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Casting a New Classic: A Conversation with the Casting Director

June 2, 2008

Insider Info: The Casting of Les Misérables

We had a chance to sit down with Kate Galvin, who serves as the Casting Director here at Walnut Street Theatre. She was happy to share the exciting journey of casting such an epic production.

WST: How did the audition process happen?

Galvin: Every set of auditions included not only a singing call, but also a portion of improvisational exercises. They really give us a chance to see how much creativity an actor can bring to the table and also how they work with a team. Les Mis has a very important ensemble and it is vital that everyone on stage be telling the same story. Plus, it is always fun to see performers working together for the first time. You never know what fun combinations you'll find!

Mark (Clements, Les Mis Director), Bernard and I started auditions back in June of 2007 here in Philadelphia. It was an invited call for about 120 people. From that, we had so many great candidates that we had a round of callbacks in July and we were able to make several offers to local performers at that time.

In November, we headed to New York to search for our Jean Valjean. We usually don't hold auditions for just one role at a time. But Valjean is such a HUGE role, it was important for us to give ourselves as many options as possible and be as efficient as we could. It was then that we met Hugh Panaro. He gave a great audition, has worked for the Walnut before and brings a new take on the role ��" a perfect fit for our new production.

By the time March of this year rolled around, we did another round of Philadelphia auditions, including the kids and then headed back to New York to finish casting the principals and ensemble. It was an exhaustive search but we needed to find just the right combination of performers to fit into Mark's vision of the show.

WST: What factors are considered in casting process?

Galvin: Other than their performance abilities and experience, we really were looking for team players to be a part of this production. Mark Clements was really excited about the chance to completely reinvent each moment and each character in this new production. It was really important to him that we select a cast that could work together well and bring something unique to the experience. Even the principal characters will be asked to play a number of different smaller roles and that meant that everyone needed to be working for the greater good, not just their particular characters. I think we really found a good combination of actors in this cast. Mark, Bernard and I have confidence that they will create a production of Les Mis like no one has ever seen!

WST: How did Paul Schoeffler become involved?

Galvin: Mark Clements was familiar with his work and Paul had expressed an interest in being a part of the production. We all decided the role of Javert would be a great fit for him and that he would be a great addition to the team that we were building. We are happy to continue the "Season of Schoeffler". He is extremely talented and wonderful to work with. We are lucky to welcome him back!

WST: What was the most unique or memorable audition you saw?

Galvin: Well, we did have one of our favorite adult performers try to audition for young Cosette, by singing "Castle on a Cloud"- so that was certainly unforgettable! In all seriousness though, everyone we saw were working professionals in the industry and with so much talent, it was sometimes very hard to make decisions about who to cast. So the most memorable auditions were the ones when I could say, "Yes! That's the one I want!" I particularly remember having that moment with the auditions of Josh Young, who will play our Marius, and Jessica Bogart, who will play our Fantine. It's so great when that happens because these are very demanding roles and it's nice to see right away that an actor is perfect for the part.

WST: What is the casting process for the child roles? Is it more difficult?

Galvin: Children are the most difficult performers to assess on paper and decide who to call in for auditions. Even though a child may not have a ton of experience on their resume, they may have great potential and be perfect for the role, but they are just new to the business. At the same time, a child might have been to every camp and workshop in Philly and still not be ready for the Walnut stage. So I really have to rely on my own instincts and my connections with people who may have worked with them previously to even decide who to audition.

As far as auditioning children, their biggest trouble is nerves. Their nerves can get the best of them and it can sometimes be difficult to separate their nerves from their abilities. Also, we have to make sure they can handle the pressure of being on stage in front of 1000 people and to share the stage with the likes of Paul Schoeffler and Hugh Panaro. We have to have confidence that they will be able to come through when it really counts.