Well, what is hard to believe is that I was in England five years ago. My family arrived on July 29th. When we landed in London, I did not even believe I was actually in London. It took until seeing West End fliers that I actually knew for a fact we were there. One of the first things we did was get some coffee at Costa Coffee. We ended up being the same Costa my family would be meeting the rest of the 72 pilgrims: just so we would know where that was.
However, what is exactly the significance about July 30th, 2015. That was the day when it actually felt like my family was doing something. It all began on Platform 9 and 3/4 and getting Harry Potter souvenirs. After getting some lunch and visiting Paddington Station, we had to go back to our hotel. For the 29th and the 30th, my family stayed at a nicer hotel.
We had to go back kind of early to the hotel. That was really important for my mom and I. That summer, my mom and I already had one theater date: to Pippin at Blumenthal’s Belk Theater. But on July 30th, my mom and I had a 2nd theater date. This time, I was seeing a musical in The West End, but it was Les Mis. I think things came full circle from the time I saw Wicked on Broadway to the time when I saw Les Mis in the West End. My family had to get back to the hotel kinda of early afternoon to get dressed and to figure out how to get to The West End from our hotel.
There are multiple things I loved about that night. I am glad that my sister and dad got their own date. My sister is not into musical theater like I am. My mom loved musicals growing up- that is why we have been to as many theater dates we do. For another- this actually happened one day before the actual Bristol Pilgrimage. Still, how did this production end up being in 2015, two years after seeing the stage show for the first time. Well, I didn’t start convincing my parents to take me to Les Mis in 2013- there was no sign yet of going up early. But I was told it would be two days early November of 2014, but it was December of 2014 when I was told I would see a show in The West End: but which was it. I had to wait until June 2015 to figure that out: my mom texted me French Flag and Musical note Emojis, and I was confused. I then was told to check my email, and the moment I read Les Misérables, I ran up to my mom crying.
Well, the moment I saw the Queen’s Theater, it felt surreal. From that to buying souvenirs to noticing how close I was to seeing the set, nothing felt real. But the moment I saw that I heard the the first notes of the orchestra- I knew for a fact that this dream was becoming reality. Those first notes also told me that this production will be more than expected. I had one cultural shock in the West End: buying the playbill- I am so used to being handed the playbill at the door: not buying it.
Since I am so used to the US Terms, I barely use the word Stalls to describe where I was seating. My mom and I were in the 9th row from the stage. I actually had an understudy this night= for Valjean. Little did I know I would see some of those actors again- just not in person.
My West End Cast:
Valjean-Adam Bayjou (understudy)
Javert- Jeremy Secomb
Fantine-Rachelle Ann Go
Cosete- Zoe Doano
Marius- Rob Houchen
Eponine- Carrie Hope Fletcher
Enjolras- Bradley Jaden
Thenardiers- Phil Daniels and Katy Secombe
My thoughts on the Cast:
This cast was brilliant. They literally were more than expected: that ranges from the ensemble to the principal actors. I might have had an understudy as Valjean, but it never felt that way. This cast will always be special to me due to living a dream with them. At curtain call, I never stand up until a lead comes, but this time, I stood up right away. This cast was actually my 2nd stage show- but 4th cast all together: that is if you include the film and 25th concert. Les Mis means a lot- Wicked might have sparked a love, but Les Mis transformed that love into a passion. Growing up I did not know the West End existed- it actually was Central Piedmont Community College’s production that ended up being the motor for wanting to see Les Mis in London. I never really get to see Big Name actors/actresses- usually I see actors that are not Big Names, but have the potential to become one.
There was something that was really new about this production. In the past, I NEVER found common ground or sympathy for Javert. But when I saw Jeremy Secomb as Javert, I finally could feel that sympathy that was missing. That is a huge reason why Adam Bayjou/Jeremy Secomb was my strongest Valjean/Javert dynamic so far. Well, my strongest love triangle dynamic was found in London as well: I find it interesting that your strongest dynamic for a subplot may not individually consist of your favorite actors/actresses for a character. That was the case for my West End love triangle.
Before this production, I already knew who these characters were. After all, I spent a lot of time watching the film, reading the book, and researching the musical. I already knew who I had an emotional connection with: Valjean, Fantine, Eponine, and Enjolras and the students- those are my core favorite characters. I started being an emotional wreck right after Valjean was released- and that lasted till the end. There were emotions I felt in characters that was never felt before. I think I know why: it wasn’t just because of the actors, but due to reading the unabridged book the same summer and living a dream were huge reasons why.
Here is what I did after seeing the West End Production. I made the decision to not compare future casts to these actors. That would be unfair especially if you have an understudy. In addition, you wouldn’t be able to see the casts for who they are. The US Tour followed after- in 2017 and 2019. I originally thought it was in the West End where I was the most taken off guard, but it wasn’t. It actually was found within the US Tour. Here is what is fascinating about three of my stage casts- my 2015/2017/2019 casts all had an understudy: Adam Bayjou as Valjean, Talia Simone Robinson as Eponine, and Andrew Maughan as Valjean.
The love triangle sure took things for a turn in 2017/2019: usually, Eponine is the strongest actor or ends up being just as good as Marius, but not in the US Tour. Due to who I had as Marius and Cosette- Joshua Grosso and Jillian Butler, I was able to explore Marius and Cosette at a much deeper level. Especially who I had as Marius: Joshua actually made that character almost a core favorite. I saw these two paired with two Eponine actresses- it was interesting seeing how the love triangle could change with just one character.
How many Les Mis casts do I have? I have eight Les Mis casts- the film, 25th concert, community college, West End, US Tour- 2017/2019, 2019 Concert in Cinemas, and 10th concert. Who the Les Mis characters became is a combo of book/musical/my actors/actresses. It is kinda of odd bringing up the film and the 2019 concert- I experienced both in cinemas, but my opinion of Les Mis was different. When I first saw the film, I literally did not know how to respond, react, or feel: I wasn’t told Les Mis was a tragedy so that why I would go- I was no where close to being an emotional wreck. By the time I saw the 2019 concert in cinemas- I already was an emotional wreck and already obsessed with Les Mis. In some ways, I might have a 9th cast- if I decide to include the PBS Masterpiece Series.
Let me just say who my favorite actor for these characters are:
Valjean- can’t decide
Javert- Jeremy Secomb
Fantine- hard decision
Cosette- Jillian Butler
Marius- Joshua Grosso
Eponine- Samantha Barks (has the advantage of being first)
Enjolras- literally, like ALL Enjolras actors are fantastic
Thenardiers- Katy Secombe and Phil Daniels
Still can’t believe I was in London five years ago. As souvenirs I got the playbill (that was a cultural shock), poster, and a t-shirt. It actually was fitting that I saw Les Mis in London- the next day, the Bristol Pilgrimage would begin. So went from Valjean’s spiritual journey to my own. So, some of my favorite actors for these characters might seem puzzling, but you still have to keep in mind I live in the US.