Les Miserables – Meet Jean Valjean



PLAYHOUSE: Everybody knows that Jean Valjean and Javert are mortal enemies – have you and Jeffrey [Madison] done any special preparation to get into that mindset?


Pictured: Adam Sippola as “Jean Valjean” left, Jeffrey Madison as “Javert” right at “Les Misérables” rehearsal at UMD.

ADAM SIPPOLA: For the last couple of months, Jeff and I have been randomly showing up in each other’s daily lives, singing threateningly in each other’s general direction, and then darting off.

Really though, it’s been thoroughly enjoyable to get to know one another off stage, and to enjoy each other’s work onstage. There’s a camaraderie and artistic trust that enables for good, honest work. Now watch, in reality, Jeff probably has a dart board with my face on it in his dressing room.

PH: The role of Jean Valjean is a coveted role in musical theatre history – what is it like to play him?

Adam: This role is one of only a few on the bucket list, so to have the opportunity to bring it to life on stage at the DECC, with this phenomenal cast, members of the DSSO, amazing crew, designers, and director, is pretty awesome, to say the least.

PH: What research did you do to prepare for Valjean?

Adam: I went back and re-read section of the book, watched some clips from old film adaptations, but as with other shows, I mostly look to the text, myself, my fellow actors, and my director.


Adam Sippola as “Jean Valjean” at “Les Misérables” rehearsal at UMD.

PH: What was your biggest challenge in playing this role?

Adam: The greatest challenge has been to strip away preconceptions of Valjean, and to just allow myself to find the character in my voice and body, and in my life, regardless of how it’s been done before, or what expectations others may have.

PH: Tell us a little bit about what this production/role/opportunity means to you.

Adam: It’s an absolute honor, all of it. It’s a joy to play on stage every day and night with this cast and crew – there’s great love there. It’s both humbling and empowering to perform with such consistently high caliber musicians and actors, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Ms. Danner, a beautiful person and wonderful director, continuing in my personal growth as a performer. Perhaps most importantly, I am honored to be a part of telling this story of love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness – to meet my fellow actors in this world of Les Miserables, and to go with them beyond the barricade.


Adam Sippola as “Jean Valjean” left, Jennifer Graupmann Campbell as “Cosette” right at “Les Misérables” rehearsal at UMD.

PH: Any special thanks or shout outs?

Adam: My childhood cello teacher, Betsy Husby, taught me so much, not only about how to play the cello, but by example, how to carry myself as a musician and performer. Week after week, year after year, sitting in lessons with her, exploring music, I can see in retrospect that I was also finding my voice, and cultivating a passionate attitude for music performance, which became the foundation for how I sing and perform today. I am so thankful! And the serendipitous part is that Betsy is playing cello in the orchestra for Les Miserables, so after many, many years, we’re making music together again.

I’d also like to thank my mom, Carlene, for always being my biggest fan and supporter, along with my dad, John, for always singing with me, and for teaching me the art of listening. And thank you Nicole, Vali, and Anja, for your love and support.

Don’t forget to get your tickets, we open tonight! You can purchase in person at the DECC Ticket Office or online by clicking the button below. We’re expecting it to be busy at the door, so advance sales are always recommended. See you at the show!


Les Misérables – Meet Fantine!




Ali Littrell Finstrom in “Les Misérables” at the Chanhassen

PLAYHOUSE: It’s great to have you back for another Playhouse production! But this isn’t your first time being in Les Mis, right?

Ali Littrell Finstrom: That’s right! I was blessed to play the role of Cosette in a production at Chanhassen Dinner Theaters back in 2007. Being a part of Les Misérables is a dream for many performers, so getting to do it twice is unbelievable!

PH: You play Fantine in the show – what does this role mean to you?

Ali: Fantine is a wonderful role and I feel grateful to have the chance to play her. But the show itself has much more meaning to me. I love what the show stands for; forgiveness, love, grace, and redemption. It is a beautiful and powerful show and I am excited to share it with the Northland!

Ali Littrell Finstrom in "Les Misérables" at the Chanhassen.

Ali Littrell Finstrom in “Les Misérables” at the Chanhassen.

PH: What research did you do to prepare for this role?

Ali: I was eight years old when I first saw Les Misérables so I have loved this show for many years.  As I said previously, this is not the first time I have done this show. Last time, it ran for 6 months! So I know the show forwards and backwards. This time around however, I committed to reading the Victor Hugo novel. There is so much more detail and background that I was able to apply to my role having read the book.

PH: What was your biggest challenge in playing this part?

Ali: The biggest challenge would have to be Fantine’s emotional journey.  I am only on stage for a total of about 25 minutes, but it is an intense 25 minutes!  Being a mother of three small children, I can relate to how desperate Fantine is to provide and care for her child, Cosette.

Ali Littrell Finstrom on left as Fantine in "Les Misérables" rehearsal at UMD.

