06 Jan 2016
Who’s who in Les Misérables?
Video: Foong Mien Shi
Photos: Denise Ngo
Additional photos: Matthew Murphy
If you think Star Wars and Game of Thrones have too many characters, wait until you see Les Misérables. The first half of the popular historical musical introduces new story arcs in every other scene, only for everything (and everyone) to converge in a magnificent Act I finale. It’s spine-chilling, tear-jerking, and basically epic, even without spaceships or swordfights.
Although former captive Jean Valjean is ostensibly the main character, the story belongs as much to Fantine, Javert, Marius, Cosette, and Éponine, as it does to him. After all, the musical’s most famous number – “I Dreamed a Dream” – is sung, not by Valjean, but by Fantine, whom he interacts with for less than 15 minutes.
Lucky for us, we had the opportunity to meet some of the actors in Cameron Mackintosh’s new production in Brisbane, where they will wrap up the show’s Australian tour before arriving in Singapore in May. In November, we interviewed four of key cast members to learn more about who they are playing, as well as how they got into character. (We won’t lie – it was a little strange seeing them healthy, alive, and wearing blue jeans just half an hour after seeing them go to hell and back in 19th-century France).
So without further ado, here’s who you should know when Les Misérables arrives on our sunny shores in May.
06 Jan 2016
Who he is: Former prisoner trying to live a normal life while being pursued by the ruthless Inspector Javert
Signature song: “Bring Him Home”
Played by: Simon Gleeson
Out of all the characters in Les Misérables, Valjean goes through the biggest transformation, having gone from prisoner to Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer in just eight years. Over the course of the story, he undergoes an internal transformation as well, choosing selflessness over self-preservation, even taking in an orphaned girl after she loses her mother.
“He goes through so much,” Simon said, when we asked him about his favourite aspect of playing Valjean. “It’s a massive role and it’s a big challenge.”
06 Jan 2016
“[I admire] his desire to be the best human he can be, especially when he’s come from such a troubled past, to strive to be the greatest human being he can. His flaws are many. He can be quick to anger. He’s constantly hiding and he’s willing to sacrifice sometimes so he can keep hidden.”
“He’s a very faithful man and that’s to his credit.”
While most of us have been fortunate enough to be spared Valjean’s trials, we all know what it’s like to feel held back by the past. “This is the thing about this show, we can all relate so closely to what each character is going through,” Simon said. “With Eponine, you see she has unrequited love and you know all the times where you’ve had unrequited love. With Jean Valjean it’s the same - not obviously in that sense – but in something where you don’t know the way out. It’s confusing and it’s difficult and so a lot of audiences will see themselves in a lot of these characters.”
06 Jan 2016
Who she is: A beautiful unwed mother forced into prostitution so that she can take care of her child
Signature song: “I Dreamed a Dream”
Played by: Patrice Tipoki
As the musical’s title suggests, life deals the characters in Les Misérables a rather punishing hand; the first act subjects them to captivity, illness, death, robbery, and rape. And poor, naive Fantine probably suffers the most.
“What attracts me to her story is that she is such a hopeful person,” Patrice said. “She keeps trying and fighting against the struggles that she comes up against to make a better life for herself and her daughter. Hope is a real poignant theme in the show because all of us have challenges and we all just do our best to try and do our best to get through that. The fact that Fantine embodies that for me is quite special.”
“When I was first rehearsing Fantine, I would come home and be quite depressed, because she gets beat up a lot, she gets told that she’s wrong, and no good, and not worth anything, so it was hard to get used to the fact that that was going to be happening to me. But I still enjoyed the beauty that she enjoys while she’s on stage and living her life and hoping for her daughter. And now, you have to let it be like water off a duck’s back, and not let it get to you.”
06 Jan 2016
But before she could embrace her character’s suffering, Patrice had to understand Fantine’s choices.
“When I first was coming to know Fantine, I was reading Victor Hugo’s novel, [and] I would get frustrated with her because I didn’t understand how she could give her daughter over to someone else to look after,” she said. “For me, Patrice, would never do that. That was quite an obstacle for me as an actor, to overcome, to try and justify her choices and so when I was able to do that, that made it a lot easier to tell her story, and to not be judging her on the inside.”
After playing that eight times a week, anyone would need a real fixer-upper. Enter the pranks:
“There’s a point in the show where me and one of the characters, Éponine, hide backstage and we try and scare someone as they walk past. It’s always really fun. We try to do it in different ways, but once again, it has nothing to do with what’s going on onstage, it’s just us, keeping it fun, keeping it light,” Patrice laughed.
06 Jan 2016
Who he is: Charismatic young revolutionary leader who fights for the oppressed, only to end up paying a heavy price for his idealism
Signature song: “Do You Hear the People Sing?”
Played by: Chris Durling
While Enjolras barely interacts with Valjean, his fight for a liberated society runs directly parallel to Valjean’s fight for personal freedom. And while we only meet Enjolras about halfway into the show, he’s one of the most recognisable characters, thanks to his classic red banner and vest.
