“Les Miserables” is one of the most highly acclaimed musical productions to hit Broadway. Its return to Chicago’s Cadillac Palace has drawn many return fans and is building new ones. The Tony Award-winning production of Alain Boublil and Calude-Michel Schonberg has inspired new staging and amazing production settings.
What sets “Les Miserables” apart from other musicals is its ensemble cast. From the beginning to the very end—each number will send chills throughout your spine. From “On My Own,” “One Day More” to “I Dreamed a Dream”—the energy and vocal talent resonating from each cast member is electrifying and hypnotic. Set in 19th century France, the musical is based on the novel by Victor Hugo, which takes the audiene through the trials of love, lost and revolution.
Newcomer and cast member Phoenix Best embodies the role of Eponine. Her story is unique because unlike other young actors and dancers who sometimes find the road to success filled with long and tedious auditions, busting tables and juggling their dreams—Best landed her first professional job a month after graduating from college.
“I went to DeSales University for musical theater. I’ve been singing and playing piano my whole life. I knew I wanted to do theater and went to school for it. I graduated in 2015 and I decided to move to NYC—right after graduation,” she says. “That’s the hub of theater in the U.S. so I went there. A month after I moved there, I got into ‘The Color Purple’ on Broadway. I did a few readings here and there.”
Best grew up in northwest Philadelphia where she attended Phil-Mont Christian Academy. There she developed her skills as a strong vocalist and stage performer. It was there where she knew she had to excel to be the best at her craft.
“I realized this was something I wanted to do. I went to a predominately White school. I was the only Black female in the theater department for most of my four years. The school did a lot of family-oriented productions. I loved the school that I attended but it made me have to fight and work harder than other students to get into a show or do a new project,” Best remembers.
“I feel that’s how you learn if you want to do this for the rest of your life. The moment you have to work harder and fighter harder—it gets tiresome and I ask, ‘Can I do this?’ By the time I got to New York City, I said to myself, ‘Alright, it’s going to take work but I’m definitely going to do this.’”
Best has played in smaller and understudy roles in “Dear Evean Hansen,” “Dreamgirls,” “Henry V,” and “Two Gentleman of Verona,” but the role of Eponine in “Les Miserables” is her first principal position in a major Broadway musical.
Because “Les Miserables” is an ensemble cast—the numbers are non-stop and there are very little breaks. It is a unique situation to experience, but a dream come true for Best.
“Singing as Eponine is one of the hardest things that I can do. Because her songs are ‘belty’ and there are high notes—you have to take care of your body and voice. Having no book but a script to work from, I’m singing the entire show and that’s different,” Best says.
“Usually you’ll sing a big number and you may talk for about 10 minutes and you may not be in that number. But for ‘Les Miz,’ it’s an ensemble piece with song after song after song and there is no break except for intermission. I feel like that is the biggest challenge for me. I feel it’s preparing me for whatever is next in my career.”
Growing up, Best was encouraged by her mother and sister who continue to motivate her as she pursues her dream on Broadway. With an intense work schedule, she hasn’t fully enjoyed the sights of Chicago but plans to do a little sightseeing before the musical ends October 29.
She’s grateful for the opportunity and says the audition process for “Les Miz” happened over a few months of back and forth call backs. Nonetheless, her hard work and diligence earned her a place on the popular production.
Best says, “I want to sing well and do the character justice. I went in for this part a few times over a course of a few months. So, going in for it, they liked what I did the last time but they wanted to work with me on a new thing. It’s important to keep the integrity of the role but also to keep the integrity of what you want to bring to it.”
Already ready to conquer the next role when it comes her way, she says, “Each person who plays this role is going to be different because we’re all different people. Some people back down from a challenge, but I’m the kind of person who sees the challenge and I’m ready to go for it.”