By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
Only a few weeks ago, Gabriel Sidney Brown made the decision to leave the national road company of “Les Miserables” and enjoy some well-earned time for himself. The hard-working member of the ensemble had already logged some 15 months in the cast. He planned to see his sister in Europe and then wait out the ensuing two months when he would begin the arduous process of auditioning, casting and shooting TV pilots.
But once he got back home in New York, the Cleveland native received an email from the producers. A fellow cast member had received an opportunity to take over a role in “Frozen: The Musical” for six weeks and they needed him to cover Montparnasse, a member of Thernadier’s band of thieves.
Like other ensemble members, Brown had learned multiple roles in the Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg groundbreaking musical, but this was one part he did not know. If he accepted , he would spend most of the time in his hometown of Cleveland, New Orleans and Florida during the peak of winter. It turned out he would also have an opportunity to play the role of Marius when the troupe was in Cleveland so that friends and relatives could see him play a principal role. So Brown said yes.
That’s the reason why the handsome dark-haired and blue-eyed Jewish actor and singer was on stage at the Saenger Theater as a part of the groundbreaking musical that opened on Tuesday night, January 8, and closed Sunday, January 13. Based on the Victor Hugo of the same title, “Les Miserables” enjoyed a successful stretch of 6,680 performances in New York from 1987 until 2003 during its initial run, making it the fifth longest Broadway musical in history.
This tour is based on the re-imagined revival that ran on Broadway for two and a half years from 2014 through 2016.
When he’s not onstage as Montparnasse or a constable under Inspector Javert’s charge, he’s also one of the students who erect the barricade and fight government forces.
“When we talk about this show, everybody – the whole cast – it is a true ensemble show,” Brown said in an exclusive interview with the CCJN. “Every single principal character except for Jean Valjean and Javert is in the ensemble and at the end of the show. I’m on stage for probably about 80% of the show.”
By Brown’s reckoning, Javert, one of the two leading roles, is on stage for a grand total of 24 minutes out of two hours and 55 minutes.
“I feel this show is unique,” he continued. “There’s a number of moments where you are truly forwarding the plot.”
Although he was exposed to acting and singing later than a number of his fellow actors, this particular show holds a special feeling for him. “When I was 17, the first real production I did was ‘Les Miz,’ which is pretty full circle for me,” he confided.
By the time he graduated from the nation’s top-ranked theatre department at Baldwin Wallace University in 2016, he had already picked up his Actor’s Equity card from professional productions at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland. He headed straight to New York and plunged into the difficult work of auditioning, answering callbacks and after 10 months secured his place as an ensemble member of “Les Miserables.”
A Reform Jew, Brown recently went through the holiday season in December when he and two other Jewish cast members lit Chanukah candles. When he performed the role of Marius, his longtime rabbi under whom he became a bar mitzvah and a confirmand was in the audience to cheer him on.
Brown said the cast supports each other in whatever religious background or lack therefore they entertain. “We are really lucky. Everybody is so super supportive of that,” he said.
While cast members are understanding, producers expect performers to take the stage on Friday nights, Saturdays and religious holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Unless negotiated under the terms of their contract, players will have to take personal days without pay in order to be observant.
He acknowledged that this makes it difficult for Conservative and Orthodox Jews. Two of the very young girls initially playing Cosette in the cast were much more observant. “It was challenging for me to watch how hard it was for them,” Brown added.
Following the run in New Orleans, he will travel to Tampa Bay.