In Part 6 of our series of interviews with the director and cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s Les Misérables, meet Gabriel Potter and Malinda Markland.
Introduce yourself and tell us who you play and where local theatregoers may have seen you perform.
Gabriel: My name is Gabriel Potter and I’m playing the “Master of the House” innkeeper known simply as Thenardier. If you frequent the Kentlands Arts Barn in Gaithersburg – a few highlights would be Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, Benjy in My Favorite Year, and Freddy in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. At the Olney Theater you would have seen me as John Truitt in Meet Me in St. Louis, Bill Sykes in Oliver!, and Laurie in Little Women The Musical, among others.
Malinda: I’m Malinda Markland, and I am playing Madame Thenardier. A year ago I was playing Mother in Ragtime at KAT. This has been quite the fall from grace. In the time between Ragtime and Les Misérables, I played the Baker’s Wife in Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s Into the Woods and Chiffon in StillPointe Theatre Initiative’s Little Shop of Horrors.
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?
Gabriel: I’ve done a few children shows with KAT Second Stage at the Arts Barn – A Year With Frog and Toad (Toad) and The Jungle Book (King Louie). I’ve seen several of KAT’s captivating main stage shows at the Kensington Armory – where we’re performing Les Misérables. Darnell directed Frog and Toad, and I really clicked with his directing style, so I was definitely interested in working with him again.
Malinda: I’ve done a bunch of shows with Darnell, and I love working with him. And I’ve been a fan of Les Mis since I was…four? Auditioning was a no-brainer.
Gabriel: Thenardier is near and dear to my heart. I played this part 12 years ago as a high school senior when the rights first came out for Les Misérables: School Edition. It was one of the best experiences of my life up to that point and doing this show brings back nostalgia while creating some great new memories. I’m 12 years more experienced, so I’d like to think I bring a little more to the table this time around.
Malinda: I would have taken any role in Les Misérables since I just really wanted to do the show, but I was gunning for Madame Thenardier. It’s such a fun, comic role. There’s really not much to admire about Madame T (she’s a monster, basically), but I am impressed by her ability to survive and thrive in situations that are less than ideal. The Thenardiers are basically cockroach people.
What did you perform in your audition and when did you find out that you had the role?
Malinda: I sang a Frank Wildhorn ballad, got a callback, and found out I was cast shortly after. My answer to this question isn’t remotely interesting. Gabe’s is better!
Gabriel: This is a very interesting question – as I never made it to the first round of auditions. My wife Hillary and I just had our first baby, Olivia, on January 2. Auditions were later that week. I had wanted to audition, but I was already getting overwhelmed with the new baby, and even with my wife urging me to go, I decided to sit this one out. A week or two later, KAT put out a casting call that they were still looking for Thenardier and Hillary immediately forwarded it to me saying that it’s a sign and I should do it. This was my chance, and with the strong support from my wife, I gave it my best shot. I got a call that night from Darnell offering me the role.
Malinda: It was a sign, and I am so glad you came out for the show. Hooray for supportive spouses! I’ve got one of those too. They are the best.
Talk about your solos or ‘big numbers’ and what does the audience learn about your character when you sing that song?
Gabriel: The introduction song for Thenardier is “The Innkeeper’s Song” (better known as “Master of the House”), which shows the day to day cons and stealings that his family runs in their Inn/Bar.
Malinda: I would say that’s the “big number” for both Thenardiers. It really establishes the dynamic between the two of them. It’s also the first time the audience gets to take a breath and laugh.
Gabriel: Thenardier’s solo comes in Act 2. This is where you get to see him for what he really is – as it’s the only time he’s alone. Instead of this happy jack of all tradesman, you see the raw side of him – literally down in the sewers stealing anything he can from the dead bodies that have made their way down – because that’s how he’s learned to survive.
Malinda: My only big “solo” number is a song called “Little Cosette.” It is my first entrance as Madame Thenardier and, in it, you get a glimpse of just how relentlessly cruel Mme. T is to Cosette. I think her truest, most base self shows at that moment. Actually, I think both Mr. & Mrs. T are both their most genuine (horrifying) selves in the moments they are alone, which is interesting to me. The stuff they have together is a lot lighter.
Gabriel: They bring out the best in each other!
Malinda: It’s messed up, but true. There’s no way they’d survive without each other. The Thenardiers are people who revel in the misery of others at all times. Together, they can revel in their own misery as well. When shared, their misery turns into a joyful experience. It fuels them.
What have been some of the challenges preparing for your role?
Gabriel: As far as physicality is concerned, I always try to find the right body for my characters. Finding their boundaries physically, vocally, and mentally have been quite a trip.
Malinda: Yes. Oh, I guess we should mention…we each play about four different people before we even get to be Thenardiers. It’s madness!
Gabriel: Also, I haven’t shaved in over a month, and I’m getting pretty itchy.
Malinda: I don’t have that particular problem, but I do sympathize.
