They’re calling it “Les Mis for the 21st century.”
September 10, glorious new staging and dazzling reimagined scenery will debut in Austin, with the return of Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Les Misérables for one week at Bass Concert Hall. Now in its 33rd year, Les Misérables is still the world’s most popular musical, shattering box office records across the world.
Set against the backdrop of 19th century France, Les Misérables tells the story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption. A timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit, audience members can expect to hear classics such as, “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Stars,” and “Bring Him Home.”
Along with the Oscar-winning movie version, more than 120 million people in 52 countries and 22 languages have now seen Les Misérables. The musical is the fifth longest-running Broadway production of all time.
Ahead of this blockbuster’s return to Austin we spoke with Matt Shingledecker, who plays Enjolras.
How do you feel about being part of this iconic musical as it returns to Central Texas?
In short, I couldn’t be happier. Les Mis is back after a four-year absence, and I’m back in Austin after a five-year absence–I came through Austin in 2014 as Fiyero in Wicked—and I’m very much looking forward to revisiting this wonderful city. I’ve now been with Les Mis longer than any other production in my career, over two years and running, and I have no plans of leaving anytime soon. That is a testament to the show itself, and the village that is this company.
Tell us more about your character Enjolras and his leadership role in the play.
Enjolras is the leader of an organization of students fighting for universal education for children and a true French Republic in early 1830s Paris. He is more representative of an ideal than an actual human being, which is an interesting needle to thread as an actor. For most of my career I’ve played romantic leads, so this is a welcome departure. My work feels particularly poignant right now given the ongoing protests in Hong Kong for democracy. They have even taken to singing the People’s Song on many occasions. The rights and opportunities that so many of us take for granted here are still being fought for throughout the world.
Do you have a favorite scene or song in Les Mis?
In my humble opinion, “One Day More” is one of the best Act I finales in music theater history. To get to stand front and center as a wall of sound and intersecting plots come together is most certainly one of my favorite moments in the show.
I heard that the set for Les Mis is inspired by paintings of Victor Hugo. Can you tell us more?
Victor Hugo was quite the Renaissance man, and his paintings in this production serve as beautiful backdrops to the play. It really feels like a play even though it sings as an opera. We have the sets, props, lighting and of course direction to thank for that. For example, the prop muskets in the show weigh between 20 and 30 pounds, apiece. It just feels real to inhabit this world, which makes the job of an actor much easier, not to mention fun.
How does Les Misérables compare to previous musicals you’ve starred in?
I’ve been very blessed throughout my career to play some iconic roles in some iconic musicals. But this musical, unlike any other, has touched multiple generations of theatergoers. Meeting both a patron who saw the original production back in the ‘80s at the same time as a young person experiencing it for the first time at the stage door after the show, reminds me that I’m part of something quite powerful that stands the test of time.
Tell us why our readers should come see Les Misérables.
The audiences, to our surprise at first, often cheer like they’re at a rock concert. A musical that translates to “The Wretched” eliciting that kind of response…need I say more?
Cover: The company of Les Misérables performs “One Day More.” Photo Matthew Murphy