The 25th Anniversary production of Les Misérables will be playing at The National Theatre from December 13-30th. I am a Les Miz fanatic and have the seen the show over 20 times and one of my all-time favorite Jean Valjeans is Andrew Varela who I saw perform the role on Broadway. Andrew is now playing Javert and I am looking forward to not only watching him portray him – but also hearing him sing Javert’s ‘big numbers.’
Joel: You have been touring with the 25th anniversary production of Les Misérables for two years since it began at Paper Mill Playhouse. How has the production changed and/or improved since its launch in 2010?
Andrew: I think that, rather than look at how it’s changed we should look at how it’s stayed the same: The production is still fresh and exciting two years on, thanks to the hard work and energy of a company dedicated to bringing their “A” game every performance. We all love doing this piece, we all enjoy traveling the county, and we are truly a family when we get to work. We feel lucky to get to do this show every night!
I saw you perform the role of Jean Valjean 3 times on Broadway (and you were so terrific) and now you are playing Javert. Vocally, which role is more difficult to sing and portray? What adjustments did you have to make vocally to go from singing the role of Jean Valjean to singing the role of Javert? Have you gone in to play Jean Valjean on this tour?
I thought I remembered you from the audience!!
I always went to the stage door to congratulate you! I thoroughly enjoyed the passion you brought to your performance!
There is no more challenging a role for a man than Jean Valjean. It was a personal and professional challenge and I’m honored to have played that role. Having said that, I always thought Javert was a interesting, dark character that I’d like to sink my teeth into. I loved diving in to the Javert music, which required me to drop into more of a baritone register.
I haven’t gone on for Jean Valjean in this production, but I’d jump at the chance to do it again sometime!
Les Misérables is being produced by schools and young actor all over the world. Have you seen any productions by students that really impressed you?
I haven’t seen the high school version. But, I have met many young actors who have performed it when I’ve given master classes… and have been impressed with their talent and dedication to this great piece of theater.
Did you appear in The Kennedy Center run of the 25th anniversary tour a year and half ago? If so, how was your experience there? How would you describe DC audiences?
I did appear in this show at the Kennedy Center – which is an incredible space to perform in – and enjoyed myself so much. There’s so much history there and it’s a beautiful and majestic theater. DC audiences are smart and savvy and pick up on every little nuance of the show. They are an appreciative audience, which of course, we appreciate on stage!
How did you first get involved in Les Misérables? Do you remember what you sang at your audition? And what do you remember about your first performance as Jean Valjean?
I auditioned for the Broadway company in 1998. I sang “Marta” from Kiss of the Spider Woman, and then they asked me to sing all the Jean Valjean music. When I was done with that, they said, “Andrew, you could not have had a better audition.”
I had just gotten married and I met my wife after my audition and said “It could not have gone any better.” The next day they called and offered me the job. It was a “dream-come-true” moment. I don’t remember ANYTHING about my first time on as Jean Valjean. It was like being shot out of a cannon. My wife said it was great, so I have to go by that!
Have you appeared in other productions of Les Misérables with any other cast member(s) of the 25th Anniversary production?
Yes. Peter Lockyer, who plays Jean Valjean, and I were in the Broadway production together. Peter played Marius and so I was the one rescuing him from the barricade… Now I’m the one dogging him while HE rescues someone else! We have a great time onstage together… He’s a good friend and a respected colleague.
What is it about Javert that you admire? How do you personally relate to Javert?
I admire his tenacity. I would’ve looked for Valjean for about another two weeks maybe a month because he beat me up. So, his determination is admirable. Personally, how do I relate to him? I look great in a long coat and facial hair.
Talk about your two 11:00 numbers –“Stars” and “Soliloquy” – (Javert’s Suicide). What do we learn about Javert while he is singing these powerful songs – that we didn’t know before he sings them?
Both songs are designed for Javert to work through a problem and strengthen his resolve. In “Stars,” he’s looking to the heavens for guidance in pursuing Jean Valjean. And in “the Suicide” he is looking for answers for something that he cannot abide… And in both cases he is moved to action.
For those theatregoers who have seen Les Misérables countless times, what makes this 25th Anniversary Production so different and unique that they need to see it?
Just like seeing a beloved film every holiday season, some things just get better every time you see it! And this production brings new, exciting technical aspects while maintaining the epic story that people have come to love. The performances and voices are great, and now here is a whole new visual element that has been introduced: we have high-tech projections – like a moving painting, which makes the back wall becomes almost like another performer. The images move and change and are really, really cool.
Why is Les Misérables still so popular 25 years after opening on Broadway?
There is something for everyone in this show: there’s good vs. evil, redemption, romantic love, parental love… Fighting for a cause, laugh-out-loud comedy and gun battles. Add to that an amazing musical score and you have a perfect show.
I always say: if you’re going to see one show in your life; make it Les Miz.