“What I admire about him is the fact that he has the belief to speak up, the belief to wear his heart on his sleeve, to put it out there, to try and influence others to follow him and go on this journey together,” Chris said. “And it’s no doubt that the conviction he has is somewhat of his downfall, knowing they are completely outnumbered and overpowered and that they can’t win. But it’s probably just more the inner belief – he knows he’s making a sacrifice that will count toward further generations, and it might spark huge a change right in this moment. But hopefully it’s a moment in a sequence of events that will bring better conditions to his part of the world.”
06 Jan 2016
Enjolras (pictured in the middle)
For Chris, it’s not enough to say his lines and act like a leader just because that’s what’s in the script; his castmates need to see him as a leader during performances. But this is precisely what drew him to the role.
“I guess apart from wearing the iconic cool red vest everybody knows, it’s the challenge of being a leader,” he said. “It’s not easy, I have to deal with so many different personalities on stage every night, and often my journey is dictated by the different energies people throw at me, especially through that barricade scene. Whether they’re opposing my actions or supporting me….I guess it’s the most wonderful thing, we’ve done the show 500 times, it’s those things that allow me to sort of go on a different journey every night.”
06 Jan 2016
Who she is: Raggedy street urchin, secretly in love with student revolutionary Marius, who in turn falls in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter, Cosette
Signature song: “On My Own”
Played by: Kerrie Anne Greenland
Éponine’s hopeless devotion to Marius has become the stuff of legend for anyone who’s ever been in the friend zone. The bubbly Kerrie Anne Greenland, who performed “On My Own” at the Mediacorp New Campus Opening in December, couldn’t help laughing a bit when discussing how she prepared for the role.
“I tried to focus on the book more than anything,” she said, crediting it as her main inspiration for the role. “There’s a scene where he (Marius)’s waiting outside the house with Cosette, it’s a love scene, and she (Éponine)’s described as a ‘dog waiting on the street’, waiting there, you know, like a loyal dog, and that really helped to inspire me.”
06 Jan 2016
But Kerrie Anne enjoys the character’s feistiness, despite her poor luck. “She’s just so down to earth and fun and kind of rough so I really enjoy that about her and how much hope she has for this relationship with Marius and how much she fights for it.”
“I really admire how she fights for what she believes in, her feelings for Marius, and also for her family, she really stays true to her family, the Thénardiers, and that is also her biggest flaw, she does stick around with her family and does those things, and she does follow Marius, and spoiler alert, [Editor’s note: suffers a horrible fate!] because of it. Her strengths are also her weaknesses.”
There’s a great deal of the spirited Éponine in Kerrie Anne, who seemed to find humour in everything – even in her character’s unkempt appearance. When we complimented Éponine’s tomboyish costume, she agreed, joking that the Fashion Police would call her out on her, Kerrie Anne’s, wardrobe in real life.
“I love being covered in dirt every day, [I ask for] a little bit more, a little bit more – maybe that’s it. They’ll see me on the street in my clean outfit and they’ll be like, she’s not cool, throw her in, throw her in jail!”
06 Jan 2016
Other characters you should know:
Who he is: Police Inspector obsessed with capturing and punishing Jean Valjean
Signature song: “Stars”
Played by: Earl Carpenter
Ruthless, unforgiving, and passionately devoted to the law, Javert will stop at nothing until justice is served. While Valjean is a living testament to a life redeemed, Javert believes that no one can ever change. Therefore, Valjean will always be a criminal. The personal struggle between these two keeps the story grounded, even as it introduces more characters and larger conflicts.
Javert will be played by Earl Carpenter, who has also performed in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original and 25th Anniversary productions and concert celebrations of Les Misérables.
Who she is: Orphaned daughter of Fantine, adopted daughter of Valjean
Signature song: “Castle on a Cloud”/”A Heart Full of Love”
Played by: Emily Langridge (Adult Cosette)
As a child, Fantine’s innocent, lovely young daughter is saved from abuse at the hands of her foster family, the Thenardiers, after Valjean adopts her. She grows up sheltered, never knowing of her adoptive father’s past, but catches Marius’ eye on a trip to town. Despite her rough childhood, the adult Cosette’s storyline is decidedly less tragic than most of the other characters’.
Cosette is played by Emily Langridge, who graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2012.
Who he is: A student revolutionary, falls in love with Cosette, and she with him. In his despair, he decides to fight on the barricades with Enjolras and the other revolutionaries after believing that Valjean has whisked Cosette away to England.
Signature song: “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”
Played by: Paul Wilkins
The lovesick Marius, who literally falls for Cosette at first sight, is both inspiring and infuriating. On the one hand, his obtuseness toward the equally lovesick Eponine will frustrate anyone who’s ever been friendzoned. On the other hand, he’s more or less a teenager – and he goes above and beyond the duty of a typical teenage boy when it comes to serving his country and his lady love.
Les Misérables opens on May 29, 2016 at Singapore’s Esplanade Theatre.
Tuesday to Friday: 8pm
Saturday: 2.00pm & 8pm
Sunday: 1.30pm & 7.00pm
Ticket prices: $58, $98, $128, $168, $198, $228 (excluding booking fee) at SISTIC
For further information go to lesmis.sg
Update (Feb 15): A new batch of Les Misérables tickets have been released for sale today
The production is promoted by MediaCorp VizPro International.