For former Chicago actors, quick costume changes part of 'Les Miserables' tour
Any actor cast in "Les MisÚrables" faces a backstage life full of quick costume changes. Unless you're starring as convict-on-the-run Jean Valjean or pursuer Javert, most cast members cycle through decades of 19th-century French fashion.
That's the case with "Les MisÚrables" ensemble members/understudies Caitlin Finnie and Patrick Rooney, two former Chicago-area actors who are working in their first national tour of this global blockbuster musical inspired by Victor Hugo's epic 1862 novel. The "25th Anniversary" production from 2009 by directors Laurence Connor and James Powell returns for its fourth visit to Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre starting Tuesday, July 9.
"I have 13 different changes and 10 costumes," said Finnie, an Evanston native and Northwestern University graduate who specialized in opera. "Whether that be a quick change just offstage or a full change backstage."
"My job is changing costumes when I'm not onstage," joked Rooney, a Detroit native who got a BFA in Musical Theatre from Roosevelt University. Rooney has 15 costume changes and plays characters ranging from a constable to "Fauchelevent" (the guy who gets run over by a cart).
But even when Finnie and Rooney respectively go on in the leading roles of the young lovers Cosette and Marius, they still have a lot of costume changes. Before their characters appear midway through Act I, the actors have to help populate earlier crowd scenes.
As one of two covers for the soprano role of Cosette (regularly played by Jillian Butler), Finnie says she goes on a lot due to sickness.
"A lot of her vocals sit in a very light, high place," Finnie said of Cosette, "and that's one of the first places of your voice that will go if you have any sort of phlegm or a cold. It's hard to push through, even if your voice is used to singing it."
Finnie is scheduled to go on as Cosette for the July 16 Chicago performance. Rooney has no set Chicago dates as Marius.
"It would be really lovely to get that chance, but unless Josh (Grosso) is sick I'll gladly do my ensemble track," Rooney said. "I'm just so excited to get the chance to perform in downtown Chicago for the first time."
Longtime suburban theater fans will remember Rooney for his leading roles at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire in "Newsies" (2017), "Spring Awakening" (2016) and "October Sky" (2015).
"One of my favorite parts about learning to do musical theater in Chicago was that it was truly an 'acting first' city," Rooney said.
He also worked at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace and at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. That's where he appeared in its 2015 Jeff Award-winning production of ... "Les MisÚrables."
Finnie, too, has previously appeared in "Les Mis."
"It was the first show I ever did. It was with a community group in The Woodlands, Texas," Finnie said. "I auditioned as a 12-year-old and I was part of the 'nonexistent' children's chorus."
"Les MisÚrables" marks Finnie's first job out of college; she joined the tour in August 2017. Aside from Northwestern productions, Finnie's only major local credit was "The King and I" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2016.
Both Rooney and Finnie love being part of "Les MisÚrables," and they're excited to share this enduring show with Chicago audiences once again.
"The music is so gorgeous," Finnie said. "It's one of the shows that is closest to me, and one of the more interesting ones to be doing 650-plus times on tour."
Just don't ask her how many costumes changes that adds up to.
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Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayin chicago.com
Showtimes: Runs Tuesday, July 9, to Saturday, July 27. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also July 14), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (also Wednesday, July 17 and 24, and Thursday, July 25).