Camp Broadway recently got a hold of one of Broadway’s barricaders, Chris McCarrell, who plays Joly in 2014 revival of Les Miserables. We got to talk to him about backstage fun and how he came to be on the Great White Way.
What was your defining moment where you decided you wanted to act?
I remember the night so clearly. It was right before my freshman year of high school. I had decided to transfer into an all boys school and it had a really good drama department but I wasn’t sure I wanted to devote my life to theatre. I loved it but the lifestyle just seemed a little scary. The headmaster there was retiring and they threw this very fancy party for him. He was a big theatre supporter so they flew in all the alumni who went on to become actors to come sing. I remember being in the audience and just idolizing these guys so much. They seemed so together and when they sang they were just so frickin’ good. I talked to them after the concert and I just knew that this was the kind of guy I wanted to be. One of them was in the original cast of Wicked so as I sat on the car ride home trying to pick out his voice on the cast recording I remember pausing it and I told my parents I going to major in Musical Theatre. I went into my first year of high school pretty head strong and haven’t looked back since.
You’ve done a lot of community/regional theatre and university theatre. How does that compare to your experience on Broadway?
The biggest difference I would say is the amount of money put into the production. Everything from the sound design to the costumes it’s just insane how everything you touch and see and hear is just top notch. I was used to being around talented people but Broadway budgets are something you just have to experience from the inside out to really grasp. I remember they had trouble finding the right color of coat for me as my student, Joly. So I would go in and get refitted with a brand new coat every time they changed it or scratched the old one. I asked my dresser once “How much do you think each one of those cost?” and he said “Thousands, at least.” That’s something that just doesn’t happen anywhere else. It blows my mind still.
What has been your favorite role to play?
I would have to say Gabe in Next to Normal. It was my last role I did in college at Baldwin Wallace. There was something so exciting about playing a role that was other worldly. I was so used to playing humans, but this guy wasn’t even alive. Although his song suggests he is… repetitively. I had a lot of fun working on his physicality to make him seem just a little off from the beginning. I would have certain sections of the show where all of his movements would go slow mo for a few seconds and then resume like nothing happened. I liked playing around with stuff like that a lot every night. Also just the score of that show was so fun. Full blown pop drama. It was so fun to sing. I always went home exhausted in a really good way.
What was it like making your Broadway debut in such an iconic show?
The biggest difference I think we experienced from most shows was the amount of excitement about the production before we even opened. We all didn’t exactly understand the scope of this show’s following. Our first preview before the curtain even came up people just started SCREAMING. I was trying to be serious and row but all of us were just like “What. Is. Happening.” It’s been great to try to do the show justice every night because people come in with such personal relationship to the show already.
How did you prepare for your role as Joly?
It’s great that Les Miserables was based off a very thoroughly detailed novel. I read all the passages on Joly and Victor Hugo has such a distinct style with his characterizations. You can really imagine the person fleshed out when you read his descriptions. I started there and then I began Google searching fan art actually. I learned a lot seeing how different people drew him. I loved the idea of him being this messy little worrywart but when times got tough he steps up and has some steel to him. I’ve grown to really love him.
We love the backstage antics we see in Ramin’s vlog! What is it like backstage when he’s not filming?
Oh gosh. I wish I could say it is less crazy but it’s not. The show is so serious onstage that I think we subconsciously have become extra goofy off. We have a lot of different traditions we have grown into. Like every Saturday before our evening show we have a dressing room dance party where we all go nuts. And when we come off after the People’s Song, Keala Settle passes out leftover bread from the Inn with the mantra “Body of Christ, Body of Christ.” It all makes no sense but it’s little things like that that have become my favorite moments.
Do you have a favorite memory from being in Les Miserables or from acting experiences in general?
My favorite moment in Les Mis was after first preview when we were all on cloud nine in the dressing rooms getting dressed. The show went so well and it was the first time most of us had performed on a Broadway stage. But we heard this chanting outside the window of “Do you hear the people sing…” and we opened the window to look out and see the sidewalk filled with people singing our show. People started noticing us watching and then chaos just broke loose. So much screaming. We had spent so much time working on the show and then to see it greeted with such open arms the first night. I’ll never forget it.
What advice do you have for aspiring actors?
I would say that this industry is very big on others knowing more than you. And I think as artists it’s important to know that you are the master of your talent. Not someone else. If you keep doing work you’re proud of, others will notice. I try to stick by that.
Best stagedoor memory?
I had a really exhausting two show day once and I was just drained and not in the best spirits and this older man after I signed his playbill said to me, “You have a really fun job. Not everyone gets to walk out to this after a day’s work.” Something about that really stuck with me.
Best advice you’ve gotten?
Best backstage prank?
When we were performing on Good Morning America someone in the cast fell asleep ten minutes before we went on. So everyone left the green room and we had the stage manager run in and be like “WHAT ARE YOU DOING! YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE OUT THERE!” He freaked out. We were all so exhausted running on barely any sleep that it seemed like the funniest moment of our lives. We were a little slap happy.
Younger Brother in Ragtime and Moritz in Spring Awakening are two I can think of.