam Bayjou as Valjean, Talia Simone Robinson as Eponine, and Andrew Maughan as Valjean.

The love triangle sure took things for a turn in 2017/2019: usually, Eponine is the strongest actor or ends up being just as good as Marius, but not in the US Tour. Due to who I had as Marius and Cosette- Joshua Grosso and Jillian Butler, I was able to explore Marius and Cosette at a much deeper level. Especially who I had as Marius: Joshua actually made that character almost a core favorite. I saw these two paired with two Eponine actresses- it was interesting seeing how the love triangle could change with just one character.

How many Les Mis casts do I have? I have eight Les Mis casts- the film, 25th concert, community college, West End, US Tour- 2017/2019, 2019 Concert in Cinemas, and 10th concert. Who the Les Mis characters became is a combo of book/musical/my actors/actresses. It is kinda of odd bringing up the film and the 2019 concert- I experienced both in cinemas, but my opinion of Les Mis was different. When I first saw the film, I literally did not know how to respond, react, or feel: I wasn’t told Les Mis was a tragedy so that why I would go- I was no where close to being an emotional wreck. By the time I saw the 2019 concert in cinemas- I already was an emotional wreck and already obsessed with Les Mis. In some ways, I might have a 9th cast- if I decide to include the PBS Masterpiece Series.

Let me just say who my favorite actor for these characters are:

Valjean- can’t decide

Javert- Jeremy Secomb

Fantine- hard decision

Cosette- Jillian Butler

Marius- Joshua Grosso

Eponine- Samantha Barks (has the advantage of being first)

Enjolras- literally, like ALL Enjolras actors are fantastic

Thenardiers- Katy Secombe and Phil Daniels

Conclusion

Still can’t believe I was in London five years ago. As souvenirs I got the playbill (that was a cultural shock), poster, and a t-shirt. It actually was fitting that I saw Les Mis in London- the next day, the Bristol Pilgrimage would begin. So went from Valjean’s spiritual journey to my own. So, some of my favorite actors for these characters might seem puzzling, but you still have to keep in mind I live in the US.

All Les Mis Concerts I Have Seen

Well, I have NOT just seen Les Mis by film and stage show. I also have seen three concerts- the 10th, 25th, and 2019. There is something rather interesting about all three.

Look, when the 10th and 25th came out, they were before I even was a fan of Les Mis. I never got the opportunity to see any concert live in cinemas. I was still only one when the 10th came out and fifteen when the 25th came out. In my years at Fletcher- which was where I attended for middle and high school, I remember that in high school, I wanted nothing to do with tragedies. I had to study them, but really was convinced I would never love one. That was why when I first saw the film, I wasn’t told Les Mis was tragic or else never would have gone: this happened December 2012.

So, I have a really good reason of wanting to see the 25th. Samantha Barks, one of the standouts in the film and my favorite Eponine, convinced me to watch it. I was able to rent the 25th on ITunes. Now I actually own that concert- have seen it at least 20 times. There was a lot of talent in that version: Alfie Boe, Samantha Barks, and Ramin Kairlmoo are the ones that automatically come to mind. As a matter of fact, the first repeat I ever had in Les Mis was Samantha Barks. If it wasn’t for her, my love for Eponine wouldn’t have begun-there is a reason why to this day, she is my favorite. What I did love about the 25th was the “four Valjean-Bring Him Home”, the Original Cast singing “One Day More”, and students from student production singing the reprise of “Do You Hear the People Sing”.

Below shows the three Les Mis films I own- that includes the 10th and 25th concerts.

Well, what about the 10th concert- there were incredible things with this as well. I recently ended up owning it. This was the only other concert where I had to first witness it outside of cinemas. Having seeing some of the Original Cast members play the part they originated was special: such as Colm Wilkinson, Micheal Ball, Alun Armstrong, and Micheal McGuire. It even showed scenes coming from the West End, which brought me back the day I saw Les Mis in London. This cast was extremely talented-in basically both the ensemble and leads. It was amazing seeing the 17 Valjeans’ singing together- you really got to notice some of the languages Les Mis was played in: the countries ranged from Austria to Germany to Italy to Hungary to Japan, Nederlands and of course Australia, Canada, and United States- I actually was surprised that Iceland can sing English.