Ali Littrell Finstrom on left as Fantine in “Les Misérables” rehearsal at UMD.

PH: What has been your favorite part about this production? Or a favorite part of the show?

Ali: The best part of this production is the fact that it is a collaboration of some of the best artists in the community.  From the directors and performers to the crew and orchestra, many people are working very hard to make this show something that will raise the bar for productions in Duluth.  As far as my favorite part in the show; I would have to say the very end when the entire cast sings all together in the big finale!

PH: Any special thanks or shout outs?

Ali: Always grateful to my loving, supportive husband Erik and our three sweet munchkins Kayleigh, Andrew, and Emily!  Being wife and mommy is my favorite role to play!!

Ali Littrell Finstrom in "The Sound of Music" at The Duluth Playhouse.

Ali Littrell Finstrom in “The Sound of Music” at The Duluth Playhouse.

Don’t forget to get your tickets, we open next week! You can purchase in person at the DECC Ticket Office or online by clicking the button below. And check back for more Q&A sessions with the cast!


Les Misérables – Meet the Thenardiers!



Less than 1 week until we open!!!! Let’s continue meeting cast members – up next: Priscilla McRoberts and Mike Pederson, who play the Thenardier’s!

PLAYHOUSE: You both are Playhouse veterans – have you been in shows together before?

Priscilla McRoberts: We have never acted together before, but I have bossed him around as his director in a couple of shows – The Fantasticks and Spamalot.


Production photo from “Spamalot.” Pictured in center: Mike Pederson. Directed by Priscilla McRoberts.

Mike Pederson: Priscilla and I have worked on shows together before. Not so much “been in together” as much as she has bossed me around (she’s really bossy). She has directed two shows that I have had the privilege of working on. The Fantasticks and Spamalot. Both through the Playhouse. Yep, if I had to describe Priscilla in one word it would be bossy. Next question!

PH: The Thenardier’s have to be fun characters to play! What has been your favorite part about playing them?

Mike Pederson and Priscilla McRoberts (in back) as The Thenardiers in "Les Misérables" rehearsal at UMD.

Mike Pederson and Priscilla McRoberts (in back) as The Thenardiers in “Les Misérables” rehearsal at UMD.

Priscilla: It’s always so much fun playing a villain – these two are greedy, opportunistic, dark, devious people who thrive in finding the weaknesses in others (which often means drunk or dead) in order to steal from them.  I particularly like how dark we have made Madame Thendardier.  It’s a great challenge to play so many different layers in a character.

Mike: The most fun for me has been finding the line these characters straddle between comedy and the darkness that we (humanity) have to offer. Finding the place in the show where the audience gets to realize that these characters that they were just enjoying are not at all what the music was telling them they were. If that makes any sense.

PH: Did you do any special research to prepare?

Priscilla: Sadly, I did not.  I haven’t read the book. I didn’t see the movie. I did see the original company in New York in 1987.  It changed my life.

Mike: I had read the novel forever ago so I went back to look at some of that and of course I love learning about the historical socioeconomic situations that birth these stories, so I went and looked at what was happening in Europe at the time. Not in a time machine mind you, but in books! And possibly the internet.

PH: What does it mean to you to be in this production?

Priscilla: I was a theatre major at Macalester College in 1987.  I had experienced some judgments about becoming an actor because I did not have a traditional actress body type/look and had been discouraged to pursue the industry for that reason.  I saw Les Misérables on Broadway in 1987 and when Madame Thenardier (played by Jennifer Butt who was a large woman with powerful energy, a strong voice, and genius comic timing) came out and stole the show, I thought to myself “I CAN be an actress.”  To be able to play the part that at one time gave me the courage to follow my heart is a gift I am humbled and honored to receive.


Priscilla McRoberts pictured on left in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Mike: It has been so very humbling to be a part of this production.These two characters are some of my favorite in all of musical theatre. Getting to play this in a community I really care about has meant the world to me.

PH: Any special thanks or shout-outs?

Priscilla:  I want to thank my parents who recognized my interest in theatre as a young girl in Fairfield, CT and who brought me to see brilliant Broadway musicals every birthday when I was growing up.  I thank Mike who is so SO much fun to play with. I thank my friends who always support and encourage me, especially when I doubt myself. And I thank Dottie Danner, our director, for giving me this opportunity.

Mike: To my family who first began fostering my love of the arts as a very small child going to see the Minnesota orchestra and shows at the Guthrie and children’s theatres. Thank you. To our director Dottie who has been simply a joy to work with, thank you so much for having me on this journey. Lastly, to Priscilla who has become a great friend, mentor and partner on this journey even if she is bossy.

Don’t forget to get your tickets, we open next week! You can purchase in person at the DECC Ticket Office or online by clicking the button below. And check back for more Q&A sessions with the cast!


