Lovely ladies so many in this show! Come in and read about them, so you’ll know before you go! Lovely ladies, doubling up their roles, read all of their reactions, hopes and dreams, and hear their goals! Lovely ladies come along and join them— lovely ladies—in Les Misèrables at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia. I sat down with three of the lovely ladies of the ensemble, Heather Marie Beck, Coby Kay Callahan, and Dayna Marie Quincy to find out what life in the barricade is like for the women.
Just to get our readers reacquainted with you ladies, can you tell us when we last saw you at Toby’s?
Dayna: I did A Christmas Carol back at Christmas and then I was in the extension of The Wiz at Toby’s of Baltimore and before that I did The Color Purple last fall here in Columbia, with the Helen Hayes nomination for Celie—and before that it was Legally Blonde.
Coby: I was also nominated for my role as Celie in The Color Purple. Just kidding. J I was most recently the swing in Fiddler on the Roof, went in a few times, even once as Tzeitel, and before that I was Elsa in The Sound of Music over at Toby’s of Baltimore. And then last summer I was the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Heather: I just did a reprisal of Sister Robert Ann in Nunsense over at Toby’s of Baltimore, then it was Fruma-Sarah in Fiddler and before that I did Hot Nostalgia, ghost of Christmas past in Christmas Carol and reprised Potiphar’s wife in Joseph, and Brooke Wyndham in Legally Blonde. I think that’s everything.
Heather you were nominated for a Helen Hayes Award too, right?
Heather: Does ensemble and the music direction of a show I was in count? The ensemble when we did Hairspray at Columbia the first time was nominated. Now, I seriously had this conversation with someone and I didn’t feel silly for thinking the way I had been—I definitely was shown another point of view. When a Music Director of a show I was in gets nominated for Best Musical Director— that’s what the award is, right? I feel like I’m a part of that win/nom. Now, someone told me recently that that is a selfish way to think since I am not the “Musical Director,” which totally put me in my place. I did not arrange any of the magical music that made that director win. But I do feel that if that Musical Director didn’t have a cast to execute his or her arrangements— well…then how could their magic be heard? I don’t mean that to sound pompous because we wouldn’t be anywhere without our Musical Director but what I mean is that it’s the most amazing feeling to me to be a part of the sound and musical that moved so many people enough to be nominated for that particular award and get a musical nod from Helen Hayes. I get caught up in the awesome big feeling of something really meaningful. And it makes me feel a part of it. It’s really hard to explain without sounding like I’m stealing from the director. When the best Musical Director or best Director or best Ensemble happens I feel like I’m a part of it.
So to actually answer your question I was a part of Hairspray’s Best Ensemble and I got to walk around The Helen Hayes Awards ceremony with a little red ribbon that said so and it felt great. But it felt just as great when I was in Jekyll and Hyde— Best Direction and Toby won and Joseph and the lalala—(where Chris Youstra was nominated for Best Musical Direction and then Ragtime—with just 9 nominations mostly characters and some other stuff but my memory sucks—but being in those! It was so cool! Okay, that’s my Hayes story. I suppose we should get into the actual questions now.
What was the initial reaction when you ladies had learned that you had been cast as a part of Les Misèrables?
Heather: Sooo excited! I like the big shows best. Meaty shows, I mean. Heavy— you know what I mean? With substance! I’ve never been very familiar with this show.
Dayna: Me neither, not the way so many of the others are.
Heather: Wait, that’s not exactly true. When I was pretty young…well, 5th to 8th grade, around there, my dad and I watched Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean in the 10th Anniversary Concert version and my father’s singing style has always reminded me of that time when we watched that. I don’t know if my dad thinks his style came from that man but I think he’d probably say it influenced it a little. He was so amazing! And for many years after—my dad performed “Bring Him Home” at concerts. He’s great at it, by the way. So my knowledge and memories of Les Mis are really tied up in that.
And whenever I tried to watch that concert version—the 10 year version not the 25 years version, which is still good but doesn’t move me like the other one does—I bawled! I couldn’t get through one song hardly without completely crying. It’s Shawn’s (my husband’s) favorite musical but I couldn’t sit down and watch it because I’d sob! Ugh, it touched something in me that I didn’t/don’t even know that I have, I guess. So for a while I wouldn’t see the recent movie either— and definitely not in a public theatre! No way!
So yeah, because of all that, I was pretty excited. Curious too. To see what the theater could do. Like I said, I love to be a part of the meaningful ones—they remind me of what we as actors bring to audience members. That’s what got me into theater back at age 18! I couldn’t believe there was something out there that could make me feel something so huge. Something that could make me cry just by watching it.
