DIVA TALK: As Film Approaches, Tony Winner Randy Graff, Broadway's Original Fantine, Reflects on Les Miserables

By Andrew Gans
23 Nov 2012

Graff in the Finale.

Question: Fantine dies fairly early in the show, so how did you spend the rest of the time?
Graff: [Laughs.] I did all sorts of things. The first thing I did — and Diane [Fratantoni, now Diane Sutherland], she was the first Fantine on the road — she actually did the same thing that I did. Because of the gamut of emotions that you run as Fantine in such a short, intense time, I was just sort of emotionally and psychologically exhausted by the end of my little 45-minute marathon on stage, so I would immediately, when I got into my dressing room, eat chocolate. I had chocolate in my dressing room all the time, so I would just eat a lot of chocolate, and I'd get my energy back up, and then I would do all sorts of things — be on the phone, balance my checkbook, visit with the Lovely Ladies… Fantine is actually in the end of Act One. It's a crossover that she's in as a boy, and then she plays the boy at the barricade, so there wasn't as much time as people think.

Question: There were two major TV appearances where you performed "I Dreamed a Dream" — Phil Donahue and "The Tonight Show." What were each of those experiences like for you?
Graff: The first one was "The Tonight Show" — exciting and totally nerve-wracking. I was incredibly nervous on "The Tonight Show" — because it was the "Tonight Show," because it was Johnny Carson, because I was going before millions of people and singing "I Dreamed a Dream" on television for the first time. I had a great time talking to Johnny Carson. I had a hard time with the song because the music was very weird and out of sync, and because I was so nervous, I just felt really kind of vocally tight, and it wasn't the best performance I had given of that. Having said all that, it was absolutely thrilling. He was so kind and so wonderful to me, and I feel so incredibly lucky that I got to talk to Johnny Carson. [Laughs.] And, I still have the little sign from my dressing room that says, "The Tonight Show" with a half moon on it that says, "Randy Graff. The Tonight Show." He was a total gentleman.

Question: And, the Phil Donahue appearance was after?
Graff: Yeah, it was after. That one was really great because the panel was Neil Simon, Joe Papp and Jackie Mason, who was on Broadway at the time — a weird trio — [laughs] and they were talking about the 1987 season, and they had a bunch of us. Laurie Beechman was there singing "Memory," and I was there, and we were all in costume. I have a picture of it somewhere. It's the funniest picture. We were all in the greenroom, and she's dressed up as Grizabella, and I'm Fantine, and the Starlight Express people were there. It's the oddest picture. That one, even though it was eight o'clock in the morning, I was much more relaxed because I was in character in the Fantine costume, and it just felt more familiar, and the track from Broadway — I sang it to a track — so it just felt more familiar and comfortable.

Question: Looking back, why do you think Les Misérables has had such international success?
Graff: Wow. Yeah, it's amazing. It's such a phenomenon. I think the themes of love and redemption are universal. I think the music is beautiful, and it's an incredible story, and people respond to that. We'll always respond to a good story, and Les Miz has a great story. And, also, it was quite a sight, technically. I don't know if we had ever seen anything like that yet — maybe with Phantom. But I felt like I was doing Nicholas Nickleby with a turntable. It had the spectacle, and it had the substance. I think that's what's carried it through the years.

Question: How do you feel about having created Fantine on Broadway?
Graff: Really, really, really privileged. Totally privileged.

Question: Are you excited to see the movie?
Graff: I cannot wait to see the movie. I think they've got a great cast, and I was reading online that they sing live. That'll be great; they'll really get to act it… It gives the actors such freedom to just act the song, so I'm looking forward to that. I think the cast that they've put together is terrific. I can't wait, and I'm really excited to see Frances [Ruffelle] because she does a "Lovely Lady" cameo, and to see Colm [Wilkinson] as the priest. I think that's going to make me cry.

Question: What's happening for you now? Are there any projects that you can talk about that you're working on?
Graff: I've been doing a lot of readings lately — readings that you kind of hope will turn into something, but I don't really like to talk about that. You never know what's going to happen, but I've been pretty busy doing readings. And, I teach regularly at Primary Stages, and I'm actually going to Toronto to do a weekend master class. I've really been enjoying teaching and passing on what I've learned over the years. It's been very gratifying.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.