“Les Misérables” has been seen by more than 70 million people in 44 countries making it the world’s most popular musical. The epic runs Sept. 25-30 at the Hobby Center in Houston.
The touring production of Cameron Mackintosh’s Tony Award-winning musical is part of the Mischer Neurosciences Broadway at the Hobby Center series.
Paige Smallwood, a recent graduate of London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music, plays Eponine, the tragic teenager whose love goes unrequited in the saga. In a recent interview, she shared the excitement of being asked to join the cast, how she and actor Joshua Grosso stay in character back stage, and more behind-the-scenes tidbits, concluding with Smallwood’s advice on how to capture the ultimate Les Mis experience.
Were there challenges playing a role many people are very familiar with?
I was terrified to make a choice that would take an audience member out of the world of the play because it wasn’t “true” to Eponine’s essence. I did as much research as I could, formulated my own thoughts about this beautiful and fierce young woman, but also prepared myself to walk into that first rehearsal (and be asked to) replicate what had come before me.
To my pleasant surprise, this team allowed me to be me. They didn’t want me to be a cookie-cutter version of someone else, they wanted me to find Eponine for myself.
How would you describe your character?
She is a strong, intelligent and emotionally expressive person. She’s the type of person who, when she loves, loves unconditionally and unapologetically. She’s wise beyond her years, and so incredibly brave.
What are some highlights of the performance for you?
During “The People’s Song”, I’m waiting just off stage to make an entrance. I’m standing in the wings watching all of my cast mates sing about revolution and fighting for what they believe in. Every show, without fail, I get chills. It’s incredibly emotional, and I think to myself “How did I ever get this lucky?”
Josh Grosso (he plays Marius) will probably hate me for saying this, but each show, as he and I hide behind the gate into Valjean and Cosette’s garden, he looks at me as Marius just before he runs out to sing, and I can see the love in his eyes for this other person. But every night, as Eponine, I can’t help hoping that look is for me. That’s how you know you have an amazing scene partner. It isn’t a moment that the audience can see, it’s just for us, Marius and Eponine.
Describe getting the call about joining the national touring company.
I was actually in the running for the United Kingdom tour. I had auditioned for the show through my master’s program at The Royal Academy of Music and the head of my department called and said, “Paige, I’m so sorry. They can’t offer you the role in the UK tour.” Of course, I started crying and saying, “It’s okay, I understand,” trying to stay positive about the whole thing. And then I heard, “but they CAN offer you the role in the U.S. tour!” I was in complete shock! I just kept saying “okay, okay,” until finally we hung up and I just sat on my bed in silence.
There’s a song from another musical, “Flora the Red Menace,” entitled “A Quiet Thing,” that is about having your dreams come true and it not feeling the way you dreamed it would feel. That’s exactly how I felt. The line of the song is: “When it all comes true, just the way you’ve planned, it’s funny but the bells don’t ring. It’s a quiet thing.” (John) Kander and (Fred) Ebb really hit the nail on the head with that one.
What are some things in store for Houston audiences that make this “Les Mis” unique?
The sheer awesomeness of this cast! I have phoned my mom about it over and over again! The show itself is phenomenal, and the reimagining from the original Les Misérables is brilliant, but what really makes this show for me are the people in it (both on stage and off). Also, this show is a living/breathing piece of art. We feed off of your energy as much as you feed off of ours so don’t be afraid to be a part of the experience! We love when our audiences are vocal and energetic. And who knows, maybe you’ll see something unique that night. After all, that is the magic of live theater!
Cover photo | The company of Les Misérables performs “One Day More” | Matthew Murphy