The Night of Three Marii
a performance of Les Mis in Dublin that had 3 actors in one night play Marius.
There have been many times things have not exactly gone according to plan in Les Mis over the years but this was surely one of the more unique incidents featuring as it did three Marii, none of which was even the regular one, and a supporting cast of highly enthusiastic oysters.
It was late February of 1999 and the UK Tour company was settling into the special Dublin engagement with Colm Wilkinson. Colm was not the only performer to join the cast in Dublin, Matt Rawle had come aboard as Marius and had gone on through previews and opening night without a hitch but just two days later he called in sick. Well not to worry, this cast featured a most excellent understudy in the form of Adrian Smith who normally played Feuilly.
Adrian found out he would be going on that Thursday evening after having sampled some of Dublin’s fresh oysters at the opening night party 48 hours earlier on Tuesday night. He probably should have left the party and checked out Molly Malone and gone with her cockles and muscles instead since the oysters seemed to have taken umbrage at his ingesting them. Though they forgot to bring along a red banner they were about to “rise up” shall we term it and launch a little insurrection of their own soon. In short, they were about to give poor Adrian much grief.
Adrian wasn’t the only one to experience the revolt of the oysters — or was that the revolting oysters? Some of the others attending the opening night gala had come down sick following the incubation period for oyster poisoning which is 24 hours and doctors were dispatched to the fallen. Adrian was still not too queasy by early on Thursday though by curtain time he was starting to feel a bit poorly. But the show must go on as someone once said who obviously never ate tainted oysters in their life.
Adrian went on and as he performed the ensemble roles a Marius plays in the first hour he started to feel more and more sick. Things really got worse by the time Paris rolled around and he went on for the first time as Marius in the show. He soon found that departing the stage that evening after scenes featured a detour to the john as he was far more than merely queasy at this point.. I guess the oysters didn’t have their equity cards in order and felt guilty going on stage illegally and were trying their best to “leave the premises.”
Things got bad then things got worse but what to do? Les Mis casts have at least two understudies for each of the major roles so why not get Adrian to bed and send on the second cover? Well the second cover had left the cast right before the Dublin run and his replacement was brand new and had not yet been rehearsed in the role. So Adrian bravely persevered.
But his condition was deteriorating rapidly. After Thenardier and his gang try to rob Valjean’s house, Valjean rushes in and worries aloud that Javert may have discovered him and Cosette (Poppy Tierney) is suppose to use that moment to turn and rush to the garden gate to spend a few precious seconds holding Marius’ hands. But when Poppy reached the gate that night there was no romantic hand holding going on as Marius was finding the john far more attractive to be near than Cosette by that time.
Well maybe Adrian would feel better after resting during intermission or interval as it is termed over there. Adrian didn’t. Adrian felt worse. Adrian soldiered on.
Now when Adrian left the stage earlier in the show for costume changes and what not he could deal with business off stage. However Marius was now at the barricade for the duration and the students of 1832 didn’t exactly have port-a-potties on the premises. What to do? “Little Fall of Rain” was a bit of a problem since Adrian couldn’t get up and tell poor Éponine (Alex Sharpe) to wait while he used a bucket that had been stationed conveniently in the wings for him by this time. When Éponine expired Marius’ reaction was pretty dramatic though not exactly following the traditional blocking. Adrian waved wildly to the students to come over immediately and as they cradled Éponine and before David Bardsley (Enjolras) could comfort Marius singing “she is the first to fall,” this Marius had dashed off into the wings on the dead run! Rob Miller, filling in for Adrian in the role of Feuilly filled in for him here as well singing the lines, “her name was Éponine, her life was cold and dark but she was unafraid,” which makes one wonder just how Feuilly knew Éponine so well … hmmmmm.
Adrian remained off stage after that for a good while. When Enjolras is suppose to say “Marius, rest,” David, doing some very quick thinking, turned to Feuilly instead and said “Find Marius!”
After returning and getting through his part for a bit longer Adrian had to rush off again during Gavroche’s death. He returned afterwards bringing his little bucket in tow as well as Alison Crowther, a swing with the cast, who was assigned the dubious duty of making sure Adrian hit the pail and not the stage floor. So Adrian took care of business in front of 3000 patrons. The cast tried to screen him as much as possible so I don’t know how many audience members spotted Adrian and wondered at Marius’ inordinate fascination for the bottom of a bucket but hopefully not many.
But it had become obvious by this point that Adrian wasn’t getting any better and there would be no way he could sit there and sing “Empty Chairs” without emptying his chair and rushing off the stage in the process. Now the resident director with this company was Shaun Kerrison who had once been a Marius understudy in London. It was clear what must be done and Shaun went off to get into costume.
In the meantime Adrian was nearly a goner and he finally had to crawl off stage during the final battle and Tom Moss, who was playing his usual role of Joly, was quickly drafted and fell down wounded in his stead. Colm called out to him as Marius several times so no one would think Valjean had decided Joly would make a better match for Cosette then dragged Tom down into the sewers with him. Fortunately Tom was no stranger to the sewers being regularly featured as “The Body” that Thenardier (well know Irish character actor John Kavanagh) dragged in night after night. But Colm had dibs on Tom that night so John had to quickly nab himself a spare body for the occasion.
And Tom Moss that night must have entered the Guiness Book of World Records, Les Mis Division, as having performed the role of Marius for the shortest amount of stage time ever and without singing a single word. Surely a feat of such magnitude that his grandchildren will revel in the glory decades from now.
Well Shaun was ready and in costume in time for “Empty Chairs” and did an outstanding job from there through the end of the show thus holding down the anchor lap of the Marii Relay in fine fashion. It was a night he and Tom and especially poor Adrian will never forget. It was the night of the three Marii!
Both Matt and Adrian needed at least one more day to recover so the following night, just to make things more interesting, a fourth Marii popped up. It was the old second cover, Mark McGee, who had already left the cast but who was returning that day to visit his girlfriend who was still with the company. He was drafted for the day to return to the show and though he never had the chance to actually go on as Marius the whole time he had been with the tour he did that one magical night in Dublin with Colm.
And as Les Mis has an Epilogue so does this Les Mis tale. About a month later Matt came down with laryngitis and had to leave at the end of Act 1 one night. Adrian went on in Act 2 as Marius for the first time since he had shared the role with Tom, Shaun and the oysters chorus. At curtain call Colm not only shared his bow with Adrian but gave him a big grin and “thumbs up” as the cast all warmly applauded not only his efforts of that night but of another memorable one not that long ago. The oysters, not getting the star billing they felt they deserved, were a no show that night. Funny, Adrian didn’t seem to miss them at all.