Jason Forbach, who plays Enjolras (taking over from previous Enjolras, Jeremy Hays) and Joseph Spieldenner, who plays Grantaire (and covers for Javert) very quickly became fan favorites for their nuanced performances as the oft-at-odds pair.
From the strenuous nature of working on a tour to Joe’s in-depth insight into character dynamics (yes, including E/R!) and Jason’s #EnjolrasProblems, there was a seemingly never-ending stream of things to talk about with these two.
SDD: Is it difficult to keep up with traveling and performing in many different venues?
JF: YES! Ha. After over two years of travel it has officially become too difficult to keep track of our travels. I might be able to keep the next two cities straight in my mind but that is about as far off as I go. At the start of tour it was very exciting and like we were tourists exploring the nation…but we quickly realized that we were just too busy in such a strenuous show and we couldn’t spend all day exploring. We had to stay rested to get through this massive show!
SDD: What was your first introduction to Les Miserables? Do you remember your first impression of the musical?
JF: I have definite memories of the show from my childhood. I think we saw the touring company a couple of times in Kansas City where I grew up. I remember thinking Enjolras was just so cool and that I would probably never play that part. I’d probably be a Marius…well life has a funny way of working out, huh?!
JS: Strangely, I saw Les Mis on Broadway before I ever had heard it. I was on a school trip to New York from Florida, and it was my very first Broadway show. Needless to say, I was floored! I’d read the book and memorized the entire score in a week or less. I’m pretty much the biggest Brick geek in the cast.
SDD: Do you have a favorite scene or song in the show?
JF: My favorite moment to perform on stage is “One Day More” without a doubt. It is strong, massive singing and the crowd immediately roars with applause and you know that they are with you to fight alongside in Act II.
JS: “One Day More” is definitely the moment every night when I can’t believe my life, but my favorite moment has to go to the moment immediately after Gavroche’s death. The entire structure of our band of brothers falls apart and everyone is begging Enjolras for leadership. It feels so raw and intense…this is not your grandma’s musical theatre.
SDD: Joseph, I was asked by several people if you could explain the on-stage relationship between your Grantaire and the Gavroches. Some said it looked like a father-son dynamic, others referred to brothers. How did you approach that dynamic?
JS: Wow…that’s a really deep question to answer in this forum! I could write a dissertation! The short answer is both. I figure the two of us are drawn to each other because we’re both orphans, in a sense. As far as defining it (which I don’t think is necessary, as we live in a world of grays) I think it’s closer to a big brother relationship because he’s so independent, normally, but in these extreme circumstances, I’m forced to think of him as though he’s my own kid. There is a moment, after “Drink with Me,” when he comes over to comfort me and I tell him to get some sleep. In the next few moments, the sentiment of “Bring Him Home” runs through me. I pray, for the first time in years, and beg to trade his life for mine. I even promise to stop drinking if he is spared. We all know that isn’t likely, so it’s my greatest failure and fear realized when he dies. He’s the only person in my life that I loved more than Enjolras!
SDD: Jason, could you explain the stitched quote “take this and use it well” which is inside the Enjolras vest?
JF: It’s a very sweet story actually. When Jeremy left the show he had it embroidered on the inside of the vest. We had always worn the same costumes and when he left the show it was a ceremonial handing over of the vest to me. It was such a kind gesture and I was so touched. He even had it signed. I was so surprised.
SDD: What is your opinion of the relationship between Enjolras and Grantaire? Is it friendship, more and do you allow your own off-stage relationship to translate to any degree on stage?
JF: They are close friends that care for one another, that challenge one another. Grantaire is there to challenge Enjolras’ vision and therefore strengthen his resolve. I don’t think Enjolras has more going on for Grantaire than that brotherhood he shares with all of the students. I know people love to expand upon this. Our off stage relationship has absolutely informed our onstage relationship…in too many ways to count.
JS: You guys are putting me through it! These are the two most complicated relationships in the show for me! I’ll shoot for brevity. Twenty-two years before Oscar Wilde was born, I feel as though my love for Enjolras is “the love that dare not speak its name.” There are several references in the novel to R’s disinterest in women, and yet his complete devotion to the guys. Especially in his death, he proves that the love he has for them is far greater than his love of self or even of the cause. Central in that love is his admiration of Enjolras. As with most alcoholics, he doesn’t just drink for fun. He’s burying the pain of absolutely unrequited love. “One more lie,” my last line in “Drink With Me,” has a far deeper implication. As far as our offstage relationship…I developed these choices with Jeremy. While my real love for Jase makes it go deeper, the choices were already in place when he took over.
SDD: What is it like touring the country working on one of the most recognizable and best-loved musicals of all-time? Additionally, because this is perhaps even more rare, what is it like to do all that while you have your significant other with you for the journey?
