The role of a lifetime

— Peter Lock­y­er stars as Jean Valjean in ‘Les Miz,’ now at the Academy of Mu­sic.

Les Misérables by Camer­on Mack­in­tosh with Peter Lock­y­er (Jean Valjean), An­drew Varela (Javert), Timothy Gu­lan (Thénardi­er), Max Quin­lan (Mari­us), Betsy Mor­gan (Fant­ine), Bri­ana Carlson-Good­man (Épon­ine), Shawna M. Ham­ic (Mme. Thénardi­er), Jason For­bach (En­jolras), Lauren Wiley (Cosette)

Peter Lock­y­er, a long-ago young Mari­us in the ori­gin­al Broad­way and tour­ing pro­duc­tions of Les Miser­ables, has gradu­ated to the role of hero­ic pat­ri­arch Jean Valjean in the new 25th an­niversary re­vised edi­tion of the in­ter­na­tion­al hit mu­sic­al, on stage at the Academy of Mu­sic through Sunday.

Lock­y­er said he’s been tour­ing with this cur­rent show now for about nine months and “it’s one of the best shows ever. It’s ar­gu­ably the best role in mu­sic­al theat­er. To tell the truth, I think a life­time could be spent get­ting to know this char­ac­ter. It’s sort of spir­itu­al les­son to me every day, to re­mem­ber to love and not be­come cyn­ic­al.”

The ori­gin­al show opened in Lon­don in 1985, later mak­ing the­at­ric­al his­tory by be­com­ing the world’s longest run­ning mu­sic­al, sur­pass­ing the re­cord pre­vi­ously held by Cats.

The Broad­way pro­duc­tion opened in 1987, and its clas­sic songs — I Dreamed A Dream On My Own, Bring Him Home and many oth­ers — con­tin­ue to de­light audi­ences world­wide.

As far as hav­ing last­ing audi­ence ap­peal (wit­ness the fact that the movie has been re­leased and is also play­ing to huge crowds), Lock­y­er, who is in his late 30s, be­lieves it’s be­cause the show, based on Vic­tor Hugo’s sprawl­ing and epic nov­el, rep­res­ents hu­man life that every­one can re­late to.

“The mes­sage of the show is to love an­oth­er per­son,” Lock­y­er said. “Camer­on Mack­in­tosh, the show’s pro­du­cer, is fond of say­ing that this is a show about the sur­viv­al of the hu­man spir­it, and I echo that thought. In this time, when we’re fight­ing for so many things, I think that mes­sage is ab­so­lutely power­ful. Plus, it’s mu­sic­al theat­er of the very best kind.”

Of course, after so many years, one would ex­pect the show to change in some ways. And it has, ac­cord­ing to Lock­y­er.

“There are tech­no­lo­gic­al changes, which are mostly visu­al changes. The dir­ec­tion is also dif­fer­ent, be­cause the ori­gin­al pro­duc­tion had a po­et­ic majesty to it, where­as this pro­duc­tion is a little grit­ti­er, a little quick­er, more in your face.”

A nat­ive of Con­necti­c­ut who also spent time in Canada while grow­ing up, Lock­y­er said he was raised in an Ir­ish fam­ily where mu­sic was al­ways part of the house­hold and every­one sang. Two weeks after his high school gradu­ation, he moved to New York to test out his own vo­cal chords. He clinched a role right away.

Over the years, he’s ap­peared in such Broad­way shows as South Pa­cific, The Phantom of the Op­era, Miss Sai­gon and oth­ers. He also earned a col­lege de­gree while do­ing Les Miz and the last two years of per­form­ing in Phantom.

“I went back to school be­cause I real­ized I was de­fi­cient in my lib­er­al arts edu­ca­tion,” he ex­plained. “I didn’t sleep much, but I real­ized that the best act­ors are the smartest act­ors and that I couldn’t por­tray someone I didn’t un­der­stand. It all worked out well.”

He ad­mits that one of the best parts of play­ing Valjean today is go­ing “from hardened crim­in­al to one who is try­ing to em­brace the grace giv­en him by God. So I get to ex­plore that jour­ney every day and find new nu­ances with­in it.

“I also feel very for­tu­nate to have been around long enough to know that you’re not al­ways em­ployed. So, not only do I feel un­be­liev­ably for­tu­nate to have a job,“ he con­cluded, “but to have this un­be­liev­able job. I don’t think you can get a role much bet­ter than this.” ••

For show times and tick­et in­form­a­tion, call 215-731-3333.

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