‘Les Miserables’ opens at PPAC

‘Les Miserables’ opens at PPAC

PROVIDENCE – Matt Shingledecker was late for our interview. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Our lunch breaks are all over the place.”

Shingledecker was in New York for his last week of rehearsals for “Les Miserables,” which launches from the Providence Performing Arts Center this month. The company was wrapping up its time in New York, and packing for the trip to Providence. “We leave on Sunday, and start our technical rehearsals on Monday.”

The first item to tackle: “The barricade. That has to be first. There are a lot of moving parts.”

Set builders had been working at PPAC since early September, constructing and piecing together the sets that will travel from city to city. For those who don’t know the show, the barricade is made up of wooden pallets and furniture and more, and is the spot where the French revolutionaries first make a stand against government forces.

Set in early 19th-century France, the play is the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant, and his quest for redemption after serving 19 years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. Valjean decides to break his parole and start his life anew after a kindly bishop inspires him by a tremendous act of mercy, but he is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector named Javert. Along the way, Valjean and a slew of characters are swept into a revolutionary period in France, where a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade.

Shingledecker plays Enjolras, one of revolutionaries dedicated to making political changes in France. “I grew up with the show,” he said. “It’s one of the shows that made me want to do musical theater. I always wanted to play Enjolras.”

Shingledecker’s career has seen a lot of romantic lead roles. He played Fiyero in “Wicked,” Tony in “West Side Story,” Roger in “Rent,” and others. “Enjolras is not the romantic lead in ‘Les Mis.’ He represents the hope, the fighting for a better world.” Vocally, Shingledecker sees Enjolras as a return to his roots. “It’s nice to sing like this. I don’t have to come up with a voice for him. It’s singing from my heart.”

Shingledecker considers himself very lucky. When he was in his last semester of college, he auditioned at the Southeastern Theater Conference in Chattanooga. “I thought I was just auditioning for summer work. I actually booked some. But then I got booked for ‘Spring Awakening’ on Broadway.”

He started right away, so he had to leave college behind. “I graduated in 2008, but I had to finish my classes online. I didn’t walk the stage (to get my diploma), but I figured, this is what I went to college for.”

He spent four months on Broadway with “Spring Awakening,” and then was part of the national tour, which passed through Providence in 2009. “I’m looking forward to visiting Providence again. Back then, I was just a kid right out of college.”

Shingledecker’s last big show was “Wicked.” He played Fiyero on tour for 10 months, then on Broadway for another nine.

What does he call his best moment in theater so far? “When I was doing ‘West Side Story’ on Broadway, I got to learn the role from Arthur Lawrence, who wrote the original book for the show and directed this version. And I got to sing the score with a 35-piece orchestra. I thought that was the height of it all. That was the big deal. I got to do my dream. Now what? And I thought, we’ll just see what comes next.”

Enjolras is a critical player, but he doesn’t get a lot of stage time. Not to worry, though. Shingledecker plays a variety of other players in the ensemble. “I don’t like being off-stage.”

“Les Miserables” runs Sept. 21-30 at the Providence Performing Arts Center. For tickets and information, visit www.ppacri.com or call the box office at 401-421-ARTS.