JF: It has been an incredible experience. Not only are people so passionate about this show, but it was at such a timely moment in history. Seeing the movie ads during the presidential election was a real zeitgeist moment. It has had a world stage and the crowds have turned out to show support and their endless love toward this show. I’ve never felt a part of something so important in my entire life. It is an absolute blessing to share this experience with Joe and to feel so much love and attention from fans, not only for my work but for our work together.
JS: Ditto to the revolutionary time we find ourselves in. I would add the marriage equality struggle to the list of the intense developments in American history. Seeing the entire country with Jason, while having a dream job, is immeasurable. It’s also made us meet every aspect of each other’s life. He has now met more family and friends, from every time of my life, than anyone I’ve ever known! Couldn’t be more grateful.
SDD: What are the most difficult and most rewarding aspects of the Les Miserables experience?
JF: I would say the most difficult is the stamina, the physical, vocal, mental stamina it has taken to do this show for this long on the road. It ain’t easy. I think the tour has yielded greater rewards than challenges. Joe and I have been able to travel the country, see the world, and have amazing experiences all the while working with these theater icons, the Les Mis creators and realizing a life long performer’s dream.
JS: Couldn’t say it better.
SDD: Do you have a favorite city you visited on the tour or are you particularly excited for an upcoming stop?
JF: I think we were most thrilled with Washington DC, Chicago, Portland….too many to count.
JS: DC is, by far, my favorite. We have loved quite a few, though! Looking forward to Vancouver.
SDD: Les Mis has experienced a huge resurgence. It was made into an Oscar-winning film, will be back on Broadway and in Toronto. And you will be touring parts of Canada with the tour. Why do you think this musical has survived and thrived for so long?
JF: This is the most commonly asked question and it is difficult to guess as to what strikes a chord with millions of people. It’s a timeless story that millions can relate to, with simple, beautiful melodies that stand the test of time and a masterfully crafted show that combines the two. It is such a powerful show that you realize that a show like this will never be made ever again. This is a very special story. These songs are epically beautiful. It will never leave our culture.
SDD: Do you want to be part of the Broadway revival? Do you have any upcoming projects in the works? Jason, I saw your tweet about the Phantom audition! Can you speak to that at all?
JF: I can’t speak about the upcoming Phantom tour and there is a lot unknown about the specifics of the Broadway revival. It would be a dream to be involved in either production. It would be an absolute dream come true to make my Broadway debut in this role in this show…but we can not speak about anything officially.
SDD: What are your travel essentials and why?
JF: All Apple products, iPad, iPhone, laptop, etc., a lumbar pillow, apple cider vinegar (for as often as I get food poisoning), my favorite T-shirts, a great blazer and a good set of headphones.
JS: My iPad and iPhone are all I MUST have. (Besides Jason)
SDD: Jason, I’m hoping you can ease my own curiosity…Twizzlers and Les Mis? Were the barricade boys snacking behind the wall?
JF: No! Peter [Lockyer] has candy in his dressing room. It’s like a community pot of candy and it is evil. HA! I rarely tap into it…but sometimes I just need the sugar to get through. Each time I had a Twizzler, I choked and was like, “OH GOD!” hacking and coughing and then I had to go on stage…just stupid.
SDD: What has been the funniest or most memorable on-stage mishap? (I admit I love the #EnjolrasProblems hashtag)
JF: The hashtag is just too funny. I really don’t take anything too seriously so it is a fun way of poking fun at myself. I’m always saying weird lyrics…ALL THE TIME! I think the funniest onstage mishap to happen most recently is that I had my front pant flap down through all of “ABC Café” and none of the guys told me. I had no idea until the scene was over and then it was too late. I just had to laugh.
JS: Funniest moment…there are so many!! Probably when Jeremy turned to Cole (original Courfeyrac) and sang “Courfeyrac, you take the watch…” and Cole tripped toward him and almost fell off the barricade. We were all facing upstage, toward him, and were instantly terrible actors. There was many a shaking revolutionary for the next few minutes…
SDD: Do you have any secret or hidden talents that might surprise people?
JF: I don’t know! I play a few instruments. I started to learn tap when I was in Phantom. I’ve started to learn how to construct clothes out on the road now. I’m always wanting to learn new things.
JS: Mine are weirder, I think. I speak Japanese (at least I used to). I can read Hebrew. I am one of 18 kids. I can juggle. I’m a Disney fanatic.
SDD: If you were not an actor, what would you want to be doing?
JF: Anything in theater or music. I’d love to write, to design, to direct, I have too many interests! I’d love to be a record producer and work in a studio. I actually look forward to finding out what the next chapter will be.
JS: I would like to teach English Literature…my AP English teacher changed my life, and I’d like to make the same impact on young minds.
Monte J. contributed to this story.