Les Mis star is living the dream

To adjust the title of one of the best known songs in Les Misérables, Dean Chisnall is not Dreaming A Dream but living it. Ahead of the lavish production’s Norwich arrival, Dean tells JOHN BULTITUDE he has fulfilled a career ambition by playing Jean Valjean.

Norwich Theatre Royal is a venue which has a place in the heart of Dean Chisnall. On his visit to the city in 2015 where he played the title role in Shrek, he told journalists one of his career dreams was to portray Jean Valjean in Les Misérables.

Five years on, he is poised to do just that when Cameron Mackintosh’s iconic production returns to Norwich Theatre Royal for a five-week run.

“I still can’t really believe it. This is the reason why many of us do what we do. It is the reason why I got into musical theatre and it is one of the first shows I ever listened to,” said Dean.

“It is not a role, it is a privilege and I have always thought of my work like that. This show is really the ultimate privilege. There is no greater feeling and no greater responsibility.”

The touring role follows a successful run in the West End in the same role for Dean plus a glittering career which reads like a Who’s Who of best-known musicals including Blood Brothers, Mamma Mia, Love Never Dies, La Cage Aux Folles and Never Forget.

But his current part is one he has aspired to and takes very seriously. Dean explained: “The wonderful thing about the production is that you get to come in and put your own take on it but you never lose sight of why you do it. When the orchestra strikes up, you are very aware of the honour, the privilege and the history of the show’s last 35 years.”

But the journey to portraying this iconic character comes after an awful lot of preparation to ensure every member of the audience enjoys the perfect performance. He said: “The one thing I can say with my hand on my heart is that I have worked hard. Cameron Mackintosh is the definitive producer and he is the boss. He is so wonderful in what he brings to people’s lives as he produces shows of the highest order and he won’t allow anybody else in them without his say so. I find that is sensational for someone who has been doing it for such a long time.

 “That is because he cares. There is no greater privilege for an actor to know that his producer cares to that extent and that is a great pay off for us all.”

That dedication is repaid by the reaction of those who see it. Dean admits the audience are thoroughly immersed in the story. He said: “You can hear the audience’s emotion and you can sense it. Even though the clue is in the title, it is a very sad piece. It is the most uplifting piece of musical theatre as well because you get that shared experience and, although it is a really physical role, you feel wonderful when you come off stage.

“Mentally, it is also a real drain. There may be some productions where you can, to an extent, fake it but you cannot fake this show. There is such a journey for Jean Valjean. If you think about it all at once, you will go crazy but if you think about it step by step, I find that is the best way to portray it and to tell the story.”

The epic story, which takes to the stage from March 4 to April 4, is set around the French Revolution and is also an ideal way to escape the stresses and strains of life, according to Dean. “People can just come and forget. Whatever the reason you have come to see it, it is relevant and it is pure escapism. For three hours, you can escape from what is going on in the world as it is a tricky place to be right now. That is why our job is an ever bigger privilege,” said Dean.

Les Misérables will mark a welcome return to the Norwich Theatre Royal stage for Dean after previous visits saw him play The Narrator in Blood Brothers and the iconic role of Shrek.

His time playing the green giant certainly helped broaden his skills. Dean laughed: “Sitting there for two hours before each show being transformed into Shrek was very hard. The onstage part was a privilege to do but the off-stage part meant you really had to zone out and it was also so hot. You would come off stage with half your chin hanging off. I remember when I came to Norwich, it was extremely hot and we had a real heatwave.”

And Dean is also looking forward to spending more time in Norwich. He said: “I love the city. It has such a lovely vibe. When I have been in shows there before, I have not been there for long and so I did not get to see too much of the city. With this one, we will be there for a nice period of time and I am looking forward to exploring.”

So while it may be intense and moving but uplifting on stage, there is a definite air of excitement for Dean as he makes his long-awaited return to Norwich in a part he enjoys playing day after d

Les Misérables runs from Wednesday March 4 until Saturday April 4, 2020 at 7.30pm with Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets £10-£66.50. Discounts for Friends, Corporate Club, Over-60s and Under-18s.

Book at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.

Dean Chisnell
The cast of Les Miserables. Picture: MATTHEW MURPHY

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