Les Misérables' Chris McCarrell Looks Back on His Ultimate Broadway Promotion
From the ensemble to center stage on Broadway, McCarrell has seen the musical's latest revival through it all.
When Chris McCarrell celebrated opening night of Les Misérables at the Imperial Theatre on March 23, 2014, he was just another face in the musical's dense ensemble. A year later, the 24-year-old Broadway newcomer had risen to the principal role of Marius, replacing Andy Mientus after his departure from the cast. Now, as the Tony-nominated revival prepares to takes its final curtain call on September 4, McCarrell looks back on the role that launched his Broadway career — and perhaps a side hobby as a ukuleleist.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say/sing?
I would say, "What your sacrifice was for." It's during "Empty Chairs [at Empty Tables]." Especially recently, it feels like with all these tragedies, sometimes it's easy to move onto the next one and hard to think back to what it was all worth.
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
Backstage, anytime the word "gone" is sung in the show I replace it with "gaunt." In Eponine's "On My Own" our favorite replacement is, "He is gaunt, a river's just a river."
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
We have these two huge panels that take up the entire stage. They flip and rotate and slide in and slide out. One time they got stuck offstage [when] there's supposed to be this big reveal of the girls bursting through the walls to come get the boys to take to the streets for the revolution. [Instead] there was just a huge black scrim and the girls ran on…as fast as they could…to try to make it work dramatically…and then posed in the middle as a group. They looked like a super-hero squad. The boys turned upstage and we were just cracking up because it looked like the League of Legends coming out to save the day.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
I had someone send me a package from Taiwan and it included a ukulele — which the cast made fun of me for. I opened it up in the building [and everyone was asking], "What did Chris get from Taiwan?" And it was a ukulele.
5. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
Bon Jovi. We don't have that many celebrities come backstage — there are just rumors of them out in the audience. So we're always looking into the audience to find them. There are certain parts in the show where the light is really bright and filled out so it's those moments we're all looking out like, "Eighth-row center, eighth-row center — Bon Jovi's eighth-row center."
6. What was your first introduction to Les Mis?
Some families grow up with Les Mis but my family wasn't that into it. My first experience was actually in college. I went and saw the national tour in Cleveland. We were in the nosebleeds and I was so confused the whole show because I didn't know time passed, so it doubled the amount of characters in my brain that I was trying to keep track of. I was like, "There's the guy who used to be on the chain gang, and now there's this mayor, and there's the old cop and the young cop…" It was a mess in my head. I understand it much better now.
7. Tell me the story of how you were promoted to the role of Marius?
I was in the ensemble and a Marius understudy. I was really young — I mean, I'm still really young — but I was really young at the time, so I think they were a little nervous putting me on. But then one day I got a text that I was going on for the matinee and I went on and I did really well — better than I thought I would handle that pressure. So I started going on as an understudy a lot and that started getting attention from the higher-ups. Then when [original Marius] Andy [Mientus] left, they were like, "Hey, we would like to invite you to finals for Marius." It was the most prepared I've ever been for an audition. [laughs] I got the call from our resident director a few weeks later and it was just the weirdest thing. I was there every day anyway so it was just like getting the biggest promotion ever. I honestly wouldn't have had it any other way. It was nice to kind of gear up and see the field before I jumped in with the big dogs.
8. What are your favorite things to do with the youngest members of your cast?
They're my favorite! I'm always playing games with them. One of the Gavroches — he'll run up the stairs before me and block the hallway at intermission and I have to literally grab his leg and pick him up because he won't let me through. Just little games like that that we do every show in our passing tracks. And I'm always buying them Starbucks — the sugary not-coffee stuff.
9. In Les Mis, Marius heads to the front lines of Paris' historic June Rebellion. What's the most rebellious thing you've ever done?
I'm not a big rebel. When I break rules I get extreme anxiety…Senior skip day in high school — if you skipped then you weren't allowed to go to play practice. So I remember me and my actor friends — we went to school and then left after we checked in just so we could still go to play practice, but still skip. That's not rebellious at all.
10. If you were sent to the barricade, what three survival items would you bring with you?
A helmet, some Cliff bars, and a baby gate for Gavroche. Protecting the young'uns.