5Q: Les Misérables

Haley Dortch portrays fantine in the national tour of Les Miserables.
Haley Dortch as Fantine in Les Misérables. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.
“5Q” is an online-only column featuring five questions about stage productions in the Metro Area. Periodically, “5Q” will take the form of an interview with actors, directors, writers, etc. to shed some light on the production process.

Haley Dortch headshot
Haley Dortch

Fans of the Broadway staple Les Misérables are in for a treat when the national tour makes a stop at the Orpheum Theatre. Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, one of the most celebrated musicals continues to enthrall audiences and drive home themes of the human spirit that ring true today just as much as ever before. As producer Cameron Mackintosh said, “No show in history has been able to continually reinvent itself and remain a contemporary musical.”

Audiences should be on the lookout for Haley Dortch making her national tour debut. The Texas native brings new life to the character Fantine, an impoverished factory worker who loses her job and turns to prostitution in order to continue paying for the care of her illegitimate daughter, Cosette. As a University of Michigan student, Dortch took time away from pursuing her BFA to join the cast in what could be the greatest field trip experience ever.

You’ve said before that you found it difficult to find who Fantine is and peel back the layers. Can you speak a bit more about who you’ve discovered Fantine to be?

I think the most brilliant part about Les Misérables is that there will always be more layers to peel back and find. The work will never end. We are 50 performances in, and I still find that I discover something new with each performance. The biggest discovery that has come to me recently is Fantine’s joy. She never gets a joyful moment in the show. It’s tragedy after tragedy. It is fun to play what could be the moments she smiles or feels happy and the beauty in it all is that for each of those times I find it has to do with her daughter, Cosette.

How does your experience as a queer, Black woman influence or nuance Fantine that other depictions maybe didn’t have?

Being a queer, Black woman, I believe it is inevitable to bring a new perspective to Fantine. Because I have a unique lived experience, it’s exciting to enlighten an audience with a different perspective that is not often found in musical theatre.

You’ve spoken before about growing up and navigating life as biracial in predominantly white spaces and how your artistry on stage helped you find yourself. Now you’re taking on the role of Fantine, which has almost always been played by a white woman. Can you tell me a bit more about your journey and experience stepping into this role?

When the Les Misérables movie came out I was only 10 years old, so I didn’t understand much of what was going on, but I knew I loved the music. At my sixth-grade talent show I sang “I Dreamed A Dream” and unfortunately did not get in. I told myself “that was fun, but I’ll never get the chance to do that again.” I strongly believed roles like Fantine were not meant for me. So without a doubt, there was a lot of imposter syndrome stepping into this role. It was not a story meant to be told by me. But I am always reminding myself of what an honor it is to share my perspective in this role and what it means for young artists of color to witness it.

What does that representation mean, both for audiences and for other young actors of color?

I think having representation onstage is essential for all audience members. Young artists of color, can look up and say “I can do that too” and not fear facing the industry with 100% authenticity in who they are. For any audience member, having representation on stage means that any person no matter the race, gender, etc. can play the role.

The cast of the national tour of Les Miserables performing the song "One Day More."
“One Day More” from Les Misérables. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

This story touches on so much from the 1852 original by Victor Hugo—the survival of the human spirit, change, reckoning. The world has been through so much in the last few years. What about this show resonates with you in 2022?

In 2022, this show resonates with the survival of the human spirit more than ever to me. It would have been so easy to give up these past few years, but our spirit kept us going. It would have been ideal for me to stop trying to pursue musical theatre in such a time of uncertainty, but I kept training, even at “Zoom University”, and I’m living my dreams eight times a week.

Obviously, various moments speak to different people, but it seems most people are drawn to the penultimate “Do You Hear the People Sing?” or “One Day More”. Why do you think so many people are drawn to this idea of being heard and giving a voice to the voiceless?

I think it is easy for people to feel unheard, especially in a time of such political divisiveness, but one thing we can all agree on is that we will fight strongly in what we believe in. We will march, protest, and do anything that is needed to make the people feel heard.

Les Misérables runs at the Orpheum Theatre through December 18. For more information and to purchase tickets, head to www.hennepintheatretrust.org. For more information about Hennepin Theatre Trust’s vaccination policy and safety protocol, visit www.hennepintheatretrust.org/scheduling-safety-update.

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