Hans Peter Janssen

All posts tagged Hans Peter Janssen

Club 24601 is still going strong and this week’s Jean Valjean fact is that this week’s interviewee is not only the only Belgian to take the role in London but he also came back twice to play Javert!

Hans Peter Janssen is one of the longest serving JVJ’s, doing three years (consecutively) from 2000 – 2003.  Before that, he played JVJ in the Belgian production of Les Mis from 1998 – 1999 which stood him in good stead when it came audition for the London production.

As Janssen played the role for a long time there must have been things he liked more than others and he said that one of his favourite parts was the ageing involved: “I found it challenging to build in growing older during the performance, vocally, physically and emotionally”.   When asked about the downsides he didn’t hesitate to say the back problems caused by, amongst other things, carrying Marius around as he said “not all Mariuses are lightweights”!  Major back surgery was required, necessitating a two and a half month back from the role.

As already mentioned, one of Janssen’s favourite parts of the show was the ageing and he says that the longer he was in the role, the more he came to understand the more mature JVJ and consequently, his approach became much more mature.  Leading on from this, his favourite song to sing in the show is Bring Him Home, which of course was the answer given by all the members of Club 24601 (although most also chose a second favourite).  In the following video you can see how much he immerses himself in the song:

Janssen’s favourite song by another character is Javert’s suicide because of the drama involved – and I guess that having played both roles, he is uniquely placed to know!  The following video is audio only but features Janssen singing Javert’s masterpiece, Stars:

Since leaving the show, Janssen has continued to perform in musicals around Europe, mostly in Belgium and the Netherlands.  He will shortly be in Lilies.

Next week’s Club 24601 is Geronimo Rauch.

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The time has come, the day is here and Les Miserables is shortly to celebrate its 30th anniversary.  This also means thirty years of Jean Valjean and a considerable number of actors who have portrayed one of the most challenging roles in modern musical theatre.  Some have played the role for a short time, some played the role for a number of years and I spoke to some of the more notable names (mainly in the London production) over the past few months to get a feel for what it’s like to play such an iconic role.

In no particular order, thank you to Alfie Boe, Peter Lockyer (the current London JVJ gave me the title to this piece: Club 24601, a very exclusive club), Geronimo Rauch, John Owen-Jones, Simon Gleeson (currently in the Australian production and to lead the Manila show in 2016), Hans Peter Janssen, Peter Karrie, Dave Willetts and Dan Koek for being so generous with their time.    The role is famously challenging in all sorts of ways and something I was interested in was how the actors changed their interpretation of the role as their run got longer or in some cases, when they returned at a later date.  For John Owen-Jones, being the youngest ever JVJ at 26 meant that the emotional challenges of the role took on new meaning when he returned a few years later.  He says “I had a more rounded outlook on life and more life experience to draw on when I was older. I had two children in the intervening years and suffered some loss in my family and had grown up a lot. I therefore was naturally able to give the character more depth and I like to think my approach to interpreting the role was more mature than when I was 26”.  Hans Peter Janssen, who played the role in London from 2000 – 2003 agrees with John: “I matured in my portrayal…especially in my understanding of JVJ as an older man”.  In contrast, Geronimo Rauch who had previously played the role in Spain said the biggest difference for him in returning to the role was the language; a phone audition with Cameron Mackintosh to see if his English was good enough obviously did the trick as he then got the London job.

This piece has been some time in the works and when I interviewed Alfie, he had yet to start on Broadway.  As we know by now, Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean in New York has been a runaway success but Alfie’s focus back in July was on the production as whole.  He explained that “the main difference is that the production is completely different, it’s not the same show I performed in the West End.  Although the music is the same, the structure of the show, the choreography of it is different.  I’m so excited to embrace the new direction of the role”.  Alfie also mentioned that “although I’m a little more known than I was back then, I’m not focused on that.  I’m just focused on doing the job, doing it properly, performing each show I’m in to the highest standard”.  Judging from the reviews so far, Alfie, you’re certainly doing that!

Peter Lockyer said that JVJ is the “best role in musical theatre” as it “goes through so much of life; everything is there on stage” and again, this is reflected in the experiences of the other actors.  When asked about the best thing about playing JVJ, every single interviewee cited the emotional, vocal and physical challenge to do the part justice.  Simon Gleeson mentioned “sharing the scope of the the story with an audience” and Peter Karrie (1986 for three years) said that he found the role “very satisfying as an actor and a singer”, something that was repeated by all the interviewees.  Another common link is the music – all the actors mentioned the joy and privilege of being able to sing such an amazing score night after night.  Of course, that incredible score can also be one of the downsides to the role; John Owen-Jones compared it to “climbing a mountain if you’re not 100%” and Dan Koek (2013-2014) said that the “pressure to always be amazing is hard, especially if you’re tired”.  The last word on this goes to Geronimo though, who when asked what the worst thing about the show was answered that it was very demanding but “at least we don’t have to dance as well”.  That really would be something to see, a dancing JVJ!

Thirty years of Jean Valjean, one of the most iconic roles in musical theatre, has given us some wonderful musical moments –  all the Valjean’s interviewed mentioned the incredible score as the high point of their time in the show and I wanted to pinpoint their favourite songs: would they all choose differently?  Without exception, Bring Him Home cropped up, but as a given; no one who performs the role would say anything else I suspect.  However, several of the Valjean’s (Alfie, Dan Koek, Dave Willetts, Peter Karrie and Geronimo Rauch) also chose the same second favourite, the Soliloquy.  As Dave Willetts (1985-6 as understudy and then took over from Colm Wilkinson) says, this song shows “the journey of the character of Valjean” and in Alfie’s words, it shows “what Valjean has become and what he has come from, a chance to show the anxiety, fear and passion of the character”.  John Owen-Jones chose Bring Him Home as a singer and Who Am I as an actor whilst Peter Lockyer named the Epilogue as one of his favourite moments.  Alfie also mentioned the emotional intensity of the Epilogue but I got the feeling he would have named all his songs as his favourite!

Six months ago, when I started researching and interviewing this piece I had a good idea of how I wanted it to turn out.  I thought that there would be enough material for an interesting look at the different portrayals of Jean Valjean over the years but I never thought there would be so much material that I couldn’t use it all!  Several hours of interviews meant that there was enough material to publish this piece five times over, so I’ve decided to publish each interview in full, starting with Alfie himself, on a weekly basis.  If you want a sneak preview of Alfie’s interview, make sure you’re a subscriber – you get it ahead of everyone else so check your emails shortly for the password.

Tomorrow we get to hear if we got lucky and won tickets for the 30th anniversary gala – come and tell us if you won!

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