McCarrell, originally from Cleveland, OH, landed the job (his Broadway debut) fresh out of college at Baldwin Wallace University. Since then, he journeyed to Neverland last December for the NBC live broadcast of Peter Pan, and now he's back at the barricades. We caught up with him after his first performance.
You've been understudying the role of Marius for a year (and even took over for a brief stint when Andy Mientus was filming "The Flash"). Tell us about the very first time you went on!
Chris McCarrell: I was texted about two hours before the show: "Marius for matinee." That was it. It was a three-word text: "Marius for matinee." I woke up a little late, and I checked my phone to see who texted me overnight, and that was sitting in my inbox, and I was like, "Oh my God!" I burnt my mouth chugging coffee to run to the theatre to go over blocking, so it was like being shot out of a cannon. I don't even know how I did it. I just walked on and prayed for the best and hoped that all of our preparation paid off, and it did. So that [performance] I barely remember. It was like I blacked out for three hours and came off stage.
So, then how was tonight?
CM: Tonight had a much more grounded feeling. It felt like this is the new era for this reincarnation of Les Miz, and I'm here to stay, and I'm excited to sink my teeth into it. It felt like more of an introduction to a chapter rather than a blip on the screen or an emergency call.
You're pretty new to the scene. What were you up to right before you booked Les Miz?
CM: I had just moved to the city out of college [at Baldwin Wallace University], so I was auditioning my tail off. I was an auditioning actor living on savings from college. That's what I was doing. I did some regional gigs, but I got the call about Les Miz pretty quickly out of college.
What did you sing at your audition?
CM: Well, I was first introduced in the Marius rounds, so I was up to finals for Marius in the beginning. I was terrified of a Broadway director still because I was bright-eyed and brand new to the city, so I bombed it. I was like, "I'll never be hearing from that show again!" And then, a few months later, they were like, "Why don't you come in for the Joly track to understudy Marius?" And, I [thought], "Well, they've seen me do really good, and they've seen me do really bad, so I've got nothing to lose." And, that's how I got my start in Les Miz. I came in being seen for Mairus, and then I was seen for Joly, and now we've kind of backed up our steps, and I'm Marius! [Laughs.] It's crazy.
We're obsessed with your Twitter account. It seems to have blown up since you started Les Miz, and everyone in the cast (especially your former Madame Thenardier, Keala Settle) is always stealing your phone to play jokes…
CM: I don't know how my phone became public property in the theatre. I guess I'm a little too trusting… Everyone has their phone on lockdown with passcodes, and [it's] hidden in the corner. I just leave mine on the table. There's nothing to find on it. If you want the phone number to my brother, you can get it! And then there's certain people — [cough cough] Keala Settle — who like to abuse my trusting nature and take to my social media accounts, which I've never experienced in my 23 years of not locking my phone. I tried locking my phone for like a week, and the amount of effort it took every time I tried to make a call… I was like, "It's not worth it. I'll pay the price of a random tweet every now and then." I'm fine with it! It's become a public social media device in the theatre.
What are you up to besides the show? You're always floating around the concert scene.
CM: A ton of concerts, [but] I'm still trying to find my footing in New York. I just moved into a new apartment. I'm from Cleveland, OH, and when I moved [to New York] three months [after college], I was basically on the barricades, so I never really had time to set up my life too much, so it's still a lot of catching up with that. But, finding my group of friends, concerts and readings, trying to keep my feet in new works when I can…
What's been your favorite NYC moment thus far?
CM: First preview a year ago! March 1 was our first preview a year ago, and I'll never forget the screams that came from that audience when they saw this show. [Tonight] reminded me of that first night. It's something that you don't experience often.
Marius is at the heart of the love story in Les Miz. How does his dating game compare to 2015 New York City dating?
MC: Well, I think Marius nowadays… I think he walked a fine line back then of being a creeper. I think he just found the right girl to go after — she was just eating it up — [but] I don't know if Marius today would be throwing rocks at girls' windows on 32nd Street, [or] wherever the heck he would live, and get the same response. But, when two people find each other who are right for each other, I think it happens almost the same way as it did back then. You go after what you want, and sometimes they want you just as much as you want them.
(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.)