Hear the People Sing: African-American Les Misérables Stars Break Down Broadway Barriers

By Karu F. Daniels
25 Aug 2014

Nikki M. James
Nikki M. James
Michael Le Poer Trench

Tony Award winner Nikki M. James and newcomer Kyle Scatliffe chat with Playbill.com about the colorblind casting in the current Les Misérables revival.

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Playing in various cities across the world for over a quarter of a century, Cameron Mackintosh's musical Les Misérables is a tried and true work of theatrical art. For the latest Broadway revival, which opened March 23, the acclaimed producer brought a splash of color to the production with the casting of Nikki M. James and Kyle Scatliffe.

This is the third time the sweeping musical — centering on a the trials and tribulations of a French man seeking redemption during 19th-century Paris — has bowed on Broadway and this time may be a charm as it features African-American actors in non-traditional leading roles. The show is attracting theatregoers who are flocking to the Imperial Theatre en masse to see the musical — which became a blockbuster movie in 2012 starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.

For James, who portrays Eponine in the new production, it's exciting to see the make up of the audience members who attend the show. "We get old and young from all over the world, non-English speaking, English speaking. It's pretty remarkable how much this piece have moved people," she told Playbill.com after a recent weekend performance. "And that can not be overstated. The show just touches people. They are the reason why, 30 years later, we can still sell out an audience on Broadway. It's not a gimmick. It's real. Whatever it is that these people leave feeling is real. This is not a fluke."

The actress first arrived on The Great White Way in the short-lived 2001 musical The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and later starred in the 2005 jukebox musical All Shook Up. She took home the 2011 Tony Award for Best Performance By An Actress In A Featured Role in A Musical for her critically acclaimed turn as Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon.

The Summit, NJ native — who also played roles as diverse as Dorothy (The Wiz), Cleopatra and Muhammad Ali's worldly wife (in Will Power's Fetch Clay, Make Man) — admits to thinking that the tragic role of Eponine was never quite within her reach.

"I'll be totally lying if I didn't say I wasn't a little girl singing 'On My Own' or 'I Dreamed A Dream' in my basement, in my closet, in my car or in the shower, but it wasn't something I really considered myself for until the audition came up."



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