A Chat With Fantine As 25th Anniversary Tour of 'Les Miserables' Hits National Theatre

'Les Misérables'  at the National Theatre through Dec. 30.
'Les Misérables' at the National Theatre through Dec. 30.

It seems even the cast members of the U.S. national tour of the 25th Anniversary production of “Les Miserables” which opens Thursday, December 13, at the National Theatre here are caught up in the buzz surrounding the all-star movie version which opens later this month.

As it turns, even Fantine is interested in Fantine.

We spoke with Canadian actress and singer Genevieve Leclerc, who has taken over the role of Fantine in the production, in a “Les Miserables” tour stop Kansas City in a phone interview.

“Everyone’s very excited about the film, certainly,” she said. “We’re all trying to see the latest trailers, the latest news and reading everything about it.”

The movie buzz—including Oscar buzz for Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Ann Hathaway as Fantine—has been building steadily, along with trailer talk, and the stories about Hathaway shedding pounds and cutting off her dark tresses to play the role of Fantine.

“I’m a big fan of hers,” Leclerc said. “But no, I didn’t cut off my hair or do any that. I’d have to do it every day.”

But there is a long line of women who have played Fantine on stage, beginning with a silent movie version in 1913 (starring Marie Ventura) and moving on to 1980 when the French version starring Rose Laurens as Fantine appeared. But it was the 1985 Cameron MacIntosh-produced version, with music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and a book by Alain Boublil, which set the show—big, epic, spectacular and moving—on its way to record-breaking success in London, at the Kennedy Center where it opened in the United States and on Broadway.

Based on the great French novelist Victor Hugo’s novel about Jean Valjean, the heroic figure imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread and his nemesis, the policemen Javert who hunts him down and finds him again in the middle of a revolution in Paris in the early 1800s, “Les Miserables,” the musical opened with Patti Lupone in the role of Fantine, the working class girl who’s forced into prostitution to provide for the safety of her daughter Cosette. Valjean becomes her and her daughter’s protector and so it goes. The 25th anniversary production features new staging, and scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo himself.

Leclerc takes over for Betsy Morgan on this U.S. 25th anniversary national tour. She is the latest in a long line of Fantines—and Jean Valjeans and Javerts and Thenardiers (husband wife), Enjolrases (the heroic rebel leader of the barricades)m, Cosettes, Eponines, Mariuses and Gavroches.

“It’s such a wonderful opportunity and its very challenging,” Leclerc said. “I had never seen the show, except for a French version I saw in Canada a long time ago. That’s one of the things you learn to do. You can’t actually let the French creep in, even though the characters are all French.”

“I’m very much aware of all the women who have played this part, and I know that every one puts their own gift, their talent and ideas on the part and so will I,” she said. “You have really one major solo song that sets you apart and you have to put everything in that song, all the emotions, everything that’s happened to her.”

Among the many songs in “Les Miserables” which have become standards as epic ballads, none is quite so wrenching as Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream,”, a lament on the life of Fantine, who is sinks so low as to sell her hair in order for her daughter to be taken care of. The song requires a big voice and big emotions. If you look for Leclerc on YouTube, you’ll find her singing from the production of “Torch—A Cycle of Love Songs” in which she was a lead vocalist at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in New York. The voice is big and emotionally big-bodied.

Leclerc graduated from the Ecole Superieure de Theatre Musical in Montreal where she performed in productions of “Les Enfants de Donquichote,” “Devant Les Maitress," “Bliss” and “Les Deesses.”

Throughout her professional life, which included stints at sea performing as a guest singer for both the Princess and Royal Carribbean Cruise lines, Leclerc immersed herself in Broadway musical standards in Canada where she appeared in “A Chorus Line" and “Side Show.” Before joining the national tour, she was in “Guys and Dolls,” a favorite of hers. She also performed with Theodore Bikel and Patsy Gallant in a musical adaptation of “Lies My Father Told Me.”

“You could say I have traveled on the high seas, but this, this is so different,” Leclerc said. She had a candid way and enthusiasm about her, recalling seeing the glaciers on a cruise to Alaska, the thunderous noises of ice falling and the love she has for musicals. “This is amazing to me—this journey.”

This production marks her first national tour, and she’s drinking it all in. “This is the American heartland, here in Kansas. I’ve never been here. On a tour like this, you see America, a lot of it.”

(“Les Miserables" — which features Peter Lockyer as Jean Valjean, Andrew Varela as Javert, Timothy Gulan as Thenardier, Shawna M. Hamic as Madame Thenardier, Jason Forbach as Enjolras, Briana Carlson-Goodman as Eponine, Devin Ilaw as Marius and Lauren Wiley as Cosette — runs at the National Theatre through Dec. 30.)

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