Well the 2019 concert- that was when I finally got to see a concert in cinemas. In 2019, I already was in love with Les Mis for six years. Well, repeats did happen (some in the same role), and others (moving up). Previously I had already seen Matt Lucas (Thenardier), Alfie Boe (Valjean), Rob Houchen (Marius), Bradley Jaden (Enjolras), and Katy Secombe (Madame Thenardier): those played the exact same part I once saw them as well. There actually was one more repeat: Carrie Hope Fletcher (Eponine to Fantine). In 2019, she was my 2nd actress moving up from role to role (that’s right Mary Kate Moore was my Fantine in November- in 2017, she was only in my ensemble/ 1st cover Fantine). That first Fantine of that year shows don’t underestimate those actors/actresses. Another incredibly talented cast- a lot of them ahead of time I knew would be fantastic in their roles knowing them from before.

Alfie Boe was actually a standout in the 25th. As for the West End, I could not even figure one out (that says something about that cast). While Joshua Grosso is my favorite Marius, Rob Houchen falls at 2nd best: all I remember about Rob in the West End was his reaction after “A Little Fall of Rain”- during the concert, I was able to see how incredible “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was. Look, this concert was my third date with my mom to Les Mis: she saw Les Mis with me in the West End and the US Tour. I knew exactly where I would really start to be in tears: no matter who I get as Fantine, I always get reduced down to tears in “I Dreamed a Dream”- that is why it is hard to pick my favorite. Then once that happens, they don’t seem to stop- I love how emotions affect me in Les Mis: it is rare in musicals to feel that kind of intensity and power. Actually- seen my Thenardier from the 25th and Madame Thenardier from the West End: it shows a completely different dynamic (the same thing happened with Allison Guinn (2017/2019: she had two Monsieur Thenardier actors).

As a matter of fact, most of the West End actors/actresses I saw are all from Les Mis. Micheal Ball (Javert) would eventually repeat: saw the 10th after: so saw him as Marius.

If I just look at 2019, who would be my favorite actors/actresses?

  1. Valjean- Alfie Boe
  2. Javert- while I don’t know, I do know that Josh Davis (Javert of 2017/2019) improved
  3. Cosette- Jillian Butler
  4. Marius- Joshua Grosso
  5. Eponine- Paige Smallwood

As for the others, really tough call. Of all actors/actresses- I think it can be hard to choose between Fantine, Enjolras, and Thenardiers.

Well, 2019 was fascinating- being able to finally experience a concert in cinemas really made that experience exciting along with seeing some of the actors I saw in London. Just like the US Tour- repeats. I don’t really get to see like any actor/actress being seen more than once: just the US Tours always seem to have different actors each time I experience a show: they always have new shows with current running shows on tour. That would lead to various actors/actresses in all of them- none of the principals have repeated: only happened at CPCC.

Good thing: the 2019 versions of Les Mis happened. Les Mis began Blumenthal’s 2019/2020 season- so with the US Tour: twice and five repeat actors in the same role- well I automatically think of them when I even think of the repeats.

Fascinating 2019 and Les Mis

*To note, only coming from 2019. Last week, I saw the 10th concert. This post is only connected to 2019*

This post is dedicated with Les Mis in 2019. There was something fascinating about this year with Les Mis. I actually am quite lucky that Blumenthal started their 19/20 season with Les Mis. So, saw Les Mis once, but twice last year. Two dates with my mom: our first date together was Les Mis in the West End July 30th, 2015.

Well, the US Tour of Les Mis began in 2017. That cast was Nick Cartell (Valjean), Josh Davis (Javert), Melissa Mitchell (Fantine), Jillian Butler (Cosette), Joshua Grosso (Marius), Matt Shingledecker (Enjolras), Talia Simone Robinson (U/S Eponine), Allison Guinn (Madame Thenardier), and J. Anthony Crane (Monsieur Thenardiers. Saw them all in Greenville with my university: the standouts were Nick, Joshua, and Matt.