Coby: I was super thrilled and just so happy because I don’t know what would have happened if I had not gotten into Les Mis. Everyone knows that I wanted to get into it so bad and thank God I don’t have to think about the repercussions of not being in it. I just really wanted to be in it. I think there are varying degrees of how bad an actor wants to be in it and mine was pretty high. And there are a million reasons why I wanted to—but mostly it’s the music.
Dayna: I was just so shocked because the auditions were so intense.
Coby: To know that you finally got in it, when I found out I was like, “When do rehearsals start. Let’s go. Let’s do it.”
Dayna: Yes, exactly. I felt the exact same way. I was excited! I had not expected it, had no idea, so I was completely shocked. I’m still excited!
What has the overall experience of working with Directors Toby Orenstein and Steven Fleming as well as Musical Director Christopher Youstra been like?
Dayna: Well I just love working with Toby. For me it’s just an ongoing comedic act with her. She keeps me laughing. She’s great. Chris too, he keeps me laughing. I feel so great working with them. This is my first time working with Steve, but he fits very well with me, and there was no anxiety at all. They’re all just great.
Heather: I’m always in awe of Toby. What an amazing woman! When she talks— shut up! Because what she says is important and honestly, for me—a learning experience. My school for theater has been Toby’s and everything in it. I think she and the entire theatre/people I’ve met, work ethics, what I don’t always love, and the things that I do love…all that has been a huge learning experience and I’m so lucky to work with her. That’s been my feeling from the get-go. I’m not blowing smoke. That’s how I feel. Lots of people don’t understand that sentiment. Many people do as well, but I’m OK with that. I used to try to explain, like I’m doing now, but everyone feels strongly about different things. One of my dreams was working at Toby’s. Look what’s happened! She’s great!
Steven has been awesome. I knew him a little before and didn’t know what to expect from him as a director. But he’s very open to thoughts from actors and I love that. He’s got his own agenda—duh—director. But he doesn’t shoot down ideas. He considers them and I like that about him.
Chris Youstra is an incredible talent, and he is so passionate about his work. Interestingly enough, you don’t always find that in a musical director. Not everyone gets to work on emotional shows so maybe that’s what’s different. He’s hard on you. But that’s what makes him great. You don’t for Chris half-assed. Never. And the production is amazing because of that.
Coby: I had never been directed by Toby before and this is my first time working with Youstra so working with both of them is awesome, especially Toby. She’s hysterical but literally so passionate. You see her emoting from the audience and you see her on the stage emoting with her eyes and just looking at you. And she knows what she wants. She really wanted that set and she was so worried so much if it ws even going to happen, but she got it. She made it happen.
Steve is great because he can tell when a scene is missing a little something and he fixes it. And I love Youstra. He doesn’t give up on sound. He knows how to blend too! I sing soprano, second soprano, and alto throughout the show and he really just blends and gets it how he wants it to sound. He’s very funny but he’s so knowledgeable and smart. He put together an amazing orchestra, I cried the first time hearing them.
For Fantine the real villains of the show are the Factory Workers, do you find this to be true?
Dayna: I absolutely love being a Factory Worker. It’s my favorite part of the show. I do think they’re villains and I love it! I’ve never really had the chance to play a catty villain before. I think the closest I ever came was probably Legally Blonde but that was sorority girl and not like this. To play this catty, bitchy character – it’s great!
Heather: I think Fantine’s villain has been her life so far. Her choices have made her what she is and shaped her daughter’s life. The factory and workers are just another factor in what has been a hard life in her mind. Also, she’s rather young in her experiences. At that age we were all experiencing things that made us who we are today. Decisions that, for good or bad, change us. We can look back and see this and hopefully know that without these terrible things that happened—we wouldn’t be who we are today. She never gets to do that. She’s dead before she could. Too young…happens in real life. It wasn’t in her cards.
Coby: I look at the bigger picture and I think a lot of Les Mis is about what happens when someone is given a second chance and in Fantine’s case the factory girls don’t give her any slack, whereas Jean Valjean gets cut slack by the priest. So there’s not one particularly villain.
Dayna: It’s just pretty bad circumstances. Everyone is struggling. It’s pretty ‘dog eat dog,’ you know – ” I gotta eat, I gotta make sure I’m OK, and what do I have to do to stay alive?” That sort of thing. So it’s like that for everyone, not just Fantine.
Coby: The higher-ups really have the upper hand here. And you sort of see that. When we get to “At the End of the Day” you can really see how much someone else can really ruin someone’s life.
