Norm Lewis

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On the eve of the 30th anniversary of Les Miserables in London, let’s take a look at 26 highlights and facts from Alfie to Miz!

A is for Alfie Boe of course! Alfie played the role in the West End for six months, having first taken the role at the 25th anniversary concert, and is now Jean Valjean on Broadway

B is for bread.  JVJ is jailed for stealing a loaf of bread but the onstage bread was once responsible for almost choking Dan Koek! Whilst pretending to eat the bishops’s bread, a crumb went up Koek’s nose and lodged at the back of his throat…and stayed there for the whole of the soliloquy!

C is for Carrie Hope Fletcher. London’s current Eponine, is the younger sister of McBusted’s Tom Fletcher…who appeared with Alfie at the Royal Festival Hall on the Bring Him Home tour

D is for Do You Hear the People Sing? We can and we can’t imagine ever stopping!

E  is for Eponine, brilliant character – surely, I can’t be the only one rooting for her over Cosette in Marius’ affections?

F is for Frances Ruffelle, original Eponine, winner of a Tony award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical and mum of singer Eliza Doolittle

G is for Grantaire, a glorious character who spends most of his time onstage in an alcoholic glaze

H is for Hans Peter Janssen, the only Belgian actor to play JVJ in London

I is for I Dreamed a Dream, iconic song from Fantine, memorably performed by Lea Salonga at the 25th anniversary concert.  Went into the entertainment stratosphere with Susan Boyle’s Britain’s Got Talent audition

J is for John Owen-Jones, the youngest Jean Valjean (he was 26).  He most memorable Les Mis moment came in rehearsal with Claude-Michel Schonberg for the 25th anniversary tour.  John says “I was rehearsing Bring Him Home with Claude-Michel in a room backstage at the Barbican. We were running through the song when he suddenly stopped playing the piano and looked slowly around the room with a quizzical look on his face. Then he looked at me and said in that wonderful French accent of his: “Wait…zis room…it is where I wrote zis song!”

K is for Karrie, Peter who played JVJ for three years from 1986.  In a recent interview he told me that he worked with one Javert who made him corpse one day at the end of the cart scene: “he clicked his heels together and turned to walk off, his microphone was already off, and he said so only I could hear, if you don’t have that cart moved, I’ll have it clamped!  I laughed so much I had to feign a coughing fit and run off stage quickly!

L is for Lea Salonga who played Eponine in the 10th anniversary concert and Fantine in the 25th anniversary

M is for Mackintosh, Cameron, the producer of Les Mis as well as many more musicals around the world

N is for Norm Lewis, picked as his favourite Javert by Alfie Boe in his Club 24601 interview with thoughtsofjustafan

O is for One Day More – best ending to a first act in musical theatre bar none (the combination of Michael Ball and Ramin Karimloo is superb here):

P is for Peter Lockyer, current London JVJ –  first played JVJ whilst directing an amateur production in Hawaii

Q is for the Queen’s Theatre, home to the London production

R is for revolving stage, no longer in evidence in the Broadway show.  Dave Willetts remembers several shows in the early days where the stage stopped revolving at awkward moments, notably at the end of the barricade scene when all the dead actors had to get up and walk off stage in the full glare of the lights!

S is for the Soliloquy, favourite song of several of the Club 24601 JVJ’s

T is for Thenardier – a villain we love to love

U is for understudies – Dave Willetts understudied for Colm Wilkinson before taking over the lead when Wilkinson originated the role on Broadway

V is for Valjean, one of the most iconic roles in modern musicals and the Valjean Quartet from the 25th anniversary:

W is for writers, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer

X is for Enjolras’ xylophone vest at the barricades (trust me, it’s real) – big thanks to Debbie Bannigan for telling me!

Y is for young performers – Little Eponine, Little Cosette and Gavroche

Z is for Miz which is the twitter spelling for the Broadway production

 

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Thirty years of Jean Valjean and we’re celebrating the legend that is Les Miserables by looking back at some memorable Valjean’s.  So who better to start with than the best of them all (in the opinion of this blog anyway, and, I suspect in the opinions of one or two readers) than the current Broadway JVJ, Alfie Boe.

I interviewed Alfie before he started on Broadway and asked him what he thought would be the greatest difference in his approach from when he played the role in the West End. The main difference would be the difference in the production: “the production is completely different, it’s not the same show I performed in the West End”.  Alfie went on to say that although the music is the same, the structure and choreography is different, so “I’m excited to embrace the new direction for the role”.  As Alfie had appeared on Broadway before (La Boheme) I wanted to know how and if that experience would differ.  Of course, La Boheme was only three shows a week and now he is fully embracing the show with seven shows.  Did the fact that he is a lot more well known now factor at all?  The answer was definitely not, Alfie said “although I’m a little more well known than I was back then I’m not focused on that.  I’m focused on doing the job, doing it properly, performing each show I’m in to the highest standard”.  Judging by the rave reviews, Alfie is doing a great job in New York.

Talking about the differences and the challenges of returning to the show naturally led us on to Alfie’s time in the West End.  I’d forgotten (no idea how!) that Alfie had been in the show for a couple of weeks prior to the 25th anniversary show at the O2.  Alfie said that he had had a great experience, loved every minute of his new venture into the world of musicals as he’d not really done much in the West End before that.  He made friends immediately amongst the cast which as Alfie says was “a blessing, it stuck with me for a long time.  They helped me, supported me in my interpretation of the role and character.  A wonderful experience”.

Of course, performing an iconic role like Jean Valjean means a lot of pressure to be wonderful every night but also brings the opportunity to sing an incredible score every night which inevitably gets an incredible audience response.  When asked to choose his favourite JVJ song, I felt that Alfie could easily have chosen them all and indeed mentioned the epilogue, the soliloquy and of course his signature tune, Bring Him Home.  Alfie says “Bring Him Home is the song that everyone turns to but for me, one of the greatest moments to express true emotion and strength is towards the beginning of the show in the soliloquy.  It’s a real embracing of emotion, expressing the emotion to the audience.  I put a lot into those moments, anxiety, fear, passion to reach an understanding of who he is as a character, so I really like that moment in particular.  Also, at the end of the show, the epilogue is a beautiful piece , when he’s realising he’s close to death, coming to the end of his life, I really enjoyed singing those moments too”.  Here is Alfie at the Royal Variety Performance 2010:

Although JVJ is our focus here, Les Mis is a show full of outstanding songs so I was interested in asking the JVJ’s I interviewed if they had a favourite song by another character.  Alfie chose Stars by Javert and revealed that he’s actually quite jealous that he doesn’t get to sing that song in the show himself!  He also chose Norm Lewis as his favourite Javert, saying “I’ve heard it sung by so many Javerts but the one that sticks in my mind is Norm Lewis at the 25th anniversary and also Earl Carpenter [which is handy, seeing as he’s in the Broadway show!].  Those are the two guys who stick in ,my mind, their rendition of that song, very talented singers”.

Thanks Alfie for a lovely interview – I’ve quoted most of his answers without editing as I found I didn’t need to add or remove anything, his answers were perfectly eloquent by themselves.

The next JVJ interview is Dan Koek and you can find it on Monday 12th October.

thanks for reading and sharing

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Last week, I asked you all for your nominations for your favourite singer to perform with Alfie, either live or recorded (click here).

Well, you responded in your numbers and the nominations are in and the vote is ready!

All the nominations are listed in the YouTube playlist below, to help you deicde – some clips are longer than others but they’re all there!

After you’ve voted, don’t forget to subscribe – you’ll get a sneak peek at the short list before everyone else!