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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 29, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 26
Betsy Morgan dreams a dream
Arts & Entertainment
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Betsy Morgan dreams a dream

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

LES MISÉRABLES
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
Through July 8


Betsy Morgan is taking on one of the greatest female roles of the Broadway stage: Fantine in the mega-hit musical Les Misérables. Coming to Seattle directly from her performances at New Jersey's famed Paper Mill Playhouse, Betsy reprises her role as the tragic woman with a secret child for the Seattle production at the 5th Avenue Theatre.

Andrews-Katz: Whom were your biggest influences growing up?

Morgan: My mom! I have been performing since I was a kid. I saw so many productions and movies and then I was actually doing productions myself. I got to spend a lot of time with my mom and use her as a role model. I got to use her like a litmus test for everything I did. As for performers, I grew up watching a lot of Chicago performers like Hollis Resnik.

Andrews-Katz: What was the first professional show you performed?

Morgan: The very first was when I was a kid, and I was in the musical sequel to Annie. I think it was called [back then] Annie Warbucks. That was at the Marriott Theatre in Chicago. A lot of my notes came from Martin [Charnin] and Charles [Strouse].

Andrews-Katz: How did you first come to work with the 5th Avenue Theater?

Morgan: Last year we toured with Les Misérables and came through Seattle. That was my first experience here. I've been through many, many cities so far and Seattle is definitely my favorite!

Andrews-Katz: What was your audition like for the Broadway production of High Fidelity?

Morgan: That was my very first Broadway show, and the part I auditioned for, they needed to cast very quickly. It was a lot of auditioning in a short time. The initial audition lasted a long time, and then there was a work session with the music director, and then another audition, and then a final callback. I think I may have actually gone into the rehearsal for the show that afternoon.

Andrews-Katz: You were in the original revival cast of A Little Night Music recently on Broadway. What was your audition with Stephen Sondheim like?

Morgan: It was completely the opposite of the High Fidelity audition. For Night Music, I auditioned, and auditioned again. Then I waited for a long time, about 2 months while they put the other pieces of the show together. I had given up hope that I was going to get the part and went into my agent's office to find out what was next. It was then I was told that I got the part. It was great to work with Stephen Sondheim, and Trevor Nunn & and Angela [Lansbury], and Bernadette [Peters], and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Elaine Stritch & I just sat back and learned so much from all of them!

Andrews-Katz: You're repeating your Paper Mill Playhouse role as Fantine in the 5th Avenue production of Les Misérables. How do you make a song like 'I Dreamed a Dream' your own?

Morgan: Luckily for me I didn't really have an idea of what anyone else had done. I knew the song and the rest of the score incredibly well. I had only seen the show once during its original tour. I didn't remember the production or any specific performances. When I got the part, they gave me the score and the 1,400-page original novel and said, 'Read this!' So I didn't have any preconceived notions and worked with the original source material to get my opinions and insight to the part. I didn't have to erase any preconceived ideas of who Fantine was.

Andrews-Katz: Over the years of Les Misérables playing around the world, stories emerge of 'flubs' during a production. What's the oddest flub you've encountered?

Morgan: I think my favorite was at the end of Fantine's scene in the hospital. The magic of the theater allows a bed to come on stage, but the bed didn't enter. I had to do the entire death scene singing on the floor, crawling and dragging myself across to the bed. That was the most disembodying thing that has ever happened to me.

Andrews-Katz: Is Fantine a victim of herself or a victim of circumstance?

Morgan: I don't think she is a victim of herself. She does everything in her power to provide for Cosette. I think that everything is working against her. I believe she was young and fell in love, and that she got stuck having the baby too young and had to maneuver around with her secret. She is a fighter and warrior, and in the end she is a provider and makes sure that this little girl is taken care of. I put her on a pedestal for surviving.

Andrews-Katz: After 'I Dreamed a Dream' in Act One, you don't really reappear until the final scene in Act Two. What do you do while the show is being presented?

Morgan: Well, I do have two significant breaks after Fantine dies. I do a lot of reading and a lot of writing sometimes. But for the most part, I am there as part of the company and actually do perform in the barricade and other scenes. I am still part of the ensemble, so I put on my dark wig and skirt and perform with everyone else.

Andrews-Katz: What is it about Les Misérables that seems to have captivated the world?

Morgan: There are so many different story lines and characters in this show. There really is something that everyone can relate to. Whether you are a young lover, or a father, a mother, a son or daughter & there are emotions that everyone can identify with. In conjunction with the incredible music and updated set, and perfect orchestrations, it's the perfect combination where people get moved with art, and life and humanity.

Andrews-Katz: Regardless of gender, what roles would you like to play in the future?

Morgan: I always gravitate to shows that haven't been written yet. I know that's a horrible answer, but that's what I usually go for. For written shows, there is Once on This Island, but I'm not African-American. I would play a palm tree in that show if I could. It's the most beautiful show. Speaking of the same composers, there's 'Mother' in Ragtime.

Les Misérables first opened in London on October 8, 1985, and moved to Broadway in 1987. It won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, and a Grammy Award for Best Cast Show Album. It is currently the third-longest-running musical in Broadway history.

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