Geoffrey Going is an actor, singer, film and music producer. He is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), The American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (AFTRA), and Actors Equity Association (AEA). Going plays the lead role of Jean Valjean in the Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi’s production of “Les Miserables,” which plays through August 25 at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. We had a chance to sit down with Geoffrey in between attacks on the barricade to find out more about his role.
VCOS: Playing Jean Valjean is a career highlight for many actors; how does it rank in yours?
GEOFFREY: Portraying the role of Jean Valjean is absolutely a career highlight. Jean Valjean is my dream role. This role is one of the most challenging and coveted roles in the musical theatre. I am very blessed that I have been given this Actors Equity contract to play Jean Valjean at such an early stage in my career. I hope to continue to play this role for years to come. When I was in high school I first had the opportunity to listen to the “Les Miserables” Broadway cast recording. I fell in love with the music and the Jean Valjean role. I wanted to understand the story and decided to read the Victor Hugo novel. Valjean’s most popular song, “Bring Him Home,” is a very special song to me because this was the first solo song I ever performed in front of an audience. I performed it at my high school’s “Black & White Ball” in my sophomore year. Every year our theatre department and International Thespian Society would have a “Black & White Ball” that was held at the end of the year. The event included an award ceremony with performances and a dance. My performance of “Bring Him Home” that year was the highlight of that evening and the beginning of my career as an entertainer.
VCOS: Have you ever played a role in front of a person who ORIGINATED that role on Broadway? What would you do if you saw Colm Wilkinson in the audience at Simi?
GEOFFREY: I am not aware of performing a role in front of an actor/singer who originated that role. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened. If I saw Colm Wilkinson in the audience at Simi while performing as Jean Valjean, I would would be thrilled and honored. When I was attending the Boston Conservatory, I had the opportunity to briefly meet Colm Wilkinson when he was performing the concert revue, “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.” I attended the show and in the PLAYBILL, there was a note stating that Colm Wilkinson would not be performing at that evening’s performance because he was sick. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. But I had to see him perform live, so I waited a few days and bought another ticket and finally was able to see him. After the show I waited by the backstage door to meet him. He was very nice and signed my “Les Miserables” and “Phantom of The Opera” posters.
VCOS: What is your interpretation of Valjean’s character and how is it different from other performances you’ve seen?
GEOFFREY: The last stage performance I watched of “Les Miserables” was in Pasadena many years ago and coincidentally there was an earthquake that night. The barricade on stage really shook back and forth, causing an extra bit of excitement. Honestly, I don’t remember details of other performers’ portrayals of the Jean Valjean character. I do remember the PBS concert specials and the most recent film performances, but concert and film performances in my opinion are very different than a full scale theatre performance. My interpretation of Valjean’s character stems from his desire to become a better man with the intention to do “good” within society. He has issues he must face and conquer. I imagine Valjean in the beginning of the show with a heavy suit of armor which little by little slowly falls off, leaving him, at the end of the musical, vulnerable but amazingly strong and very angelic. All of his fears and anger at the beginning of the show from his 19 years in prison disappear and his journey to find God and inner peace is fulfilled through his giving and embracing love. Valjean provides “good” towards his fellow men and dies with the love of his life at his side. He is fulfilled and no longer has a need for the heavy armor he once wore. He no longer has fear or hatred. He understands what forgiveness can do. Valjean’s dedication to his faith in God and his deep love for his daughter Cosette gives him his inner peace. As I approached this role, I began working internally and then, during the rehearsal process and performances, simply remembered my character’s goals/objectives. Within the scenes I try to achieve something interesting from the actors/actresses I share the stage with throughout the production.
VCOS: For me, one of the strongest moments in the show is your first confrontation – the dual (or even duel) soliloquies with Javert. I’m guessing that that is the most difficult part of the show you have to sing – when each is being forceful and not listening to the other.
GEOFFREY: The confrontation with Javert happens twice in the show. Both characters are listening to each other, but our goals are so strong that neither will negotiate. Valjean wins every time because he is right in his actions. The first confrontation is after Fantine’s death where I beg Javert to let me go free in order to save Fantine’s helpless daughter Cosette. The second confrontation is when I am trying to save Cosette’s lover Marius after the battle. The confrontations are both very powerful moments because in addition to the amazing music, Valjean has a desperate need to do “good” and Javert has a desperate need to keep “order” and ensure that the law is obeyed. They both want the same thing and the conflict arises when Javert can’t deny Valjean ‘s request. Javert knows Valjean is right in his actions and that kills him. As a whole, the show is very physical for me and I am constantly singing and moving around on and off the stage. The second confrontation has an added layer of drama and truly demands endurance and strength because I carry the half-dead Marius on my shoulders through the sewers of Paris while singing the challenging score.
VCOS: “Bring Him Home” is quite a difficult song because the range is so high up for the duration of the number. How challenging was this for you to do?
GEOFFREY: “Bring Him Home” is beautifully written and strangely enough, it is my personal moment of prayer and relaxation when performing the show. I personally do not find the song difficult technically to sing because the song fits my voice like a glove. The difficulty lies in the interpretation of the song. The song should begin softly and then build in volume, justified by Valjean’s need for God to spare Marius’ life. There is very little time to build a connection between the Valjean and Marius characters and this believable connection is essential for the song to work. Valjean must truly care for Marius and this is achieved through Valjean’s deep faith and relationship with God as well as his love and devotion for his daughter Cosette’s future happiness. Valjean will do anything for his daughter and so he risks his life fighting alongside Marius (his daughter’s lover) to ensure Marius returns home alive.
VCOS: If you were able to change one aspect of the “Les Miserables” story, what would it be?
GEOFFREY: I would not change anything in this version of “Les Miserables”.
VCOS: Does Valjean ever find out what happens to Javert?
GEOFFREY: I don’t believe the lyrics state if Jean Valjean finds out about Javert’s suicide.
VCOS: What do you think he would think of Javert’s suicide?
GEOFFREY: I think Jean Valjean would feel pity and grieve over Javert’s suicide. Javert and Valjean are very similar in that they both believe in doing “good” and both make sacrifices for their religious beliefs. Valjean would have a connection with Javert and would deep down know that he was the cause of shedding color into Javert’s black and white vision of the world which, tragically, he could not handle.
VCOS: What is your feeling toward the audiences in Simi Valley – are they different from any other group you’ve performed in front of?
GEOFFREY: I have enjoyed the Simi audiences very much. We have had standing ovations every night and wonderful responses after all our performed scenes throughout the show. “Les Miserables” is one of the longest musicals ever written and it takes a dedicated, focused, cultured, and respectful audience to sit through this beautiful show. As a cast we are so thankful and honored to be admired as we take our bows every night. Thank you Simi so much for taking the time to come watch us do what we love to do!!!
And VC On Stage thanks Geoffrey Going for taking the time to share his feelings with us about this tremendously rich and exciting part. Stay tuned to this page for more interviews with key members of the cast and crew. See the VC On Stage Calendar for show days and times.