Les Misérables – Meet Cosette!



Who is pumped for Les Mis? I know we are!!! We open next week already and we would love to have you meet a few of our cast members. First up, meet our Cosette played by Duluthian, Jennifer Graupmann Campbell.


Jennifer Graupmann Campbell plays Cosette in Les Misérables

PLAYHOUSE: Cosette is a pretty coveted role in musical theatre history – what does this part mean to you?

Jennifer Graupmann Campbell: It has been really exciting to play Cosette in this production and to share the stage with such a talented cast. This is one of the few roles that I feel particularly suited for, so I’m very glad I’m getting the opportunity to perform it!

PH: It’s also a pretty hefty role vocally – for the folks that don’t know you already, what is your music background?

Jenny: I’ve been singing my entire life. I received my BA in Music from Luther College and my Master of Music degree from UMD. While I’ve gotten into musical theater more in the past few years, I have primarily performed in operas and classical recitals. I also love to sing jazz and choral music. I perform around the area with some jazz groups and sing soprano in Twin Ports Choral Project. I also teach private voice lessons out of my home and at UMD and direct the First Covenant Church Choir and Lake Superior Youth Chorus.


PH: What research did you do for this role?

Jenny: Cosette is one of the more underwritten characters in the show/book. It’s funny because she is the face of the show and so much of the story revolves around her, but thercosettee is a lot about her that is left unknown, so despite doing some research, I had to piece together much of my idea of Cosette based on her interaction with other characters. I still struggle with her inability to recall any of her childhood, but I guess it was good that she was able to forget her unfortunate past. I also listened to several recordings from different professional Les Mis casts to get a sense of various interpretations. I sort of feel like I began preparing for this role when I began voice lessons in eighth grade. Her song, “In My Life” was one of the songs in the first musical theater book I ever owned, and I really loved to belt it out in my bedroom to the accompaniment CD.

PH: What has been your biggest challenge with this part?

Jenny: Dottie, our director, has really pushed me to bring this character to life physically. For me, the easy part is the singing and facial expression, but moving about the stage takes a little extra effort. It’s funny the things you don’t ever realize you do until someone tells you not to. I’ve really learned a lot about myself as a performer in the process.

Jenniffer Graupmann Campbell as Cosette in "Les Misérables" rehearsal at UMD.

Jenniffer Graupmann Campbell as Cosette in “Les Misérables” rehearsal at UMD.

PH: What is your favorite part about being involved in this production?

Jenny: Honestly, I’ve really enjoyed watching the show and especially the other female leads – Sarah and Ali. It has been very inspiring seeing them bring their characters to life with so much depth and commitment. It’s also been very fun singing with Lucas (Marius). He has such a beautiful voice and I think we have a really good stage chemistry. I am looking forward to seeing where his career will take him.

PH: Any special thanks or shout outs?

Jenny: I would like to thank my husband Jeff for his support and encouragement and helping me to practice my Les Mis music at home. He knows the show better than I do, and he’s definitely my favorite duet partner.


Don’t forget to get your tickets, we open next week! You can purchase in person at the DECC Ticket Office or online by clicking the button below. And check back for more Q&A sessions with the cast!



Let’s Talk “Ring of Fire”



So this week we have Ring of Fire opening in The Underground. I personally LOVE Johnny Cash music, but wasn’t too familiar with the show. So I asked director Mary Fox a few questions to get a better vibe as what to expect. Here’s our chat:

Mallory: So Mary, what is Ring of Fire about?

Mary: It’s a review of some of Johnny Cash’s best songs, set on a front porch with a stomp-your-feet Hootenanny kinda vibe. It’s eclectic and fun and charming…And A LOT of Cash music. If you’re interested in a night full of back to back Johnny Cash, then you won’t be disappointed.

Mallory: Who is all in the show?

Mary: It ranges from a high school student, a college student, and some wonderful local musicians. We play kazoos and cardboard boxes, along with guitars and bass drums. Our cast has become our own band of misfits! We have sweet voices and loud voices and funny voices. I think Johnny Cash would be proud.

Mallory: We all know Johnny Cash is awesome-so it’s safe to assume this show is also, but what specifically attracted you to direct Ring of Fire?

Mary: Johnny Cash has always been a favorite of mine. I also was excited to work with people in this community. I think what director’s have done in the past with this show is hire really incredible players – and by no means is that bad! But one of the best things about Johnny Cash is how universal he is. How simple he is. He was never a “perfect” player himself so what attracted me to do this show was the idea of using passionate performers who just plain love his music. That’s when you know you’re going to have a good time.

Mallory: What should us audience members expect when coming to the show?

Mary: It’s not your regular night of theater. It’s very different from a musical or a play. It’s more of a music experience, a musical revue of sorts. A tribute to Johnny Cash if you will. It will be a very laid-back environment. We’d love for people to sing a long, get up and dance, give hoot and holler or just plain stomp or feet!

