Although her on-stage poise makes her look much older, Alexandra Vann, who plays Cosette in ARTS’ production of “Les Miserables” is just seventeen years old. Home-schooled and living in Huntington Beach, Alexandra makes the long, two-hour drive three days a week because, for her, it is the role of a lifetime. This fall, she will be a high school senior and is looking forward to exploring theater and taking private acting and singing lessons, something that her home schooling schedule allows her to do. Among the roles she has played include Sour Kangaroo (“Seussical”), Wendy (“Peter Pan”), Cosette/Ensemble (“Les Miserables” – the concert version), Silly Girl (“Beauty & the Beast”), Glinda (“The Wizard of Oz”), Dynamite (“Hairspray”), and various roles in “Annie” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
VCOS: Have you seen the movie version of “Les Mis”? If so, how does it compare with the stage version? Did you use the movie version to prepare for your role?
ALEX: I have seen the movie a handful of times. After seeing the 25th Anniversary Tour three times and watching what I could of the original London version on YouTube, I don’t think they can be compared. They are so very different! Cosette has had many things cut and added so it’s almost like watching two different stories altogther.
VCOS: There are a lot of very emotional scenes in “Les Mis,” and it’s hard for Cosette to stand out in her scenes because she doesn’t suffer as much as her father, die like Eponine, or get involved in the barricade revolution at all. What do you do with your character to make her more three-dimensional than just being another teen in love?
ALEX: That’s very true. I’ve heard from many people that this is their reason for not liking Cosette’s character, and while all of her physical pain goes away when Valjean takes her away from the awful Thenardiers, I believe she still bears a lot of emotional pain. She’s grown up with a single “father” who isn’t her biological father, and while he loves her with all his heart, he won’t tell her about her past. Because I’m the same age that Cosette is supposed to be, and also grew up sheltered, I understand how frustrated she can be at times.
As for how I keep her from turning into just another teenager in love? I’m not sure. I’m just being honest with the audience and try to keep in mind that Cosette is smart as well as curious. She doesn’t realize she is actually in love with Marius until about halfway through “A Heart Full of Love.” Rehyan, who plays Marius, is such an amazing and wonderful performer. He is a joy to work with and we have developed both of our characters together.
VCOS: Does Cosette ever realize Eponine’s unrequited love for Marius?
ALEX: Not my version of Cosette! Marius doesn’t even know Eponine loves him until she’s dying, so surely Cosette doesn’t know either. I don’t think Cosette even remembers Eponine, and if she does remember anything, it is not in a good light.
VCOS: I think it’s amazing how Cosette emerged from what looked to be an abused childhood to be so well-adjusted as a teen. Do you think Jean Valjean was too overprotective of her?
ALEX: It IS amazing! I think that living through the abuse shows how strong a character she is. In today’s society, he would be seen as that, certainly. But he’s a hunted and stalked man. I don’t blame him, really. I think he has every right to protect her the way he does, especially because he hasn’t told her anything of the outside world. She wouldn’t last a day on the streets of Paris alone.
VCOS: I ask this of everyone – do you have a dream role?
ALEX: I have so many! Number one is Christine in “Phantom of the Opera,” but I’d also like to play Johanna in “Sweeney Todd,” Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” Little Red Riding Hood in “Into the Woods,” Wendla in “Spring Awakening,” Bonnie in “Bonnie & Clyde,” Natalie in “Next to Normal,” Nancy in “Oliver!” and many more.
VCOS: What will you miss most when “Les Mis” is done?
ALEX: I will miss my amazing cast! Especially Geoff (Valjean), Rehyan (Marius), and Mazie (Eponine). But also Tabitha, Sara, and Allison. Everyone has taught me something or helped me in different ways. I cannot thank them enough! But, honestly, this whole cast has been like family to me, and being the youngest lead, they have all taken great care of me. I will miss them more than anything, and that means even more than the gorgeous gowns I get to wear!
“Les Miserables” plays at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center through August 25. For show dates and times, see the VC On Stage Calendar of Events.