News Column

Skylight's Javert relishes a dream role -- this time, close to home

November 15, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 15--How sweet is this? When the Skylight Music Theatre went looking for a quality performer to sing the role of Inspector Javert in the musical "Les Mis rables," it found one in Muskego.

That's where Andrew Varela gets his mail, anyway. But he's not always home. Sometimes he's out on the road for a few years, singing a leading role in the national touring company of a big musical -- like "Les Mis rables."

Yes, Varela sang the role of Javert when the national touring company performed "Les Mis rables" here in 2011 at the Marcus Center. Mike Fischer, who reviewed the show for the Journal Sentinel, was impressed with him:

"Andrew Varela is an outstanding, show-stealing Javert. While his rich baritone voice brought down the house in 'Stars,' what I'll remember most is the all-consuming ferocity of his gaze and the final agonized moments before his dramatic, vividly realized plunge into the Seine."

Now Varela will sing Javert in the Skylight's new production, handcrafted by director Molly Rhode, which opens Friday at the Broadway Theatre Center. The cast also includes his wife, Susan Spencer, another performer with Broadway and national touring experience, as Fantine.

"November 22, opening night, will be 20 years to the day we met," said Spencer during a joint interview. On that date 20 years ago, both Spencer and Varela joined the cast of a national tour of "Evita," and bonded over the camaraderie of the road and a shared sense of humor, according to Varela.

He's the son of Cuban immigrants whose family moved often as a child, but Spencer, a Greendale High School graduate, has deep local roots. They lived in New York together as young performers, but "I was always bringing him back here to visit," Spencer said. Varela appreciated the warmth of an extended family of brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and grandchildren. When their son Oscar reached school age, and Varela was cast in the national tour of "Phantom of the Opera," Spencer rented a condo in Muskego. "After about six weeks I said, 'We are never leaving.'"

"Schools and parking are the big reasons why we wanted to leave New York City," Varela said, joining his spouse in laughter.

For Varela, playing Javert for the Skylight isn't simply a matter of doing exactly what he did on the national tour. "When you're on the road playing 'Les Miz' (in) these 2,000-seat houses, everything is very big, everything is very broad, you have to hit the back wall," he said.

He loves the jewel-box nature of the Broadway Theater Center's Cabot Theatre, where the Skylight performs, and what it means for him on stage: "It allows your acting to become much more honest. You can really play a person in an organic way in a small house that you can't play in a big barn."

Spencer praised Rhode's fresh, creative approach to staging the musical. Varela pointed out an example: In national productions, a large heavy cart needed for a scene is often transported by heavy hydraulics, but in the Skylight production "Molly makes it fly together" through actors bringing pieces to it.

Varela also has played Jean Valjean, the former prisoner hunted by Javert, but said he prefers playing the latter. "When I was growing up, I always liked Darth Vader more than Luke Skywalker," he said. "Coming out there with my scowl on has been so much fun. It suits me and I like being the heavy. I like the dark mystery of that character."

IF YOU GO

What: Skylight Music Theatre's "Les Mis rables"

When: Nov. 22-Dec. 29

Where: Broadway Theatre Center

Tickets: $22.50-$65, subject to change. Call (414) 291-7800 or visit www.skylightmusic

theatre.org.

___

(c)2013 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com

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