In Part 4 of our series of interviews with the director and cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s Les Misérables, meet Harrison Smith.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell us who you play and where local theatregoers may have seen you perform.
Harrison: Hi! I’m Harrison Smith and I play Marius in Les Misérables at Kensington Arts Theatre. Recently, I have been seen on the KAT stage in Spring Awakening, Ragtime, Parade, and Next to Normal as well as at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre last summer in Into the Woods as Jack and the summer before in Avenue Q as Nicky.
Why did you want to be in this production and play the character you are playing? What do you admire or not admire about your character?
A lot of factors played into why I wanted to be a part of this production. First and foremost, it’s Les Mis. That right there is reason enough to want to be involved in this show. Second to that, I have adored the several experiences I have had working with KAT. I believe their stellar reputation and the recognition by publications (DCMTA especially) and awards (WATCH, Ruby Griffith) makes them one of the best theatres in the area. I also could not imagine a better team to be putting on this show. I have had the opportunity to work with both Darnell ([Morris the Director] and Stuart [Weich, the Musical Director] separately and when I found out they were finally teaming up for a production I was determined to be a part of it because I knew that it would be something very special.
As for why I wanted to play Marius, I just wanted to wear a cool fancy French costume. Just kidding…mostly. I love Marius because he is such a dynamic character. He wears his heart on his sleeve in an incredibly strong way. He doesn’t allow his emotions to overcome him but, instead he leans into them, takes hold, and embraces what he feels completely. This makes Marius such a beautiful soul and ultimately a hero.
What did you perform in your audition and when did you find out that you had the role?
For my initial audition, I sang “Why God, Why?” from Miss Saigon, then at callbacks a ton of stuff. The callback for Marius was crazy long, and before it most of the men called back for Marius were also called back for Enjolras, so lots of us ended up singing almost all day from around 11 am-4:00 pm. I remember for Marius we sang “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” several times, the beginning of “In My Life”, then we did “Marius and Cosette” which is the “Heart Full of Love” reprise with all those called back for Cosette and Valjean. At that point I was thinking, “WHOA they could cast this show any number of ways and it would be an excellent show.”
I found out I had the role either late in the evening after callbacks or the following day-it was relatively soon after. My phone ringing with the call actually woke me up from a nap so that wasn’t cool -but alas good news.
Talk about your solo or ‘big number,’ and what does the audience learn about your character when you sing that song?
I don’t know if you could really call any of Marius’ numbers ‘big numbers’ mostly because while many of them move forward the production or the character in a ‘big number’ way, they are not barnburners like “Valjean’s Soliloquy” or “Stars.” That being said, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” shows off a changed Marius. For the better part of the show, he is a romantic and an idealist until he is transformed by experiencing a love like his for Cosette and on top of that: coming face to face with death. “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” finds him deeply remorseful and guilt ridden with a future he is unsure is worth even living in, despite the fact that it is with Cosette.
What have been some of the challenges preparing for your role and performing in the KAT space?
The KAT space is unique because it forces a director to strip away anything that is not necessary and allows the audience as well as the performers to get to the heart of piece.
From day one, it was impressed upon us actors that this was not going to be a staged concert version of the show. We were pushed by Darnell in the rehearsal room to bring out elements of the characters that are often neglected. For example, there is a scene that takes place almost immediately after “Stars” that involves Marius using Eponine to try and get her to search for Cosette. In this moment in the rehearsal room, we talked a lot about embracing the fact that yes, Marius would purposefully lean into these deep romantic feelings that Eponine carries for him because while he is truly a sweet and genuine person, sometimes you have to do what you have to do. We have been really lucky that Darnell is one of the most fearless directors when it comes to showing an ugly side of humanity.
By virtue of the fact that we are not able to fit 40 people on the stage in the theatre, it also has required some creative use of cast members. I believe I appear on stage in four smaller roles before even stepping into the character of Marius.
Why do you think Les Misérables is still so popular almost 30 years after opening on Broadway?
No idea. I still can’t believe people read that giant book. I would place my bets however on it having to do with the music or the themes. It seems that Victor Hugo created a timeless story. Look at Ukraine where there are students building literal barricades to take a very similar stand against an unfair government just like that of Marius and the students in Les Mis.
What character that you are not playing is your favorite, and what song that you are not singing is your favorite and why?
I think all the leads are absolutely killer roles and I would genuinely love to play any of them: Jean Valjean, Javert, Enjolras, or Thenardier. I do have a deep weird affinity for all the bit characters in this show. So I would toss in the mix the Barricade Caller, who has the awesome solos in the second act and the Foreman in act one. In our production both of those oddly enough are played by the awesome Brad Carnes-Stine. So I guess my answer is: I want to play Brad.
Favorite song I am not singing: too hard….pass.
What is the best advice Director Darnell Morris and Musical Director Stuart Weich has given you about shaping your performance?
Darnell’s best advice was for me to not be afraid to be young on stage. Age wise, I am already there, but there is a certain way as actors we want to carry ourselves when tackling material this heavy that may age us a bit. Marius is not fully a man but certainly not a child, so it was crucial for us to paint with strokes of naivety as often as we paint with passion. He also just possesses a natural ability to teach through collaboration. I don’t know of another director who is as gifted and in tune with his actors as Darnell.
Stuart is just a magical musical wizard. He has such an ear for the way that the emotion connects to the phrasing of the music. Many times in the rehearsal room would come up to me after a number and say, “sounds too musical, try this” and suggest something tiny like changing a rhythm of one bar that will completely alter the way one or two words 4 bars later will come out, thus changing the entire meaning of the song. It’s just pure magic.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Les Misérables at KAT?
I want people to remember that for as epic and sprawling this story is at the core-it’s an intimate story about the human condition.
Les Misérables plays through May 24, 2014 at Kensington Arts Theatre performed at Kensington Town Hall-3710 Mitchell Street in Kensington, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (206) 888-6642, or purchase them online.
Amanda Gunther’s review of ‘Les Misérables’ at Kensington Arts Theatre on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Meet The Director and Cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s ‘Les Misérables’ Part 1: Director Darnell Morris.
Meet The Director and Cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s ‘Les Misérables’ Part 2: Paul Tonden (Javert).
Meet The Director and Cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s ‘Les Misérables’ Part 3: David Merrill (Jean Valjean).