Jimmy Smagula was just a 12-year-old kid in Lyndhurst, N.J., when he experienced a lightning-bolt moment that told him exactly what he was meant to do in life.
He was in a kidsâ singing group in the community about a half-hour outside of New York City. A friend in the group had landed the role of Cosette in the Broadway production of the musical âLes MisÃ©rables.â Her mom suggested to his dad that he take Smagula to see her perform.
âMy blue-collar, truck-driving dad said OK,â Smagula says, noting it seemed somewhat out of character for his dad to pay $50 per ticket for a performance.
âHe bought me the little cassette tape of the âLes Misâ show highlights. I played it every single day and then we saw the show and I just knew thatâs what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,â Smagula says.
Beginning Jan. 21, audiences will have the opportunity to see Smagula perform as Thenardier in the Broadway touring production of âLes MisÃ©rablesâ as it stops in Springfield for an eight-performance run at Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts.
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ââLes Misâ is the reason Iâm an actor,â he says. âIt is the singular reason Iâm an actor.â
But it took Smagula a bit to get there. He began his career in New York, doing seven Broadway shows in 11 years. By the end of that run, he was ready for something new.
âI moved to Los Angeles in 2011 to just do television and film. I didnât want to do Broadway shows anymore. It was kind of exhausting and I was just done doing it,â he says.
Smagula found plenty of work in L.A., landing roles on shows such as âGreyâs Anatomy,â âParks and Recreation,â âBrooklyn Nine-Nine,â âCorporateâ and âThe Sopranos.â
Then last year, he got a call that altered the trajectory of his career. He was asked to audition for âThe Music Manâ for a one-week run at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C.
His break from live performance evidently was sufficient â he relished his role. âI loved it. I had the best time,â he says.
Then Smagula spotted the opportunity heâd sought his entire career: an opportunity to audition for a role in âLes MisÃ©rables.â
He won the part.
âIt is literally my dream come true,â Smagula says.
Smagula plays the black-hearted Thenardier, who â with his equally vile wife â makes a misery of everyoneâs lives, most particularly that of protagonist Jean Valjean.
Smagula says he could not be happier about playing such a sinister character.
âItâs the best,â he says. âI truly believe I have the best role in the show â¦ he is the comic relief.â
Smagula says one of the things he loves best about the character is he absolutely does not improve in any way throughout the storyâs arc. âHe gets worse,â he says. âThings just disintegrate more and more and more. He gets more sinister, more dark, more murderous as the show goes on. I find that to be really fun. Itâs a character the audience loves to hate.
âI love to think of him as Tony Soprano. Heâs a murderer and a terrible guy, but we root for him,â he says.
Smagula says that despite a demanding touring schedule, he finds fresh ways to approach his character night after night.
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One night, he focuses on the darker elements of his character. âAnother night, I may be a little more jovial and play the jovial host rather than the dark thief,â he says.
Smagula says keeping the performance fresh every single night is important to him on a personal level.
âImagine if I had noticed (a flat performance) at the age of 12, that it was boring, that someone was phoning it in â¦ I would have had a different life,â he says.
Now in its 35th year, Smagula says heâs not terribly surprised the Broadway version of Victor Hugoâs novel of the same name still sells out theaters. He credits the enduring power of the story for that success.
âI think itâs the story of redemption of Jean Valjean, where he went from having a hard life, thrown in prison and he came out and decided to make a better life for himself and for the people around him. And he succeeds in doing this by leading with kindness and love,â he says. âI think that resonates with people.â
âLes MisÃ©rablesâ begins its six-day, eight-performance run Jan. 21.
Want to go?Â
What: The Broadway touring production of “Les MisÃ©rables”
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, through Thursday, Jan. 23; 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26
Where: Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts, 525 S. John Q. Hammons Parkway
Tickets: $39-$84; tickets available at HammonsHall.com or MissouriStateTix.com or by calling 1-888-476-7849 or 417-836-7678
Info: 417-836-7678 or HammonsHall.com
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