Tony Award Winner Randy Graff is coming to Toronto this December to conduct a unique Master Class. Titled 'Acting the Song and Acing the Audition', Ms. Graff will focus on teaching students the ability to convey emotion through song. As she says, if you can make her laugh or cry, you get a gold star!
The actress originated the role of Fantine in the Broadway production of Les Miserables, and sat down to talk with BWW about her master class, her Les Miserables experience and her excitement about the upcoming Tom Hooper feature film version of the sensational musical:
You’re conducting a Master Class in Toronto in December – could you give us an overview of what something like this entails?
The class is a three day workshop called 'Acting the Song'. Students will get to work on one ballad and one uptempo song of their choosing. The focus of the class is on telling the story, communicating to your audience the meaning of the song by being able to personalize the lyrics. That's what singing for the theatre is all about. I want the students to feel as comfortable as possible and not at all self conscious so that they can do their best work. No one should be worrying about hitting any money notes! If you can make me laugh and cry in this workshop than you get a gold star!
When was the last time you worked in Toronto?
I've actually never worked in Toronto, but I was there around 1998 visiting my husband who was music directing RENT. It's a great city!
How does conducting a Master Class compare with performing in a Broadway show? Which do you prefer?
I actually love doing both. There is a bit of performance energy you need when you're standing in front of a classroom. You must be focused and concentrated on the student at all times. There isn't time to run off stage in between scenes! I find as I get older that my need to perform as turned into more of a want. It doesn't define me the way it did when I was younger in the business. I did reach a point in my life when I realized that I needed to pass on what I have learned, and to teach and honour all my incredible teachers. It is very gratifying to watch a student 'get it' and also a thrill to see an audience collectively moved during a performance. I like not hearing that pin drop.
With the Les Miserables movie just around the corner have you been reflecting on your time in the show at all? What was the biggest thing you took away from that experience?
Getting to originate Fantine in the Broadway production was an honour and a privilege. I have many vivid memories of the rehearsal process and the run. It was a great group of talented and creative actors and human beings. We were all so thrilled just to be there together!
In terms of what I took away from the experience? When we were in D.C. at the end of the first preview the audience would not leave. we were in our dressing rooms and they were still standing there. So John Caird came running down to the basement of the Kennedy Center Opera House yelling 'get up there! They're still standing!' I ran up there in my Fantine gown and bare feet and gashed my toe on the grating in the turntable when taking a final bow. From that day forward, every Fantine wore ballet slippers in the curtain call!
Do you think that the film version will be a good thing and expose more people to the music and the story, or do you believe that shows like this should be left on the stage?
I cannot wait to see the film! I'm going to a screening this Friday and I'm really glad they've done it. They were talking about doing it when we were on Broadway. It will certainly expose Les Miserables to a wider audience and I just can't wait. I will probably cry when I see Colm Wilkinson on the big screen.
As someone who has made theatre their career, what do you think of the importance of back-up plans? Do you think they help or hinder a person’s chance of success in the industry?
If you need to have a back up plan to feel like you have more control over your life, so be it. But if you really want this, you have to go for it full force. Just find a little something on the side to make some money!
What is the number one piece of advice you would give to young people starting out in this business?