Peter Karrie

All posts tagged Peter Karrie

Fourth in our series of Club 24601 interviews is our earliest Jean Valjean so far, Peter Karrie.  As well as JVJ, Peter is most associated with the title role of Phantom of the Opera, a distinction he shares with three other JVJ interviewees (John Owen-Jones, Geronimo Rauch and Dave Willetts).  He is also the second Welshman in succession to feature in our Club 24601, following John Owen-Jones last week.

Peter first played JVJ from 1986 for three years and returned twice more.  He first got the role after auditioning whilst appearing in the first national tour of Evita.  The musical director of the show went to see Rebecca Storm in Liverpool (where Evita was at the time) with a view to casting her as Fantine.  Upon seeing Peter in Evita, he also asked him to audition and he duly did, around the piano in the foyer of a Liverpool hotel.  He then repeated the process on the stage of the Palace theatre in London and was cast a week later.  During all this time he had not met Cameron Mackintosh and when  he did finally meet him, on his opening night, it was a rather unfortunate meeting to say the least.  After the show, Peter was in his dressing room with his family when there was a knock at the door and this man stood there telling Peter how much he had enjoyed the show and invited him to dinner.  Peter politely declined…only finding out the next day that the man was Cameron!

As the most experienced JVJ in this series of interviews, I asked Peter how his approach changed each time he revisited the role.  He said that it was like “slipping back into a pair of old slippers because I got on so well with the role”.  When he first took on the role and was in rehearsals, the role just wouldn’t click; something just wasn’t right until one day he found the inspiration.  After a particularly bad journey, in the rain, Peter said that “he walked into rehearsals trudging along” and that’s when he realised that the key to his portrayal would be a heavy footed trudge, “walking as if he was pulling a truck behind him”.  That was the key to Valjean’s character.

Obviously, with such a long run as JVJ, there would be many other cast changes and new actors to work closely with.  One actor who really sparked with Peter was Philip Quast, who in Peter’s words was “the best Javert I ever worked with”, although if you had been present in their first ever rehearsal, you might be forgiven for wondering how it would turn out.  Peter described to me how after a while in the role he had his own way of doing things and Quast came in and made it abundantly clear that he had his own ideas about the relationship between the two characters which led to some interesting rehearsal moments but some fabulous moments for the production.  The confrontation in the sewer, where Javert eventually stands to one side to let JVJ and Marius pass, was one such moment: in rehearsal, Quast was adamant that Peter would have to force his way past, whereas Peter was equally adamant that it was not right for the character and the story.  Quast eventually came round to Peter’s way of thinking and Javert continued to move aside at the vital moment.

In common with all the actors I interviewed, Peter mentioned the amazing score as the best thing about the role; it was challenging both musically and as an actor, “a very satisfying role”. This is reflected in his choice of favourite song, which (apart from the obligatory Bring Him Home) is the soliloquy.  Peter said that “musically, dramatically, everything was in that song”.  He went on to say that the role was “always emotional.  I never cried during the show even though I could hear the audience sobbing, crying but at the end of the show I would burst into tears, every time.”

Given that Peter is our longest serving JVJ, I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask about any disasters or funny moments that occurred in the show and he obligingly told me about “one Javert who made me corpse”.  After one cart scene, just before JVJ launches into Who Am I?, the Javert in question, turned his back in the audience, clicked his heels together and was supposed to then make his exit.  He did make his exit but not before he said (knowing full well that only Peter could hear him) “if you don’t have that cart moved, I’ll have it clamped”.  Peter said he laughed so much he had to feign a coughing fit and ran off stage to compose himself!

Lastly, Peter’s favourite song by another character was Empty Chairs and Empty Tables as it’s a “very poignant, very emotive song”.

Here is Peter singing in Les Mis Medley from 2011:

Club 24601 returns next week with an original cast member, Dave Willetts.

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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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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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