For the 25th anniversary production of theatrical titan "Les Miserables," 21st century technology has enhanced the enduring epic. Inventive staging and re-imagined scenery, inspired by author Victor Hugo's paintings, make the much-lauded musical a new experience. Andrew Varela, who plays Javert, is thrilled to be a part of this bigger and even better hit.
"They've updated it with newer technology, with cinematic depiction's. The images that he (Hugo) painted are projected. It's very cool and the sequences will visually blow your mind. The back wall effectively becomes another character," he said during a phone interview, while he drove from Des Moines to Milwaukee. Varela marked his two-year anniversary with this company Oct. 7.
"It is so challenging and rewarding, and so loved. It has had such an impact, " he said. "The story spans the human experience - everyone can relate to it, everybody can get something from it," he said, noting that the show has been performed around the world.
Cameron Mackintosh's "Les Miserables" runs at the Fox Theatre through Sunday. The third-longest running show on Broadway, it is adapted from Hugo's 1862 French historical fiction, highly regarded as one of the best novels of the 19th century. It is about survival of the human spirit, the laws of nature and grace. While the show features multiple characters' stories, the main focus is Jean Valjean, sent to prison for 19 years - the first five for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family, the other 14 years for multiple escapes. Eventually becoming a successful man with a new identity, the town's police officer, Javert, becomes suspicious, as he was a guard where Valjean was incarcerated. It starts out in 1815 and ends during the June Revolution in 1832.
Previously, Valera played Jean Valjean for more than 300 performances on Broadway and later a national tour, but is content with switching roles.
"You find what makes each character, and you put your own interpretation to it. I find some nuance to the character, a new angle, and do the things I can to make the role my own. You just keep digging. I want to work with a director who wants that too. So far, it's worked," he said.
"Javert is a cop, first and foremost. He's a man. He is committed to doing his job, and he's good at it. Like Bruce Willis in `The Sixth Sense,' he realizes that all along he's been on the wrong side of it."
More than 700 performances later, he feels fortunate every night for the opportunity. When he steps on to the stage to sing "Stars," it is an electric moment for him. "This is my job, this is what I do," he said. "It's so gratifying."
The cast feels the same way, he said. "We all feel grateful to be doing something that matters and is so successful," he said. "This is the best tour, in terms of social interaction. We take care of each other."
Varela grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in economics and a minor in music, but he was always acting in shows. A particularly satisfying moment came when he performed at the Paper Mill Playhouse, which was near his childhood home, and former teachers came to see him, sent him congratulatory notes. "It was fun because I was the loud kid in the back of the classroom, and I got these notes that they were proud and glad it worked out for me."
Varela appeared on Broadway in "Sunday in the Park with George" and "Little Women," and has toured with "Pirates!" "Evita" and `Oklahoma," to name a few. He has settled comfortably into the life of a touring actor. He often travels with his wife, actress Susan Spencer, and sometimes their 10-year-old son. "We like meeting people and we like to eat. We've managed to make it work. We decided we would drive from city to city so that we could see areas of the country we'd never see, and now we've been to every state except Alaska."
The Varelas enjoyed spending time in St. Louis when he was on tour in "The Phantom of the Opera." The Fox is his favorite venue on the road, describing it as "breathtaking." They look forward to returning to Pappy's Smokehouse, and he plans to take his son to the City Museum and the Gateway Arch. He encouraged people to send him restaurant suggestions via his Twitter account, "It's been a great ride."