‘Les Miserables’ a reward for Brittney Johnson

Brittney Johnson, a graduate of NYU’s prestigious Tisch School, appears in the ensemble of “Les Miserables” and also understudies the role of Eponine. — SUBMITTED PHOTO

“I’m delighted that 25 years after ‘Les Miz’ originally opened in London, the audience for this marvelous show is bigger and younger than ever before,” said producer Cameron Mackintosh. “Over the years I have seen many successful but visually different productions, so it has been exciting to draw inspiration from the brilliant drawings and paintings of Victor Hugo himself, integrated with spectacular projection.”

Based on Hugo’s classic novel, “Les Miserables” is an epic and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit, and runs at the Academy of Music through Jan. 13. This 25th anniversary production includes the classic songs such as “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Bring Him Home” and many, many more.

Brittney Johnson, a graduate of NYU’s prestigious Tisch School, appears in the ensemble and also understudies the role of Eponine. For her, it is not only a dream come true, but she also sees it as coming full circle.

“I think I could sing before I could talk,” she says, “but I didn’t realize I wanted this career until I played Fontine in my high school’s production of ‘Les Miz.’ So now I feel as though I’ve come full circle since ‘Les Miz’ was the first show I ever did and the one that really determined my future.”

All through her college years, Johnson appeared in many productions at a regional theater in New Hampshire. But right after graduation, she was cast in this beloved musical.

“Can you imagine?” she asks. “For me, this is like a dream come true. And it’s such an epic musical that you just get swept up in it, even after all these years.”

The show originally opened in London in 1985 — the Broadway production opened in 1987 — and later moved to its current home at the Queen’s Theater in 2004 where it continues to play to packed houses. In 2006 it became the world’s longest running musical of all time, surpassing the record previously held by “Cats.”

And Johnson says she thinks she knows why the audience keeps coming back. “Aside from the glorious music, I think it’s because every show is completely different and each performer brings something different to every character. So each time the audience sees the show, it’s a different show and they experience something that is completely unique. Seeing ‘Les Miz’ is magical experience no one can soon forget.”

Nor can Johnson, who, in her understudy role, took the stage four times in August, and says it’s an experience she will never forget.

“To play such a tense role, even in the ensemble, I try to remember a time when I felt such sorrow and pain, and then try to create the character around those feelings,” she explains. “And every time we sing the last song of the show I get chills, and I think everyone else does too.”

Add all that to the audience’s reaction, and it’s obvious why Johnson is having the time of her life. She says, “I love seeing the audience reaction to everything we do. At the end of the show, when we take our bows, we can see the first couple of rows out there. And seeing grown men wiping their eyes is so moving and something I’ll never forget.”

Today, she admits she still pinches herself when she realizes she’s on stage in this marvelous musical, even though it took her a solid year of auditing to get the part. “And that’s what I try to remind others of; that it’s not as easy as it might look. If you want to pursue this career you have to be really passionate about it, and even with all the rejection, never, ever get discouraged. If you keep working hard and finally make it, believe me, the payoff is worth it!”

For times and ticket information, call (215) 731-3333.

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