Q&A: Michigan-born Nick Cartell is bringing 'Les Misérables' home

Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables (Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade)

DETROIT – Born in Mount Clemens, Michigan, Nick Cartell is singing his way across the country as Prisoner 24601 in the touring production of Les Misérables, now playing at the Fisher Theatre for a three-week run.

The 37-year-old epic musical is still entertaining audiences around the world with five productions playing concurrently, including Japan and the West End.

We sat down with the fan-favorite Cartell about returning to the prisoner’s uniform and why playing Jean Valjean means more now that he’s a father on-stage and off.

Why do you think Les Misérables has been so popular with audiences for so long now?

I think it’s a couple things. First is the story. Audiences connect with the story of love and redemption and our true survival of the human spirit. Especially after the last two plus years of the pandemic that we’ve all gone through as a collective community. There’s something to this story that really resonates with our audiences and with people that come. And then it’s also the music, these beautiful songs by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alan Boublil, that really capture everything that these characters are going through. That’s why it’s been running for over 37 plus years now.

What it’s like back on the saddle with Les Misérables again?

It’s truly an honor. It’s a dream come true to be back this time. My family is with me. My wife and I had a daughter during the pandemic and so she is out on the road with me this time, which has also changed a lot of things with the show for me. But it really is an honor and a privilege to get to tell the story every night and to come back to a show that I love so much.

How are you balancing fatherhood with being on stage every night?

It’s a lot of early mornings. Luckily, I have an amazing partner, my wife, Christine, is just the best. Without her love and support, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I wouldn’t be able to be a dad in the morning and afternoons, and then conquer the stage at night as Jean Valjean. It really is a family affair.

We can’t wait to get to Detroit. My wife’s entire family is from Detroit, so we’ve spent many a holiday season there. We’re so excited to get back in and be there for the holidays and spend time with family; decorating Christmas trees, Christmas dinners, seeing the Rochester lights, ice skating.

Is your daughter a future musical star in the making as well?

At this point, she pretty much has the entire score memorized. For only two-and-a-half she’s very astute. She always comes out and says, “I’m going to be Cosette.” I’m like, “Okay, here we go.” She’s a little young for the stage right now, but she can definitely carry a tune and is taking after both of her parents in the acting front, that’s for sure.

And you were born in Michigan, right?

I was born in Mount Clemens, then we moved away when I was about six months old. So Arizona is where I grew up, but there is something magical about Michigan that I love. Growing up in Arizona, you don’t get the four seasons that you get in Michigan. And now my wife and I live in New York, but it’s always special to come back home. And fingers crossed for a white Christmas.

Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables (MurphyMade)

Is this your second round working with Preston Truman Boyd (Javert)?

Actually, Preston and I crossed over when I was leaving the show, he was coming in. We are finally getting to work together and it’s so great. This time, we went back to the rehearsal studio to put the show back up so we had the opportunity to build the relationship that Valjean and Javert have, that combative relationship, and to see him work and to see him build that character really helps me and my character understand what he’s going through. I’m so excited that I get to work with such a master of the stage in that respect.

You’ve been involved in two of the longest running musicals ever, Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables. What does it mean to you to be in these mega classics?

It’s a dream come true to have them both on my resume. I grew up listening to Phantom of the Opera and Les Mis. If you told the 10-year-old kid on Christmas morning, listening to his new Phantom of the Opera CD or watching the 10th anniversary Les Mis concert on PBS, that I would be stepping into the shoes of these mega roles that Colm Wilkinson and Hugh Jackman have played, I probably would have laughed at you. But now that I’m here it really is a dream come true to get to do it every single night.

Any dream roles?

So while I was in Phantom, I was an understudy for Raoul, so I never actually got to play the role of the Phantom, so that is still a bucket list dream role of mine. I would also love to take a crack at King George in Hamilton. I always say that when it does come to the stage, I would love to play Barnum in The Greatest Showman. I figure if Hugh Jackman can play Valjean in the movie, then I can do Barnum on the stage!

What should Detroiters expect when they watch Les Mis for either the first time or even the 100th time?

There is something audiences walk away from this show with: feeling uplifted, feeling hopeful and also getting an opportunity to see themselves a little bit in these characters. We always meet people at the stage door and lately we’ve been meeting a lot of parents. They’re saying, “The first time I saw the show, I connected with Marius or Cosette because I was a teenager, but now that I’m a parent and bringing my kids for the first time, I’m connecting with Valjean and Fantine.” As a parent, it’s very exciting to see them bring their children to the theater.

I think that audiences have missed going to live theater, they’ve missed coming to see a live show on stage. There’s nothing like it. And if there’s anything that would be a wonderful gift for the holidays, it would be to experience that together as a family. I really hope that audiences will come and visit the Fisher Theatre and see Les Mis because it’s a show not to be missed.

Les Misérables is now playing at the Fisher Theatre through January 8, 2023. For showtimes and tickets, visit BroadwayinDetroit.com.

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