Gabriel: Mentally, I have to stay on the ball at all times. Malinda and I are both extremely spontaneous actors and we like to play within our scenes a lot. No scene is ever exactly the same. If one of us follows an impulse to roll the scene in a slightly different direction, the other one just goes with it.
Malinda: It’s a game. We keep each other on our toes from moment to moment, and it’s just so much fun.
Why do you think Les Mis is still so popular almost 30 years after opening on Broadway?
Malinda: It’s funny, you wouldn’t think a musical called “THE MISERABLE ONES” would be so popular, but hey! People like what they like. I think the music is so emotionally manipulative, and I mean that in the best way possible. It is a work of genius.
Gabriel: It’s called “THE Miserable Ones” not “Some Miserable Ones.” This is it.
Malinda: There’s no sequel!
Gabriel: But seriously, the music is incredible. People always joke about how there’s only five or six songs in the whole thing, but that’s part of the magic. The repetition of certain themes is intentional. Each song echoes the emotions that each character is experiencing – akin to Peter and the Wolf, but emotions instead of characters. I think the Thenardiers would be an accordion – or maybe a bagpipe.
Malinda: A bagpipe as it’s tuning. The worst sound in the world.
What character that you are not playing is your favorite, and what song that you are not singing is your favorite and why?
Gabriel: Every time I’ve seen Marius, it’s been played like he’s in concert – he seems disconnected from the show and sings directly to the audience. The passion and commitment that Harrison Smith brings to our show has awakened my enjoyment of this character. He has developed a three-dimensional character that really brings out the best and worst of Marius. Not to mention that killer voice.
Malinda: My favorite character changes every day. Today, it is the Bishop. He’s kind of the unsung hero of the whole show, if you ask me. He’s the one who sets Valjean on the straight and narrow path. The character of the Bishop resonates with me because he reminds me of all the people in my own life who have taught me lessons and made me the person I am today. Also, his solo is beautiful. Rich Shegogue plays the Bishop in our production and really knocks it out of the park.
Gabriel: “The Confrontation” is probably the song that is my favorite – it would be great to have a Thenardier version.
Malinda: Wouldn’t it? There should be Thenardier versions of all the songs. Let’s make an album! My favorite song is “Bring Him Home” because it is just perfect. It makes me ugly cry consistently. Just you wait until you hear David Merrill’s rendition. Seriously. Just you wait.
Gabriel: Bring Kleenex.
What is the best advice Director Darnell Morris and Musical Director Stuart Weich has given you about shaping your performance?
Gabriel: Darnell likes to challenge why things are happening. If we can defend the reason for our character’s action, it’s because we believe it – so by his challenge, he’s letting us know if our choices ring true to our heart, or if we’re just halfway believing what we are doing.
Malinda: The care and effort Darnell has put into helping us shape our characters is truly remarkable. He has encouraged us to be more than just straight up cartoons or caricatures, which is a common trap for our particular duo. He always grounds even the most ridiculous, over-the-top characters in reality, which I really appreciate.
Gabriel: Since this show is completely sung-through, having a top-notch music director is key. Stuart has given great direction of the dynamics – vocally at first, but as we go through the process it bleeds into the physical realm. There are some songs that he’s tried different pacing than we were doing before – and it completely changes inflections and gets us thinking about why we’re singing what we’re singing.
Malinda: I think the best advice Stuart has given was at the very beginning of the process when he told us to stop listening to any and all cast recordings in existence. Our cast has a very unique sound and vocal take on the show, which has really helped us to take ownership of it. It feels distinctly “ours,” if that makes sense.
Gabriel: The collaboration between Darnell and Stuart has been great.
Malinda: They both have such good attention to detail. It sounds simple, but it’s an absolute joy to be working with people I trust 100% to make the show look and sound as great as possible.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Les Misérables at KAT?
Gabriel: There are certain shows that just leave you SPENT. KAT’s production of Next to Normal was like that for me I felt so mentally drained by the emotional rollercoaster that show put me on. If we can get at least one person every night to be where I was, I know that we’ve done our job.
Malinda: Les Misérables is such an emotional purge. I hope audiences leave our production feeling revitalized. Also, a lot of people have very strict notions of what Les Misérables should look and sound like. Our production is definitely very different. I want audiences to leave feeling like they’ve experienced Les Misérables in a new, unique way.
Les Misérables plays through May 24, 2014 at Kensington Arts Theatre performed at Kensington Town Hall-3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (206) 888-6642, or purchase them online.
Amanda Gunther’s review of ‘Les Misérables’ at Kensington Arts Theatre on DCMetroTheaterArts.
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).
Meet The Director and Cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s ‘Les Misérables’ Part 3: David Merrill (Jean Valjean).
Meet The Director and Cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s ‘Les Misérables’ Part 4: Harrison Smith (Marius).
Meet The Director and Cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s ‘Les Misérables’: Part 5: Ethan Miller.