The Daily Dose (November 29, 2011) Backstage at Les Miserables

Max and his best friend Scabby (Catherine Brunell)

Max and his best friend Scabby (Catherine Brunell) Max was a dude, Scabby was a cry baby.

Happy Tuesday!  I should have known, people want to hear about Max the bullet boy from Les Miserables, so where better to unpack my sordid past as an onstage trouble maker than right here in my Daily Dose.  As a teacher, I encourage a thorough back story for any character you are playing.  I put my money where my mouth is, and all of my characters have famously detailed pasts.  Max was my first and (arguably) my best.

First let me give you a little explanation of what in the world I am talking about.  Les Miserables alums may move to the next blogisode as this will contain information you already know.  Wait…unless you were on the National tour from 1995-1996, in which case you may have little memory of anything that was happening, you party animals you, so keep reading. For everyone else:  What is a bullet boy?  In a general sense what we are talking about is Victor Hugo’s terrific and huge novel turned mega musical, and the reduction of 1,00,000 novel characters to fit on a cast of 36.  How does one do that?  All the actors play numerous roles, so in all honesty, to say a “bullet boy” I am really limiting my job because Max the bullet boy didn’t even show up until it was nearly intermission.  Let’s see if I can do this.  I will try to list the characters I played if I was on as track 31 (also known as Pauline Frommer’s track, which then became Sarah Uriarte’s track, which then became Joanna Young’s track, which eventually became my track when I re-joined the tour a few years later.)

Oh boy, I need a spread sheet.  Bear with me.  Pretend for a moment that you are a female cast member of Les Miz.

This is what your evening looks like.  You get to the theater at half hour (7:30 for an 8pm show) and if Mary Beth Abel is your stage manager, you’d better be there at 7:29 because she will write you up for being late.  Proceed to the dressing room.  Gossip and goof off and probably eat your dinner for 20 minutes and then at 7:50 slam on some *dirt (*to make “dirt” take a cork, light the end on fire, burn it for a second, blow it out, WAIT FOR IT TO COOL, which I always skipped because I was in a hurry and would burn myself.  Charming.), rub it on the back of your hand and then wipe your face with the back of your hand as if you have sweat rolling down.  Voila!  Perfect dirt!  Never, ever apply the “dirt” directly to your face because that is just going to look like you rubbed a cork on your face.  Also avoid making black streaks under your eyes or else you look like a football player (which is fun, but wrong and I NEVER did that on purpose.  Ever.  They are all lying.)  Then slap on some eyeliner, some mascara, some nude lipstick and you are off.  Toss on the Les Miserables terry cloth white robe you got as gift when you joined the company, that has your name embroidered on it, and run to the quick change area that is (hopefully depending on the city) located right off stage.  Here’s what you put on, (and in this order):

1) Pantaloons (extremely comfy and I am sorry they ever went out of style.)

I'm bringing pantaloons back.  Xmas 2011, gift of the year.

I'm bringing pantaloons back. Xmas 2011, gift of the year.

2)  A button up cotton undershirt, no sleeves, which serves as protection between you and your corset.  NO BRA, ladies.  Although remember to bring down your bra from your dressing room because you will need it later and not every dresser will run and get it for you, especially if you’ve been a jerk to them.

3)  Above the knee tights.  3 pair.  First ones are of a vibrant color that match your “whore” costume, and the next pair are slate blue to match your “factory worker” outfit, final pair, rust colored.

4)  Tan leather MaryJanes that come above the ankle.  Comfy, but no support.  Note: Request Dr. Scholl inserts at your costume fitting.

5)  Whore skirt.

Is this fun?  Are we still interested?  Moving on.

