After nearly 20 years on Broadway, half-American, half-Canadian actor Peter Lockyer has crossed the pond to make his West End debut as Jean Valjean in the totemic musical Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre. This isn’t Lockyer’s first appearance on a London stage, however: In 2007, he was one of several Broadway names who accompanied Barbra Streisand in the British capital in concert. Broadway.com caught up with Lockyer the day after his first performance in the ongoing original staging of Les Miz to talk London audiences, aging and “Barbra buzz.”
You just made your West End debut. How did it go?
It went great! I wasn’t sure what to expect from a London audience, but they're extraordinary. You could hear a pin drop.
British audiences at their best have a remarkable capacity for listening.
So it seems—they really blew my mind during the “Epilogue,” which is such a delicate scene. It was so beautiful to feel as everyone was focused on what was going on. Either that or they were sleeping! [Laughs.]
Having performed Les Miz for over a year across North America, you must feel you now have the world at your doorstep.
I just feel incredibly honored and fortunate to be here! Getting a job in this business is increasingly challenging—there’s such incredible talent everywhere I turn, so I feel very blessed that [producer] Cameron Mackintosh would trust me to come over here and join this beautiful company.
After having been part of the newer production on tour, you've now joined the show's very first production.
I’m here on the West End as part of the original version that has been running 30 years, and it’s just as beautiful a show as it’s always been. What’s been great is that [co-director] John Caird doesn’t feel precious about anything that went before. He has made lots of little changes on me and changed some lighting cues so that they are relevant to our bodies and to what we’re doing.
How is it having now been part of these two separate productions of the same piece?
I like to say since I have done both that it’s been like looking at a painting from a different angle. This original production has a romance to it and a depth of color that is beautiful and subtle, while the newer production allows you to see some of the brighter colors and it’s got such strong energy and overt brushstrokes to it. Stylistically, they’re a little different, but it’s still the same material and lyrics and songs; I think you get the same impact from both.
Your first association with Les Miz was as Marius on Broadway. What is it like graduating to Jean Valjean?
That sort of happened naturally as I got older. When I was in my early 20s doing Marius, I very much was that character. I was a moment-to-moment kind of person. Now that I’ve gotten older, my priorities have changed and I feel as if I’ve made a natural shift to Jean Valjean’s body. The thing about this role is that he has such an interest in making good choices at every turn but as we all know, sometimes the world makes that a bit difficult. It's the mark of the character of a man that you can still make good decisions in very challenging circumstances.
So how old are you now?
[Laughs.] We don’t like to repeat our age in interviews. Ultimately, we’re not playing our age; we’re playing the ages of the characters we’ve been given.
You may feel differently with time. It seemed as if the entire world knew Angela Lansbury was 88 when she appeared in Blithe Spirit.
I could be 88 now, I just look really good!
Tell me about appearing in Barbra Streisand’s concert tour in 2007.
We were [in London] for 11 days and did three shows, and how exciting that was! Just to stand next to Barbra clearly knowing the buzz wasn’t for me but to feel what the fans were feeling for her was phenomenal. I’m so lucky to have got that lesson: I learned more than I can fit into words.
So this is your second time working here?
This is my second time in London period, and what’s been great is that I’ve really been able to take my time. I’m here until the end of January—and possibly longer—so my wife [casting director Melanie Lockyer] and I are able to begin to get to know the city. Already I can tell that no one does gardens and flowers and green grass like England and we’re here at a great time for football [the World Cup], so I’m excited to join in that fever.
You get to be part of a production that shows no sign of calling it quits any time soon. Why is Les Miz still so popular?
The reasons are apparent but profound. You’ve got a novel that is part of time immemorial and that encompasses the totality of human experience and whose timelessness comes with timeless music and lyrics all of which have been shaped by some brilliant minds. That’s the thing about the emotions raised by this show: no matter how jaded you are, you can’t help but feel something when you see it.