When Patrick Dunn took over as Jean Valjean in the national tour of the Broadway hit “Les Miserables” in December, he became the latest in a list of musical theater actors to play the iconic character.
“The tricky thing is balancing the classic notes hit by all the actors prior to me, including the iconic Colm Wilkinson (who originated the role) and the more recent Alfie Boe. I have to make sure all of those notes, literally and figuratively, are there. Then I can add a little of my flavor while maintaining the integrity of the performance,” Dunn said. “That’s a fine line to balance, but it’s a fun one with which to play.”
“Les Miserables” will be in Greenville for an eight-performance stop at the Peace Center beginning March 3. “Les Miserables” was last in Greenville in 2017.
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, “Les Misérables” tells the story of Valjean, a convict released from a French prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child and for subsequent escape attempts. After his release, he breaks his parole and is pursued by Inspector Javert, a man whose view of justice excludes mercy.
So, how does Dunn and the rest of the cast balance iconic with new? A resident director travels with the national tour. In addition, Dunn studied past performances of the show.
“Valjean has been done by the best of the best. There’s so much source material. I’ll mix and match what I like until it becomes this conglomeration of what I think is the quintessential Valjean,” he said. “I’m not here to reinvent the wheel of Valjean in the Les Mis machine. I’m here to make sure it is still operating up to the caliber that the audience expects.”
Musical theater is nothing new for Dunn, who made his Broadway debut at age 12 when he played young Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”
Before he landed the role of Valjean, Dunn was an understudy on the national tour of “The Phantom of the Opera,” another Cameron Mackintosh-produced show.
“Playing Valjean is a wonderful opportunity,” he said. “It’s a dream, an exhausting dream.”
Dunn said the role is one of the most difficult he’s had.
“It’s quite a marathon. It is three hours during which Valjean makes the journey from a hardened convict with hair to his shoulders to a withered old man. In the middle, there’s love and redemption and forgiveness of himself and others,” Dunn said. “It’s a beautiful story to tell eight times a week.”
This production of “Les Misérables” features new staging and scenery inspired by paintings by Hugo.