Heather: Long winded story— everyone sees her differently, that’s what I think.
The costumes in this show are pretty extravagant. How many changes do you go through, and which ones are your favorites?
Heather: My favorite costume? I have ten million costume changes and this show at the beginning was sooo hard! I couldn’t believe how many changes and things you had to figure out— based on those changes! Ugh. I was a mess— track sheets a mile long so that I could keep track of who I was and where! I’m better now. I don’t need a list to know what’s happening. Memory has prevailed! Saints be praised!
Dayna: Oh my gosh! From opening until the middle of Act I that’s all we do is quick change after quick change after quick change.
Coby: Let’s start out springing and then take it to a low run and then go jogging. And then at the top of Act II we star sprinting again. When my tables ask who I am playing in the show I say, “Well I’m in in the ensemble with six or seven different costume changes, see if you can spot them all.” As far as my favorite? Well, I love all my costumes but I love the costume that I wear to the trial scene. I have no lines in that scene, I’m just there silently interacting with the children while John Dellaporta goes on trial for being Valjean, but it’s just my favorite.
Dayna: My favorite is my barricade costume because it’s kind of tomboyish. I mean, you can clearly see I’m a girl, but it’s tomboyish. It’s got a belt and a scarf all coming across my body. I like it. I’m down with the barricade.
Heather: Favorite costume? My Factory Worker costume. I feel the most solid in that costume, all put together.
Coby: Can you make sure that I give a shout out to David Gregory and Shannon Maddox for all they do? Because the detail…I mean right down to the arm warmers— and no offense to any other costume designer out there! And a shout out to Larry Munsey for his wigs! Because my red hooker wig? Oh. My. God. So great!
Which song was the most difficult for you ladies during rehearsals? The one that took the most effort to get where it is now?
Heather: Oh my God! I just peaked at how many questions you still have to ask us, I should try to shorten these answers up. I’m a talker! I blame my dad. I blame him in love. But rehearsals? All? Not really sure about then but I know during tech the wedding was a bear. Got it now. Got it now.
Coby: When you come in knowing Les Mis from the cassette tapes and the CDs from over the years—yes – it’s cassette tapes—there are a couple songs where you’re just like “Uh?” The cart crash scene – let’s write this one down. The lines in “Turning” and the beginning of the wedding. End scene. Done. I’m not even in the cart scene and I learned it because it was so confusing.
Dayna: Coming from no knowledge of Les Mis, I mean I knew “On My Own” from music class and my vocal books, but the wedding tripped me up. And “Turning” blew my mind. Absolutely. I think that was it. I had to do some individual studying for “Turning.”
Coby: The cart scene— it’s just these two lines, and they’re difficult because you don’t really get to work with them unless you’re working on the production. I think they tripped everyone up.
What’s the song in the show that you wish you could sing but aren’t singing?
Dayna: Of course it’s “On My Own.” Actually, wait. Not even. I like “Little Fall of Rain.” I really like that song just as an ensemble member hearing it. I just really like it. It’s sad but so emotional. Eponine goes through this amazing evolution but the song is still Eponine and her feelings from Act I, all coming out there—you know her “I love you, and I’m dying but please still love me.” It’s my favorite song over all, I just love it. Getting to understudy for Eponine is fantastic because I might get the chance to sing it!
Coby: Could we just add a line for my character in “One Day More?” I just want to sing there with everyone singing on top of each other. So how about I just get a line and I’ll just belt some stuff. But no, seriously—and Youstra is going to kill me – but I love “A Heart Full of Love.” I also just love when everyone is singing all together like during “Rue Plummet” and “One Day More” because I get to sing a lot. So I’m very happy with what I have.
Heather: The “Red and Black” song. “Bring Him Home,” and Marius’ song “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables.” Definitely that one. But “Bring Him Home” connects me with my earlier knowledge of the show and my dad, so that one too.
What is the most challenging non-singing part of the show for you and why?
Coby: That’s a hard one.
Dayna: That is a hard one. I don’t even know. Backstage? Figuring out my presents was pretty difficult. On stage? Maybe transitioning through the barricade. Being a female who is present at the barricade and trying to figure out why I’m there.Trying to figure out who I was as an individual because the barricade battles are about unity and us fighting together, so figuring out who I was as an individual female and why I was there, that was challenging.