Well, look at what happened in the US Tour in 2019: Josh Davis, Jillian Butler, Joshua Grosso, Matt Shingledecker, and Allison Guinn played the same parts. But would have been six if Nick Cartell did not need an understudy (Andrew Maughan). Mary Kate Moore (Fantine), Eponine (Paige Smallwood), and Jimmy Smagula (Monsieur Thenardier) were the rest of the principal actors. Actually I think Mary Kate Moore can count as another repeat: just not the same role-I only saw her in the ensemble in 2017: Fantine did not have an understudy that time around. After Melissa Mitchell left Les Mis, Mary Kate Moore secured the role of Fantine.

Now, will bring up 2019 Staged Concert. Well, back in the West End, Adam Bayjou (understudy Valjean), Jeremy Secomb (Javert), Rachelle Ann Go (Fantine), Zoe Donao (Cosette), Rob Houchen (Marius), Carrie Hope Fletcher (Eponine), Bradley Jaden (Enjolras), Katy Secombe (Madame Thenardier), and Phill Daniels (Monsieur Thenardier). So look what happened in in 2019 by the staged concert and the US Tour- so the same musical had repeats. Below comes from my West End cast.

So there were two incredible ways I saw Les Mis in repeats. Well, my mom and I got to see Les Mis with Blumenthal at Ovens Auditorium and Staged Concert. US Tour was the 2nd time the two of us saw the stage show of Les Mis: she was my date in the West End. 2019 continued that every other year pattern- 2013, 2015, and 2017 were the only other years I saw Les Mis during the stage show. Another incredible reason did belong to the staged concert in London: well, there was something incredible about watching it in cinemas. Look at the first time- most negative experience, no where close to becoming an emotional wreck, and really not a Les Mis fan. So both cinema experiences really does show my journey: from not becoming much of a fan to the 2nd chance with the film and rest is history. So, I was able to experience the staged concert in a more positive way and an emotional wreck (was expecting that): only time I saw a Les Mis concert in cinemas. After all, the 25th and 10th happened before I was a fan of the musical.

Something was kind of familiar with the US Tour and Staged Concert. Repeats coming up from seeing these actors again. Valjean (Alfie Boe), Javert (Josh Davis), Marius (Joshua Grosso/ Rob Houchen), Madame Thenardier (Allison Guinn/Katy Secombe). Well, there were others, only in two separate roles. Ensemble/Fantine (Mary Kate Moore- she started the US Tour as ensemble/understudy Fantine: she moved up to Fantine by the time I saw her). Eponine/Fantine (Carrie Hope Fletcher). So, both Fantine actresses moved up, but it is more important on Mary Kate Moore-actresses like her don’t get the respect or appreciation they deserve. Well, she managed to only start in the ensemble and understudying Fantine: some people might think she wouldn’t have been able to move up to the main lead. Well, she did, which really does show don’t underestimate those understudies: they can surprise you. Just only two were were in 25th concert- Matt Lucas and Alfie Boe. Look at all of them: repeats- only ten belonged to same roles. Below are my favorite actors/actresses for the characters. Some might surprise others.

  1. Javert- Jeremy Secomb
  2. Cosette- Jillian Butler
  3. Marius- Joshua Grosso
  4. Eponine- Samantha Barks
  5. Phil Daniels/Katy Become- Thenardiers

Well, you do have to remember where part of my actors/actresses come from. I have the US Tour as well. That is how Jillian and Joshua managed to be my favorite Marius and Cosette. I have seen the film, 25th concert, US Tour (2017/2019), West End (July 2015) and the 2019 concert- well, that does explain things since by the time 2019 ended.

So, why did I not put Enjolras and Fantine. Here’s the thing about Fantine- in the film, “I Dreamed a Dream” was the most devastating due to the song being after “Lovely Ladies”. The six others had “I Dreamed a Dream” before “Lovely Ladies”. So, that can make it difficult. Well, no matter who I get as Fantine, “I Dreamed a Dream” always brings me be to tears: that is true, and usually the first moment that reaction begins. Enjolras can be tricky due to always having an extremely talented actor in that role.