"Never" is a word both Brennyn Lark and Erika Henningsen used following their Broadway debuts March 3 in Les Misérables. ("I never would have expected it," admitted Henningsen; "I never dreamed that I would be in Les Miz ever, and then one thing happened after the next," explained Lark.)
However, the "dream they dreamed" came true all too suddenly. Lark, the musical's new street urchin Eponine, didn't even make it to graduation day at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) before booking Broadway.
"I technically would have had my graduation ceremony in February," she explained, "but I was in rehearsals for this, so I didn't get to go to graduation. I had to get my diploma in the mail."
How then, before graduating, did she land one of the most coveted female roles on Broadway? "It was through a panel night at AMDA, where you have agents and casting directors come. I managed to get an agent through that. I'm signed to The Mine agency, and then I went on an audition — they just told me to go to Les Miz — and I said okay." When she got the call, she said her initial reaction was "Mom. I need to call my mom! Where is my mom? I need to tell her." She said, "It didn't feel real, but at the same time, I was just so happy and elated that I get to portray Eponine in a timeless piece like Les Miz. That doesn't happen to everyone, and I'm amazed that it happened to me. I don't take a moment of it for granted. I'm just feeling very blessed and grateful."
Henningsen, who graduated from the University of Michigan in May 2014, was filing for unemployment when she got the call that she was cast in Les Miz. She had just wrapped her run in the Sheryl Crow-Barry Levinson musical Diner at the Signature Theatre in D.C. and landed an audition because the casting office knew her through other projects.
"It was the Monday after Diner had closed," she said. "I was about to go file for unemployment, I had the papers on my bedside table, I was ready to go, and I got a call from my agent, and he just said, 'What are you doing right now?' And, I was like, 'Well, I'm getting my unemployment in order,' and he goes, 'You're going to be Fantine on Broadway.' I immediately started crying. I couldn't believe it because it's just not only at a time where it was going to be a low day, where I just thought, 'Okay, back to the grind,' but to get to do this show and get to be this woman — this character on stage… It was above and beyond what I could have hoped for my debut."
Both new leads sang to the rafters on their opening night, but had to remind themselves to take a breath and soak in the moment.
"I think I blacked out for the half hour when Fantine is on stage," said Henningsen. "I need to remind myself to take it in."
As for Lark, "I was trying to not let my nerves get the best of me," she confided. "I was trying to channel them properly, and luckily with Eponine, I can use any emotion that I have and intertwine that into the character. But, I was just trying to breathe. That was the main mantra I kept telling myself: 'Breathe, Brennyn. Breathe. Just be. Be present. Be grateful. Take it all in, because you only have your debut once.'"
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)