Coby: Figuring out what to eat backstage was pretty hard. But the on stage stuff, I don’t think it’s hard, it’s more fun. All the moments when I’m on stage as a prostitute where I decided that I had a little extra money in my bra so that I would have something to count, to hide from my pimp, that no one but me knew about—until this interview. Moving my skirt a certain way to show a little more leg, it’s what I do to keep from just standing like Coby on stage. Also the costume changes, with all the makeup and the wigs, coming on and off. But I mean it’s all in good fun or we wouldn’t be here.
Heather: Thinking…wait! Are there non-speaking parts?? Yes…none I think of quickly. But I love the line and circumstances behind Javert and Valjean when Valjean tells him “You are wrong and always have been wrong…” About Javert’s feelings about him and convicts in general. It gets me. Not exactly sure why. It moves me somehow.
What is the one moment that makes your heart swell every night when you see it?
Coby: Are you ready for the list? Here comes the list. I’ll start from the top of the show…I get to watch Dan Felton’s prologue because I change really quickly. And I go to watch it every single night. That is awesome. It gets me really excited about the show. I love “At the End of the Day” it’s so ferocious, and everyone’s singing their faces off, and the desperations, it’s not hard to work up tears there. I love when Ben is doing all of “Red and Black” he’s doing things with his voice that a lot of Enjolras’ don’t even find. He’s leaping up in his voice. I love “One Day More” and “The Epilogue.” It’s heart-wrenching!
Heather: You know— the dates on the floor? When I see those, it makes me excited. The passing of time—which I never totally got from watching the concert version—is neat. A little thing – and maybe it’s silly – but it’s exciting, on to the next part of life! It’s a big transition!
Dayna: Musically for me… “The Prologue.” That damn Dan is a musical genius. The first runthrough I was floored. He just sets the pace. Musically, Ben as Enjolras I love listening to him, because he makes beautiful sounds. Taking our bows is great because you get to see the audience’s faces and all their reactions. To see people who had no idea what they were seeing and how they were moved by it – it’s very rewarding.
Coby: Dan’s bow just makes anyone cry. With Jean Valjean – you have to be with him the whole time because if not then you might as well bring the curtain down. And the whole cast is just behind him as well. We’ve all cried at his bow, he’s so amazing and so humble. He’s the glue that holds us all together.
This show runs for 15 weeks and it’s a very heavy intensely emotional piece. What are you ladies doing to keep up the energy for yourselves so that you can keep the audiences engaged during the course of the run?
Coby: I’ve got an answer for this. At the beginning of the show before the show really starts, Dayna and I have to be farmers before we go change into Factory Workers. We will stand in the aisle and say “So much is about to happen.” We will laugh. The roller coaster is going up the hill, and we look at each other, – me and Dayna – and we just say it— “So much is about to happen!”
Dayna: I really feel it, every day too. I just— so much! These next three hours, so much is about to happen.
Coby: We say it every day. And double show days is 12 hours each, each show is its own little roller coaster. We start with a sprint then a little jog and we finish with that little sprint into the epilogue. The boys and girls are separated in the dressing room—because we actually have little boys and girls in the show with us this time around—but the girls, we have a lot of fun getting ready.
Dayna: I just like to find as many ways to reinvent stuff, like new ways to sit during “Bring Him Home” or a new way to wear my hat. Nothing major. And oh man! I love listening to Dan (and Greg when he goes in for Dan) I love listening to them sing that song. I’m supposed to be asleep but I never get bored with listening to them!
Coby: It’s easy to keep up the energy with the intensity of this show itself. A lot of what we sing is so biting that if you don’t sing it correctly you just won’t have that energy.
Heather: It’s a long run for sure! And a long show, but when I’m onstage for this show—it means the world. I am not bored. And no one on that stage bores me. If the audience keeps standing up, unknowingly reminding me how touched one can feel—well how can you get bored? I saw a woman on the floor stand up at the end wiping tears away and not afraid to be doing it in front of 300 people. If that’s what we can do for people—then I’m giving them everything I got for four months. The moment I get bored, that’s what I’m going to think of. If I feel unmotivated—that will remind me to get over it and do what we were hired to do. Not even that—to do or find what made us so excited to do this show in the first place and although it makes me sound like a goody-two-shoes—I hope people did this show because it means something to them. That can’t be true for every show you do, we all need work. But the moment you get bored with your work—find something else to do.
What’s the dream role that you would want to play, gender factors excluded?
Dayna: Oh, either of the Thènardier’s they’re great! I love—even during The Color Purple—I love comedy. I’m a big comedic person and I love finding comedic stuff in the intensity of shows like these. The Thènardier’s are comic and you get to relax and distress with them in the tavern. It’s great. And I’d just love to do it.
