In Part 3 of our series of interviews with the director and cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s Les Misérables, meet David Merrill.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell us who you play and where local theatregoers may have seen you perform.
David: My name is David Merrill and I am playing the role of Jean Valjean. Theatergoers may have seen me in 1776 at Colonial Players, Swing at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater, or playing the Minstrel with the Annapolis Chorale’s performance of Once Upon A Mattress.
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?
My brother John, who passed away in 2010, introduced me to Les Mis back in the early 1990s. It was his favorite show! And the story and the music have since grown to become a part of my family. I remember my brother singing “Bring Him Home” all over the house. I tried to sing it like him, but never quite got there. After studying voice at school I knew that Jean Valjean was a role I would love to pursue. I was constantly on the look out for auditions. After my brother passed away, the story and the music of Les Mis took on a completely different light, as every time I heard it, I would think of my brother, and the life we shared. Now, as I perform the role, I feel even closer to my brother and I truly know that the Lord has ‘Brought Him Home.’ I play this character for you, John. You are my inspiration and my motivation as we bring the story of Jean Valjean to life.
What did you perform in your audition and when did you find out that you had the role?
I performed the ending of “Bring Him Home.” There were many fantastic actors and singers at the audition/call backs, and I left there not expecting a phone call. But, to my astonishment, no more than 35 minutes after I left, Darnell called me and offered me the role. I was humbled, and accepted right away!
Talk about your solos or ‘big numbers’ and what does the audience learn about your character when you sing these songs.
There are a plethora of emotions that occur in all of Valjean’s singing, from despair, to anger, to hope in the “Prologue,” from excitement to contempt in “Who Am I?,” from emptiness to beseechment in “Bring Him Home,” and from loneliness to forgiveness in the “Epilogue.” Jean Valjean battles so much adversity and yet he still has the courage and strength to preserver. Come to think of it, don’t we all battle these emotions in our lives, and, don’t we also preserver? I pray that theatergoers will be able to find a piece of themselves in Jean Valjean.
What have been some of the challenges preparing for your role and performing in the KAT space?
When I think of Les Mis, the first thing I think of is the music. It is so profound. You want to sing it to perfection – holding out each note and phrasing each passage with beauty and allure. However, as you perform the role on stage, and not just sing it, sacrifices need to be made. It has been a true challenge to adapt my concert knowledge of the show to my new living knowledge of the stage.
Why do you think Les Mis is still so popular almost 30 years after opening on Broadway?
Everything in this show is relatable to everything in this life. The only things that have changed are the faces and the surroundings we relate ourselves with. On a musical level, the tunes and the melodies reach out to everyone young and old. They have become the basis for all voice students, and the foundation for many musical theater advocates. The music is played and sung over, and over, and over, and it’s this constant re-kindling of passion and enjoyment that fuels the growth of 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?
The role of Marius is my other favorite role, because Marius allows for Jean Valjean to truly reach the role of being a father. Valjean realizes at the barricade just how much Marius loves Cosette and that he will take care of her forever. This allows Valjean to let Cosette go, bless their marriage, and die in peace – knowing he upheld his promise to Fantine and to God.
Plus… Marius’ “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” is absolutely gorgeous, and I am in awe of Harrison Smith every time he sings it.
What is the best advice Director Darnell Morris and Musical Director Stuart Welch has given you about shaping your performance?
Both Darnell and Stuart have been phenomenal molding this cast, and bringing the story through music and the stage to life. Darnell continues to reiterate that each character needs to have a purpose, and every word that is spoken (sung) must have a meaning. These two attributes drive the story, and its emotions forward. Stuart is brilliant in his musical direction. Not to mention he is the nicest human being! The musical harmonies are so beautifully together, and the ensemble marches as one. Stuart stresses that if you believe what you are singing, that it doesn’t matter if it’s not exactly what’s on the page, what matters is that it works for you and your character.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Les Mis at KAT?
I pray that audiences will realize that it’s the moments in our lives that we need to cherish, and it’s the love we share for each other that brings us closer to God.
Les Misérables plays from May 2-24, 2014 at Kensington Arts Theatre performing at Kensington Town Center-3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (206) 888.6642, or purchase them online.
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).