Do You Hear The People Sing?

Do You Hear The People Sing?

Celebrated musical returns to Walton Arts Center


Like many musical theater lovers — and even your average pop culture consumers — Paige Smallwood remembers being a young girl listening to the “Les Miserables” soundtrack and feeling seen.

“When I was a little girl and listening to ‘On My Own’ for the first time, I was like, ‘Mom! That’s me!’ And then especially seeing more and more women of color play Éponine, that was the first time I really felt like I saw a piece of myself on stage. And I was like, ‘I want to do that. I want to be a part of that’,” the actor recalls.

Now, Smallwood is honored to be sharing one of the most celebrated musicals in theatrical history around the country as she takes stock of what brought her to this moment and what it means to tell Éponine’s story.

“It’s kind of terrifying to step into the same shoes that so many great women before me have kind of molded in to their own, like Lea Salonga, for instance,” she says. “The other day, somebody likened me to her on Twitter, and I started crying because there’s no way, there’s no way, that I can even come close to that god of a woman! But it’s amazing at the same time to think that I have the opportunity to share Éponine’s story and to be a part of this legacy of so many strong women who’ve come before me.

“Éponine for me, first and foremost, is a lion,” Smallwood continues. “When it comes to her love, she loves so wholeheartedly and so fiercely. And that’s more than just her love for a romantic interest. That’s her love for, unfortunately, her family who does not quite treat her well, her love for — in the novel she and Gavroche are brother and sister — so her love for her little brother, and her love for just love and fighting for the right thing.

“She will not back down if she believes in something. She will fight for it till her final breath without faltering. And that kind of commitment, that kind of strength, is what I truly try to pull from when I step on the stage in her combat boots.”

Based on the Victor Hugo novel, “Les Miserables” follows the lives of a handful of characters as they navigate early 19th-century Paris, leading up to the June Rebellion of 1832 when tensions between the classes were particularly fraught. The 1862 book has had eight film adaptations — the most recent boasting a star-studded cast including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crow and Anne Hathaway — and was given stage life as a musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg in 1980.

Seen by more than 70 million people across the globe, the show has obviously undergone more than a few revivals and refurbished productions. The most recent version coming to the Walton Arts Center June 18-23 is the vision of Cameron Mackintosh that enjoyed a two-and-a-half year return to Broadway before hitting the road.

“It’s a much more contemporary vibe, while also staying true to the history of the piece,” Smallwood shares. “It’s kind of tied up in a pretty little package with all of the projections because it makes it very cinematic. And for me, as somebody who did not live through the ’80s but has a great, great appreciation for that time period, the production itself is paying homage to that. But I think for the audience we’re trying to draw in today — the people who haven’t seen ‘Les Mis’ before, the people 17 years and younger who grew up listening to it but don’t quite understand the weight that is ‘Les Mis’ — I think it gives them an opportunity to find a connection through their generation into the story and into the world of the play.”

Stepping in to the role just as the show had been re-imagined also offered the actors the freedom to explore the characters in the way they wanted, from the beginning. Smallwood recalls during her audition with producer Mackintosh when he told her to forget all the tips and advice she had been given about the character to that point and “just show me what you want me to see.” The company’s commitment to the integrity of the piece while affording the actors that flexibility has made the experience all the more special, Smallwood says.

“There’s a piece of humanity in not just me, but all of the characters in this tour that audiences can see and they can feel,” she reveals. “They feel like we’re friends that they’re watching on stage. And that really resonates with me because that’s what I want. I want people to come to our show and feel like they’re watching their friends. Instead of just sitting down as a part of the audience and then there’s this proscenium and then there’s the show, I want them to feel like they are immersed in the world, and they are a part of it, and they know and care about these people.”



‘Les Miserables’

WHEN — 8 p.m. June 21 & 22; 2 p.m. June 22 & 23

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $68-$107

INFO — 443-5600,,

Categories: Theater