Heather: Actually for me, it’s still a girl—I feel tied to Eponine’s character. I think I just felt a lot of unrequited love as a young person. High school was a bitch. Marius too.That’s the other end of that particular spectrum. Falling in love and being so excited about someone and having it become a reality. What an awesome thing! And also, like I mentioned, “Empty Chairs” that song…whew! To feel that. Just wow!
Coby: I know it sounds really silly but I’m really happy with my track. I tell Toby that all the time. Ben Lurye is always saying that someday he wants to play Valjean and then I say “Ok! I want to be your Fantine!” Done.
Whose character’s death effects you the most?
Coby: Lamarque’s. Wait just kidding.
Dayna: That was a great answer. [She sings, “Lamarque is dead!”]
Coby: OK, I’m going to cheat. Confession time! I will peak through the curtains and watch Gavroche’s death and when he gets hit with the bullets, that’s rough. And then with all the boys at the barricade, they’re all so young and lying there all dead. That’s rough. There are times at the end of “A Little Fall of Rain” where we all come in slowly, and it’s my character’s first time seeing a dead body and that’s a little teary.
Dayna: I’m torn between Eponine and Jean Valjean because Eponine’s death is like—well she’s been this lovestruck chick all through the show and she’s been doing everything for Marius – who’s not into even into her – and then she dies for him. But then Jean Valjean— he’s the summation. He’s hit brick walls, and did “X-Y-Z’ and he’s just the sum of it all. When you go, what do you want them to remember? All the good you did. So I’m just torn between them.
How has this epic musical changed you as a performer?
Heather: I’ll tell you when we’re finished. I don’t know yet.
Coby: I think sometimes you go into the audition thinking that the best fit for you is one of the leads but then you realize that the best fit, it’s the ensemble. Because you get to delve into all these characters and it’s very rewarding and very fun.
Dayna: It’s been such a different experience being in a show that touches people all across the board. I did the holiday show and that show touches people because it’s the holidays. And with Color Purple it touches people because people have been through similar things. With Les Mis it just touches everyone all across the board and it’s rewarding to see. For me, it was the emotions. Coming from someone who had never done it and wasn’t familiar with it, getting to be a part of all those emotions – so that was the most rewarding experience.
What were the challenges you faced as an ensemble member playing so many different roles?
Heather: Making each one different. I know we’re recognizable as actors but I want to think people see each character we portray differently – so that’s what I work on. I want them to think we’re a cast of 50 rather than 26ish. And making each one convey what the situation requires.
Dayna: I wouldn’t say that I have/had many challenges. I’m kind of like a busy-body even in my personal life. I enjoy the jam-packed life. So it’s a real comfort for me.
Coby: I agree. I think it’s more fun than challenging. Sometimes you have to make your character walk in a different way. I have one that puts her hands on her hips a lot and my other characters can’t do that – so that it’s not just me as Coby doing that all the time. It’s more of a physicality for each character that you have to come up with. But I enjoy it. I love it!
What is your favorite solo line you get to sing during the show?
Heather: “What’s the use of praying if there’s nobody who hears…” in “Turning.”
Dayna: The letter thing as the factory girl. The “Dear Fantine…” Toby said to me— “Be totally sarcastic.” So I get to change my voice and be all obnoxious. I love that bit.
Coby: It’s really just any of the ultra-high belting that I get to do in “At the End of the Day,” “One Day More,” and “The Epilogue.” And of course I love my prostitute stuff. But listening to the ensemble, knowing that we’re all singing our faces off, it just makes me want to sing my face off even more.
One Final Question: Why do you want people to come and see Les Mis?
Heather: What? The end?!? Saints be praised! Just kidding! Come see Les Mis. It’s epic. It will surprise you.
Dayna: I just think that it’s an awesome show. That no matter what you expect you will be pleasantly surprised. I’ve seen a lot of people be amazed. This show has everything for everyone; if you’re into music, if you’re into plot, no matter what you’re into, you’re going to enjoy it.
Coby: My initial reaction was I want people to come and witness Jean Valjean’s story. It’s something we can all learn from. I think it’s some of the best work Larry Munsey has ever done. It’s such a strong cast with such a strong creative team behind it. Everyone should see it.
You heard it here first in all its unending glory, the lovely ladies and their take on Les Misèrables, an epic musical with something for everyone.
Read the review of Les Misèrables on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Be sure to check out the ongoing interview series:
Behind the Barricade at Toby’s: Part 1—an interview with Director Toby Orenstein.
Behind the Barricade at Toby’s: Part 2—an interview with Musical Director Christopher Youstra.