One of the goals of Richmond Shakes is to make the classics the most accessible…
When the touring production of Les Misérables lands in town at Altria Theater on Tuesday, actors Liz Shivener and Steve Czarnecki know where they are heading for their weekly date: to Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.
“Steve is pretty passionate about craft brewing,” says Shivener.
The married couple makes it a point to have date night each week while they are on the road. “Steve is the researcher. He likes to look up reviews and go down the rabbit hole on the Internet to find the best restaurants. It’s nice to have a chance to have time with each other outside of the job. It’s important to know the job is not the entirety of the real world.”
This is the couple’s second tour together after marrying five years ago. Their first was Beauty and the Beast. Shivener played Belle and Steve understudied Gaston. That was followed by a two-and-a-half year period apart. “We could only see each other on and off,” Shivener says. “One of the benefits of this tour is just being together and in the same space. In this business, a long-distance relationship is expected.”
In their roles in Les Mis Shivener (a swing) and Czarnecki (in the ensemble) have varied duties. The multiple Tony Award-winning musical is set in the revolutionary period in France and based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name.
“I have a weird job,” Shivener says of being a swing. “I am a catchall, an emergency plan. I know all eight of the women’s ensemble tracks and can hop in anytime. I’m also the understudy for Fantine, an orphaned child of the working class, and I am dance captain of the show.”
She is responsible along with the resident director for training new people that come into the tour. “Last week, I was doing the part of a male track because so many people were out sick,” Shivener says. “I do whatever needs to be done.”
As dance captain, she is close to the creative team in rehearsals, taking everything in and getting a sense of the show as a whole. “The cast members can come to me if they have questions,” she says.
As part of the ensemble, Czarnecki appears in every show as the factory foreman. He also understudies the role of French peasant Jean Valjean and police inspector Javert. In addition, he serves as the fight caption for the show. “I teach fights to new cast members,” he says. “We have a fight call every day to maintain safety.”
The show contains thirty fight sequences that range from one punch to larger, more involved fights. “We run through all of them everyday before the show,” Czarnecki says.
The couple enjoys being in Les Mis because they feel the show really impacts the audience in a positive way. “One of the most important messages is about forgiveness and loving a person and what they does to a human life and how it can change a person,” Czarnecki says. “It says, ‘I can be better and make this world better by showing and giving love to someone else.’”
People respond to different characters in the show at different points in their lives. “As you grow, you see yourself in different characters,” says Shivener. “At this point in my life, it’s Fantine and what she is going through and the wrongs that are being forced upon her.”
“That is the beauty of the show,” adds Czarnecki. “It speaks to everyone because you can come and see it five years apart and you will have a different experience as to where you are as a person.”
Les Misérables is a musical theater Mecca in Shivener’s eyes. “Everyone knows something about the play,” she says. “As a performer, at some point you have come across the music. It’s something you want to be part of. It’s amazing to be part of it.”
Les Misérables plays Altria Theater from October 23 to October 28, for showtimes and tickets, visit Broadway in Richmond.