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Understudy Love Strikes Again, West End Edition.

Unfortunately, this time, my understudy love is a little messier.  Because just like that Carrie Underwood song about accidentally getting married, I don’t even know his last name.  Actually, I don’t know his name at all.  All I know is that when he stepped into the role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables last week, he popped my West End cherry and it was good.  Oh so good.

You can probably imagine my dismay when, just before curtain, I heard an announcement that someone besides Simon Bowman would be playing the role of Jean Valjean.  Unused to this announcement business—being a West End newbie and all—I wasn’t paying enough attention to catch the name of the actor.  I just knew the most important role in the whole show was being played by an understudy.  I was so disappointed that I couldn’t even hide my sadness from my companions, neither of whom had ever seen Les Mis.  Terrible, I know.

Well, it turns out my reaction was completely premature and unwarranted.  This actor was so good that at intermission my friends and I turned to each other completely agog, and raved.  And he hadn’t even gotten to “Bring Him Home” yet!  (Which, I’ll have you know, he knocked out of the park.)

Since we had stupidly neglected to purchase a program (discovery: they don’t hand out free playbills on the West End) the three of us spent the next few days trying to figure out who the heck this mystery actor was.  He was all we could talk about.  After a few trips past the theater trying to see if a board was up, and several box-office phone calls which resulted in zero answers, I’m completely distressed to say I still have no idea who played Jean Valjean at the Queen’s Theater on May 26th.  Whoever he was, though—and if you know, please, please tell me—he was absolutely remarkable.

Les Mis is the first musical I fell in love with that stayed open long enough for me to see it again and again and it’s become very special to me.  For my Sweet Sixteen, when my parents refused to throw one of those big hideous bashes you now see all over MTV, I took four friends into Manhattan to see Les Mis.  When I was a poor college student in 2003, the year Les Mis was closing on Broadway, all I wanted for my birthday were tickets to see it one last time.  I’m over-sharing all of this information as a way of explaining the depth of my love for this show, so that when I say this understudy was my favorite Jean Valjean ever, you’ll know what that really means.  For me, it’s huge.  I have never been knocked sideways by a Valjean like I was last week at the Queen’s Theater.

It’s a shame I can’t name him here.  Anyone who is even thinking of seeing Les Mis on the West End should try and catch his performances, and I can’t help guide you in the right direction.  Simon Bowman is a big deal, to be sure.  My friends and I would have loved him and if you see him, I’m sure you will too.  But Bowman’s understudy deserves his due, deserves his own spotlight.  He led a production of Les Mis that reduced me to tears more than ever before, and he did so with a heartrending passion and talent that made him the best Jean Valjean I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing.

If anyone reading this has a current program lying around or knows anyone who knows anyone who knows who went on that night, I’m begging you to point me in the right direction.  Google has failed me thus far, and I’m dying to know who I saw, if only so I can throw his name up on this site.  He may never see it.  But it matters to me, anyway, to have the chance to thank him.

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • s June 3, 2010, 3:27 pm

    have you checked out/googled these swings?

  • s June 3, 2010, 3:28 pm
  • Elizabeth June 3, 2010, 3:38 pm

    I know Jonathan Williams covered Valjean recently. I know that’s a common name…

  • Jen June 4, 2010, 4:08 pm

    It would have been either Jonathan Williams (1st cover) or Simon Shorten (2nd cover). I know Simon Shorten has done a few shows this month.
    Sorry I can’t help further, I hope you figure it out.

  • Jen June 4, 2010, 4:09 pm

    It would have been either Jonathan Williams (1st cover) or Simon Shorten (2nd cover). I know Simon Shorten did a few shows in May.
    Sorry I can’t help further, I hope you figure it out.

  • Jane June 11, 2010, 9:20 am

    Simon did a whole week in May from the 10th-15th so I would think it unlikely that you saw him again on the 26th. It is possible though so here’s his website, http://www.simon-shorten.blogspot.com/ ,hopefully you’d be able to recognise if it was the same Valjean! If not Jen is right and it was Jonathan Williams. Both covers are fantastic and glad to hear that you weren’t disappointed. Simon Shorten for my money is my favourite and definetely gives the performance you describe- very passionate and it brings me to tears!

  • Jane June 11, 2010, 10:30 am

    http://www.musicals.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=75282&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=2364. Found this which says that it was Jonathan Williams you saw. Hope this is helpful!

  • Lisa June 13, 2011, 12:45 pm

    Despite little Nick Jonas being a pallid Marius, my favorite version ever of Les Mis may have to be the 25th anniversary concert — all because of Alfie Boe. I saw the original B’way cast and have seen several touring companies, but I believe Mr. Boe may be my all-time fave Valjean. I’m seeing it in London in September just to be in the presence of such greatness (well, and because I love the show)…

  • Mon September 13, 2011, 12:20 am

    If it was Jonathan Williams, then I would understand what you were feeling then. Just watch it last week, he blew my mind away!

    • the mick September 13, 2011, 12:03 pm

      It was definitely Jonathan Williams, and he was mindblowingly amazing and I’d pay good money to see him again.

      So much love!


      • Cosette J. August 20, 2013, 6:26 am

        Me too! I haven’t seen the hottie up on stage or something, but listening to him rock The Confrontation with Norm and Hadley (I have a Comparison video) was epic! I thought I was going to faint the moment (BTW, was Killian the Javert? If you remember, can you please tell me? I saw this video of him and Simon performing… so yeah. ;D)

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