Aaron Lazar Talks Building the Barricade as Enjolras in “Les Miserables”

It’s eleven thirty at night and Aaron Lazar is hungry. After one performance of Les Miserables at the Broadhurst Theatre, he been a prison inmate, a sea captain, a judge, and the leader of a student rebellion. He has been whipped and chained, purchased the love of a prostitute, participated in a court hearing and died a glorious death while attempting to overthrow his government. Now he has sat down for dinner and a chance to talk about the many aspects of his job – and there are many.

“It’s exhausting,” Lazar said between bites of salmon and mashed potatoes and sips of peppermint tea. “We’re working our asses off – changing our clothes 15 times. All of the principals in our show except Javert and Valjean are in the ensemble for the beginning of the show.”

Lazar, who plays the role of Enjolras, the leader of the failed student revolution in the second half of Les Miserables, said that playing the multiple roles in the ensemble has helped his own solo performance as well, because it gives it more compassion and depth.

“You then know what you’re singing about, because you were a beggar,” he said. “You have something to affect you – the shoe was on the other foot.”

For the actor, performing in Les Miserables is a right of passage, because he has arrived in the exact same production he tried out for many years ago – but in a very different part.

Several years ago, fresh out of grad school, Lazar was in New York, auditioning for shows. After years of playing older roles in Cyrano de Bergerac and Man of La Mancha, he auditioned for Javert in Les Miserables.

“I was about 15 pounds heavier, and I had this huge baritone voice,” Lazar said. “I thought that I was going to work like I did in grad school, playing older roles. Of course, they said, ‘Your voice is great, but you’re really way too young to play this part.’ I thought, ‘Well, what other role am I going to play?’”

The answer was: many. Lazar’s repertoire includes being an understudy for Raul in The Phantom of the Opera and most recently replacing Mathew Morrison as Fabrizio in The Light in the Piazza at the Lincoln Center.

“It’s taken me the last couple of years and my journey has been to figure out how to finally play my age,” he said. “Now I’m playing younger than my age, which is great. I was playing Fabrizio, a 20 year old kid – I thought those days of me playing Romeo were done.”

Performing in Les Miserables is an achievement coveted by many actors, and Lazar thought he had missed his chance because he had auditioned to play Enjolras shortly before the original Broadway run closed in 2003. Now, still not old enough to play Javert, he is in Les Miserables playing very the role he tried for three years ago.

In order to prepare for the role of Enjolras, the leader of the student revolution, Lazar watched the tape of the tenth anniversary concert of the show as well as the recording of the Broadway opening night of the original cast. He also read the sections of the original novel that contained Enjolras.

“The rehearsal process for me was learning how rich of a character Victor Hugo wrote,” he said. “He’s an amazing guy. The words that describe him in the book are just thrilling. I thought, ‘I am going to bring every ounce of that to this show.’”

Doing that, however, was difficult for Lazar, due to the time limitations of the performance.

“It’s extremely condensed,” he said. “A lot of the relationships in the book that have 500 pages to develop and in our show you have two minutes. It moves so fast.”

The speed of the stage version gives little background to the character of Enjolras, which he said causes his entrance onstage at the end of the first act to be an extremely intense moment for him.

“I’ve got to walk onstage in the first scene and convince these guys that we’re going to change the world,” Lazar said. “There is no backdrop of history, and the audience doesn’t get a framework for what we’re fighting about. So it’s really easy to see a bunch of GI Joe kind of guys up there, playing war. But this is life or death – it’s serious to these guys. The challenge is that despite the audience might not know the exact circumstances of what’s going on, they want to be on our side. Everything I sing when I first come out there is basically so gutturally passionate.”

Quoting from the book, Lazar described Enjolras as being born as if he had already experienced dozens of revolutions. “And he’s never experienced one,” he continued. “It’s as if this is what he was put on the planet to do. It was manifest destiny. A big part of me is asking why should the audience like us? And like me – if I’m just some blood-craving war-hungry tyrant? You have to see the youth and the innocence and the passion and the blind ambition and the energy.”

Playing the leader of a revolution has been exciting for Lazar, who said that he enjoys the opportunity to live out his rebellious fantasies onstage.

Laughing at the suggestion of performing Les Miserables on the White House lawn, he said, “Everyone has their political frustrations and battles that they wish they could fight and take to Washington. As an actor, I get to live out my fantasies. For me, it’s sort of inspiring the people in the audience to say, ‘You can let your own inhibitions go for the next hour and a half that you’re watching these guys.’”

Despite the youth and energy of the students, their rebellion does not succeed. Lazar mentioned that fact as a source of examination for his interpretation of the character. “The thing with Enjolras though is that he’s a failed leader. They don’t win – they don’t even come close,” he said. “The plan goes horrifically wrong. There’s something in there that I’m trying to explore, too. He’s not Alexander. He’s a failed student. He’d like to think that he could be, but they all day. So – why? Is it my fault?”

The questions remain as Lazar attempts to bring the truth of death and tragedy to the scenes of the barricade. He cited Tiananmen Square as the most recent event comparable to the one he brings to life onstage, saying, “That’s the kind of dark truth that we all try to tap into in that scene.”

However, his goals change as the scene progresses, ending with him hoping for the students’ goals to continue into the future.

“The last line I have is, ‘Let others rise and take our place, until the earth is free!’” he said. “The goal – my goal – is changed.”

After finishing his food and slapping high fives with everyone at the table, Lazar is off. He has a few hours to relax and sleep and enjoy time with his family until tomorrow night, when he returns to experience it all over again.

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