The role of a lifetime
— Peter Lockyer stars as Jean Valjean in ‘Les Miz,’ now at the Academy of Music.
Peter Lockyer, a long-ago young Marius in the original Broadway and touring productions of Les Miserables, has graduated to the role of heroic patriarch Jean Valjean in the new 25th anniversary revised edition of the international hit musical, on stage at the Academy of Music through Sunday.
Lockyer said he’s been touring with this current show now for about nine months and “it’s one of the best shows ever. It’s arguably the best role in musical theater. To tell the truth, I think a lifetime could be spent getting to know this character. It’s sort of spiritual lesson to me every day, to remember to love and not become cynical.”
The original show opened in London in 1985, later making theatrical history by becoming the world’s longest running musical, surpassing the record previously held by Cats.
The Broadway production opened in 1987, and its classic songs — I Dreamed A Dream On My Own, Bring Him Home and many others — continue to delight audiences worldwide.
As far as having lasting audience appeal (witness the fact that the movie has been released and is also playing to huge crowds), Lockyer, who is in his late 30s, believes it’s because the show, based on Victor Hugo’s sprawling and epic novel, represents human life that everyone can relate to.
“The message of the show is to love another person,” Lockyer said. “Cameron Mackintosh, the show’s producer, is fond of saying that this is a show about the survival of the human spirit, and I echo that thought. In this time, when we’re fighting for so many things, I think that message is absolutely powerful. Plus, it’s musical theater of the very best kind.”
Of course, after so many years, one would expect the show to change in some ways. And it has, according to Lockyer.
“There are technological changes, which are mostly visual changes. The direction is also different, because the original production had a poetic majesty to it, whereas this production is a little grittier, a little quicker, more in your face.”
A native of Connecticut who also spent time in Canada while growing up, Lockyer said he was raised in an Irish family where music was always part of the household and everyone sang. Two weeks after his high school graduation, he moved to New York to test out his own vocal chords. He clinched a role right away.
Over the years, he’s appeared in such Broadway shows as South Pacific, The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon and others. He also earned a college degree while doing Les Miz and the last two years of performing in Phantom.
“I went back to school because I realized I was deficient in my liberal arts education,” he explained. “I didn’t sleep much, but I realized that the best actors are the smartest actors and that I couldn’t portray someone I didn’t understand. It all worked out well.”
He admits that one of the best parts of playing Valjean today is going “from hardened criminal to one who is trying to embrace the grace given him by God. So I get to explore that journey every day and find new nuances within it.
“I also feel very fortunate to have been around long enough to know that you’re not always employed. So, not only do I feel unbelievably fortunate to have a job,“ he concluded, “but to have this unbelievable job. I don’t think you can get a role much better than this.” ••
For show times and ticket information, call 215-731-3333.