Welcome to CAST INSIDER, a brand new feature where we get to peek inside the workings of some of the biggest and best shows in town courtesy of a few of the current cast members.
This weeks CAST INSIDER comes from one of LONDON’s longest running musicals Les Misérables and is brought to you by;
Michael Riseley (Montparnasse u/s Enjolras & Bamatabois), Jonny Purchase (Joly u/s Marius) and Matthew Jeans (Combeferre u/s Enjolras
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What was the audition process like?
MR: The audition process for Les Misérables usually consists of a first round, where you are asked to bring 2 contrasting songs in the style of the show, followed by a recall where you are given material from the show to perform. If you get through these two rounds there is a final group audition where you perform ensemble numbers from the show.
MJ: I didn’t have to do my own song as I came over from Miss Saigon so they just gave me material. I was fortunate that I didn’t have to do any of the group auditions either. The process for me went on for quite a long time as there were one or two other people who they were waiting on for me to be paired up against in front of Cameron (Mackintosh) so it went on for a good few months.
MR: There are around 3,000 actors submitted every year to audition for Les Misérables and the creative team only see about 300 of those, so actually getting seen is an achievement in itself! Of those 300 they probably end up casting on average only about 15 in the show every year.
How long was the rehearsal period?
MJ: 5 weeks. A week of music calls followed by 4 weeks staging the show.
How many performances per week do you do?
JP: At Les Misérables we do 8 performances a week, including 2 on a Wednesday and 2 on a Saturday.
MR: We do 9 at Christmas and during half term!
What is the longest length of time someone has remained in the cast?
MJ: In this cast?
MR: Peter Lockyer (the current Jean Valjean) did 18 months on the US tour and is about to complete 2 years here (in the West End production), so he’s on 3 ½ years so far. He also did 6 years as Marius on Broadway. What are you on now Jonny, 3 ½?
JP: 3 ½ in June I’ll have been, yeah. George Miller, who was a Swing, was in the show for 7 years.
MR: So is 7 years the most we know of for a minute? There is probably someone with more. People come back and forth a lot. Katy Secombe (the current Madame Thenardier) has been back and forth a couple of times.
JP: David Thaxton (a former Enjolras and Javert) has been back 3 or 4 times hasn’t he?
MR: 3 times I think. He said last year that he has been a professional actor for 10 years and half of them have been spent in this building (the Queen’s Theatre).
JP: (laughs) Good lad.
MJ: So, let’s say 7 years is the longest length of time someone has remained in the cast.
What do the cast do after the show? Is there much of a social life?
MR: Depends who it is!
JP: Well, most nights we just go our separate ways and go home but we do sometimes go out and have a few drinks don’t we? We try and organise a few days out every now and then.
MR: FIFA nights.
JP: Rugby… once a year (laughs) That’s social enough isn’t it?
MR: Obviously you have to look after yourself and know your limits as you have to stay physically and vocally healthy enough to perform every night but you just kind of trust that everyone will be responsible enough to know their own body and get enough rest.
What moment in the show is the most dangerous?
MR: I’d probably say the opening of the Paris scene halfway through the first act.
MJ: Why is it dangerous?
MR: Well, you are entering the stage at the top of a 20ft moving barricade, in the dark…
JP: … everyone is onstage, a bridge flies in…
MR: … the stage is revolving… that is dangerous enough, no? I don’t do that bit thankfully.
JP: I’ve always thought though, when I’ve been on as Marius, going down the trapdoor what happens if someone accidentally presses the revolve button as I’m going down?
MJ: Dead mate.
JP: That’s quite dangerous then.
MJ: All the stuff on the barricade is dangerous as there are no handles to hold on to.
JP: One of the Gavroche’s nearly fell off last year… twice!
MR: Doing most things in the dark, that’s the main issue. I’d say Paris is the most dangerous.
Is there a full cast warm-up? What does that entail?
JP: There is a full cast warm-up. We are called at 6.20pm and have a 10-minute vocal warm-up, singing lots of different bits and pieces. Then we have notes from the Resident Director, if there are any notes for the show that day, followed by any notes from the Dance Captains.
MR: There is no set physical warm-up as it is our own responsibility to make sure we are all physically ready to do the show. Some people do stretches related to their own physical issues and the specific demands of their roles but nothing too strenuous.
How much additional rehearsal is there when the show is up and running?
MR: There are additional rehearsals depending on what is happening with the show at the time. Following the initial rehearsals to open the show there are cover rehearsals to rehearse the understudies, followed by two or three cover runs (basically full dress rehearsals for the understudies). Then every few months we have rehearsals to put a new set of children into the show. There are three child roles in Les Misérables (Gavroche, Young Cosette and Young Eponine) and three teams of children who alternate playing them. There are also sporadic vocal calls throughout the year to keep everyone on top of things. If we have any special performances coming up we will often have extra rehearsals to rehearse particular material, which has happened a lot this year with West End Live, the WhatsOnStage Awards, the Olivier Awards and the 30th Anniversary Gala. We have also had two mini cast changes this year, with different actors coming in to play Marius and Eponine, so we have had rehearsals for them also… so, yeah, we have enough rehearsals I think!
What‘s the show running time?
MJ: The show’s running time is approximately 3 hours, including a 20-minute interval. It’s a long old show!
MR: This is the shortest it’s ever been…. the Wig Mistress told me that apparently the very first preview 30 years ago was nearly 4½ hours!
How do you keep it fresh every night?
MR: Every performance is different in some way or another as there will be different people onstage (understudies and swings) and they will do things differently. A lot of it is about really listening to what is being said and reacting honestly, but after having heard the same thing hundreds of times that does take some concentration not to just slip into auto pilot. It can be hard work and I think you need to be disciplined with yourself to get the most out of it. We are very lucky with Les Misérables in that the source material is an invaluable tool. The original Victor Hugo novel is over 1,000 pages long and incredibly detailed in its descriptions of all the characters, even the smaller ones. The Bishop of Digne for example is only featured in the show’s Prologue, yet there are 15 pages describing him in the novel! There is so much information provided on your characters that you don’t have to make anything up. It’s all there for you to interpret. You can BE Joly, you can BE Montparnasse! The more detail you can give a character the fresher the performance will be as you have the ability to keep experimenting and changing things throughout the course of the run. It also helps that Les Misérables is a very busy show so you don’t really have time to get bored.