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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Broadway comes to Barter Theatre in more than one way

Hannah Ingram (Fantine) with Pat McRoberts (Valjean) in a scene from
Hannah Ingram (Fantine) with Pat McRoberts (Valjean) in a scene from "Les Mis."
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Pat McRoberts: "This is going to be a special show."

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | May 29, 2013

Pat McRoberts, who plays Jean Valjean in Barter Theatre's new production of Les MisÚrables, may be a familiar face to long-time Barter Theatre patrons. He was last here in 1998 when he played in "WMKS Christmas 1942." Since then he's appeared in numerous regional theatre and television roles, and as Buddy in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" on its national tour and as Chris in "Miss Saigon," on Broadway and its national tour.

"It's pretty cool to be back," McRoberts says. " My last show here was WMKS Christmas 1942. I really got to know Eugene Wolf, Nick Piper and Ed Snodderly. It's great to come down and see them. Nick and I went out and played golf the first Monday I was back, and I had dinner with Eugene the other night. I haven't seen Ed yet, but I'm planning to get to The Down Home and get him out on the golf course. They're great guys and so talented. I like it here. This is a gem here, this theater. It's a pretty cool place, and you guys are lucky to have this around here. They do great storytelling. I know when they're looking for company members in New York, people are really interested, and they want to be part of it. It's hard to get in here. The one thing about this place is human capital. The people are fantastic, not just talented but caring and sweet and team members. Rick really knows how to pick people who are not just right for the role, but right for the job. I like to think I'm one of those too."

He got involved with this production when his agent told him about it. "I thought 'cool.' But you always have this thing as an actor, "oh I'm too young to play Valjean,' but obviously I'm not. I just never wrapped my mind around it that much. But a good friend of mine is doing Valjean on the 25th anniversary tour. We're similar in age, and we were both Chris in Miss Saigon' on Broadway; and when I found out he was doing it, I thought 'oh I can see myself doing that.'"

When he went to the audition, there were at least 50 people waiting to audition. "I went in, and Rick and I started talking, and then it was 'oh I guess you should sing,' Lee (the musical director) was there, too, and he played for me, and we had a great chemistry." Rick Rose says that while he hadn't thought of McRoberts as Valjean before the audition, he was "blown away" by him. "He's just brilliant, and he's got a gorgeous voice, and he's a terrific Valjean."

McRoberts thought it was a "good" audition, and a couple of days later he got a phone call with the good news that the role was his. He says he was excited, even though it meant leaving Jessica, his new wife, in New York City. "It sucks, she's in 'Spiderman' on Broadway, but we're going to be able to work it out, going back and forth. We'd been together for nine years before we got married, so we're kind of used to it, but it's tough."

They stay in touch using technology like FaceTime, calling and texting, and McRoberts says that helps. "But my dog doesn't know how to text, so it's kind of hard to communicate with him," he says. "I don't really like to go out of town for this long, but this was different and special. But it's hard."

It's not just hard being away from his wife; McRoberts says that the music is difficult as well. "I knew a lot of the arias, the ones that are on the cast album. There's a lot that's not on the cast album, things I was kind of familiar with, but didn't know that well. It's a lot of really beautiful music; there are a lot of recitatives that are between the storytelling that I didn't know. We just rehearsed the epilogue, and there are key changes, tempo changes, and it's really difficult. It's layered, and you're singing over top of people, and it's just beautiful. But Lee, the musical director, was great; he's a great teacher."

He says he also has a great rapport with Rose. "What's interesting about Rick is he has an idea and a vision, but it's a collaborative process. I think sometimes directors, when it's a big show that they really care about — like Rick cares about "Les Mis' -they're like, "oh no this is the way it's got to be' and Rick's definitely not like that. You don't want to handcuff your actors. You want them to bring their talent and creativity too, because that's even more that you're going to get out of the show; and he's good that way. We have a great rapport, and we work together well. He's helped me to develop this role. It's a really exciting time.

"I think the new concept is cool. I don't think you can go into that beautiful theatre over there and expect the usual performance of Les MisÚrables, and it shouldn't be. Barter tells stories uniquely and why shouldn't they do that with this one? In that intimate space over there, you're going to see it in a way you never have before. It's a unique perspective and theatrically much more exciting and visceral."

The production is different, and so is the rehearsal process. "Rehearsals are completely different from Broadway, because there you're focused on only one thing and rehearse from 10 to 6 every day. Sometimes they're just 10 days long, so you don't have a lot of time to learn it. Here we have a lot more time, but not really because people are doing two other shows. So it's strange I may only be in rehearsal for a couple of hours because someone has to go do another show. So it's a slower process.

"I think in some ways it helps — especially for my role — there are a lot of things I can do on my own. I have solos and recitatives that don't involve other people, so I can do it on my own."

He's also reading the book on his own. "It helps because you learn things about the character that don't show up in three hours. You learn how we got to this point, so you can connect some of the dots in this play. One of the first things is every chance he gets he escapes. It's not like just a couple of times, every chance he got, he tried. I think that says something about his character that you don't really learn in the play, but I think it's important."

"This is going to be a special show."

THERE'S MORE: McRoberts took a day off to go back to New York City to participate in The 24-Hour Musicals, a project that benefits The Orchard Project, a theatre workshop.

Click here to see a short documentary of the directors, writers and musicians as they create four musicals in 24 hours.

Amanda Aldridge and her team are busy creating costumes

Topics: Theatre

From left to right: Rick McVey (Javert), Hannah Ingram (Fantine) and Pat McRoberts (Jean Valjean).

Pat McRoberts declares that he is Jean Valjean.

Jean Valjean (Pat McRoberts), Marius (Stephen Scott Wormley) and Javert (Rick McVey).