Mallory: And I have to ask, what is your favorite Johnny Cash song?

Mary: I’ve always been partial to “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” It’s classic.


Thanks to Mary Fox for taking the time to answer my questions! I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see Ring of Fire this week! The show runs this week Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm, and the same next week. See you there!



Audition Workshop Summer Session


TAW Email Signature Image


Coming this summer, we’ve got an awesome Audition Workshop for ages 16+ with Duluth native De’Lon Grant. Check out his video blog below to learn more about this awesome week-long camp offered in August.

Here are the details:
The Audition Workshop’s Musical Theatre Session (Adults, 16+)
The Playhouse Conservatory, 230 W Superior Street (Wells Fargo Building, 3rd Ave W Entrance)
August 18-27 | Monday-Sunday | 10:00am – 5:00pm | Tuition: $250
Registration Deadline: June 6, 2014 (if an extended deadline is needed, contact Kate Horvath at 218-733-7574)


ODC Meet the Cast 5



Leading up to the opening of our fifth show of the season, Other Desert Cities, we’ll be introducing you to the cast. A story about the fictional Wyeth family – lead by a mother and father highly regarded in old Hollywood circles – and daughter Brooke Wyeth’s memoir that may bring to light a dark secret that no one wants revealed. The Guthrie Theater characterized the play as “a searing comedy with banter that dazzles and decimates, making it one of the most satisfying grown-up plays of the decade.” Filled with a unique family of characters, we’d love for you to meet the talented actors behind them.

To wrap up – let’s meet the final cast member, Brooke Wyeth, played by Erin McConnell.

Playhouse: In what ways do you relate to your character?

Erin McConnell

Erin McConnell: Brooke is an interesting case, and a surprisingly complicated character for me to get inside of. When I first read the script, I was very moved (of course), and I thought – yes, I understand everything she is saying, how she’s feeling, what she means. But Brooke, while older than me in the play, is actually more relate-able to a younger version of myself logically and emotionally – regarding her place in the world, her place in her family, what’s she’s owed, etc. So there’s been a real balance for me to find in that – some things she does or says I have a lot of sympathy for, and some I don’t, because as a person I have struggled with some of the same things and come to different conclusions than she has. It’s knowing how to be honest in each of those moments, to own them fully, that has been an exciting part of the process for me. It’s so engaging, because it’s a play where audience sympathies can really bounce around between the different characters, even within a scene – and as a reader and actor I can definitely feel that too.

PH: In what ways are you changed from this story?

Erin: Certainly this play is a meditation on family, but it’s also a meditation on personal truth – divergent stories, even within a family, of ‘fact,’ of family history. I’ve been thinking a lot on that, on personal narrative, and what that means. Also, certainly, playing a daughter, a sister, and niece – it just can’t help but carry into your own life, how you empathize and communicate with your off-stage relations. Brooke and I are very hard on ourselves, I would say – and my learning to love Brooke has perhaps softened me a bit to some of those tendencies within myself. From a technical perspective I can also say I am changed because of the actors I get to work with – I admire them all profusely, I am so humbled by them – and I know that I will leave this show a better, stronger actor because of them, and because of Julie’s direction.

PH: You don’t currently live in Duluth – what drew your attention to this project?

Erin: This is going to sound like platitude, but I cannot stress enough how fully I mean this: nowhere is like Duluth. Nowhere. Nowhere has what we’ve (you’ve) got going on, in the way you’ve got it going on. The number of artists (of all ilk), the commitment to craft, the legit support that folks here give to one another, it’s… amazing. Amazing is what it is. I am addicted to this city, this community, and with good reason. I tell everyone about it, I’m such a Duluth zealot, wholly without shame. So, I’m always keeping my eye out for opportunities here, the right timing, the right show. When I heard about Cities, read the script, knew who was involved, knew I could get away – I couldn’t not try to be a part of it. Even at 2am, in the middle of my 6 hour, post rehearsal commute, I never question how lucky I am to have been cast in this show, especially working with the people I am. I can’t wait to hear the community’s response to our production.

PH: Any special thanks or shout-outs?

Erin: All my love to my cast and production team; they’ve really become family to me. Thanks to the Duluth Playhouse for welcoming me back to the fold for this amazing show, and for trusting me to make the multi-state commute. Thanks to Julie Ahasay for believing in me. Thanks to my parents and friends for helping me combat jet lag with coffee and conversation, to Molly O’Neill for being the best friend a girl could hope for, and to my dear fiancee Ian for not only loaning me out for two months, but supporting me unflinchingly every step of the way. I couldn’t have done this without any of you.

Thanks for reading our blog and meeting the cast of the show! Other Desert Cities opens this week Thursday! You can grab your tickets by calling 218-733-7555 or by purchasing online. See you at the show!