6)  Corset.  Let me talk you through this because it hurts.  It has STEEL boning, and laces up the back.  When you do your first costume fitting when you join the company, you will want to “suck in” as they lace you up, because you will want to appear as thin as possible RESIST THIS URGE.  Suck out.  Eat a big mac and fries before your costume fitting.  Here’s why.  All other costumes that go OVER said corset will be tailored to fit when the corset was set at your costume fitting, and believe me, when you have been in the show for six months and decide to hit the all you can eat BBQ between shows on a Saturday when you play Raleigh, you will really, really regret this decision.  Think bloated.  Your corset will be laced on you by a dresser.  Be nice to her.  Give her presents.  She is your best friend and can screw up your show faster than you can say “The Diva deserved it”.  As soon as all of this is on, run out to the makeup table and put on more dirt, this time on your body.  Emphasis on the chest, neck and arm area, please.  This is your “whore” dirt.  Do not flirt while applying this dirt unless you are serious because the straight guys tend to hang around the makeup table for this, and they don’t need a lot of encouragement.  Tread lightly, ladies.  Back to the quick change room.

The middle layer.  Factory worker.  Whore is under it.

The middle layer. Factory worker. Whore is under it.

7)  Over your corset goes a blue factory worker shirt. It is cute and tailored and made of Laura Ashley material, but then they then distressed the hell out of and made look like a rag.

8) Next goes your factory worker skirt, same material as the shirt, and a heavy cotton.

9) Next goes your linen pea picker shirt.  It is rust colored.

10)  Next goes your heavy wool (seriously–like a stadium blanket) pea picker skirt.

11)  You’re almost done, not quite, but hurry up because for sure by now the show has started and you have an entrance.  Tuck the bottom of your skirt into the waist band (leaving the factory skirt intact) to make a pouch/pocket.  This is where you will place your imaginary peas.

12)  For the final touch, add a white bonnet (like what Mary and Laura sleep in in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE….and if you don’t get that reference, don’t tell me because I will cry) and then a giant straw sunhat.

Look in the mirror and see the resemblance to the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man.  THREE SKIRTS.  You are giant, and about to be:

Scene one:  Pea picker.  (Turn upstage, drop your skirt pocket, hand off your straw hat…immediately become…)

A guest at an inn.  (stay in clothes, become)

A townsperson/peeping Tom at the Bishop’s window.  (EXIT.  RUN to quick change!  Strip off bonnet, wool skirt, linen shirt, rust colored tights, put shoes back on, put on a little scarf around your neck, a blue rag on your head, and then cover everything with a horrible looking shawl so you can sing:

“At the End of the Day.”  You are now 17 minutes into a show that is three hours and 20 minutes long.  Exhausted yet?  Keep going!  (EXIT.  Strip off ugly shawl, re-enter immediately as a factory worker in the blue skirt and shirt.)

FINISH SONG.  (EXIT.  Run to quick change while Fantine sings “I Dreamed a Dream” and strip down to the whore tights, pantaloons, add black boots, a whore hat, run to the makeup table, add creme red blush and lipstick, SMEAR IT, and enter for

“Lovely Ladies”

Okay.  Are you getting the point?  Les Miz is exhausting.  By the time I got to Max the Bullet Boy I was so exhausted, I needed something entertaining to keep me awake.  This is how all the goofing around started.  THE MANAGEMENT OF THIS BLOG DOES NOT CONDONE THIS BEHAVIOR.

Max was named after my nephew who ranged in age from 3-7 during my Les Miz years.  Some people just thank family

The original Max

The original Max

in their bio in the program, but no, no, no, as a nod to my nephew, I named my bullet boy after him.  Max the bullet boy was an orphan, a drunk and a womanizer.  He talked a lot like the guys from The Sopranos. He stumbled around the barricade during most of the second act stealing things from people (like their flask), and begging for sex from all the women.  He talked the talk, but if any woman came on to him, he ran away as fast as he could.  Max was missing a front tooth and smelled.  He was in love with Eponine.  He was a bully and yelled at the other bullet boys. Overall he was completely annoying.  I remember one guy saying to me  “STOP ACTING” which only made me do it more.  Naturally.

Worst of all, Max would get drunk as the scene progressed, pass out, and then come to with a hangover just in time for the very loud battle scene which he found deafening.  He doesn’t die, but instead fakes his death and sneaks away to culinary school where he grows up and becomes a famous chef named Julia Child after a painful sex change operation.

The end.

The best part of playing Max is that I would often be “Max” in the wrong scenes, like in a floor length party gown in the wedding scene, I would just start talking like Max simply to crack other people up.”Hey Lady.  It’s me, Max.  I thought you might dig me in this dress.”


Even worse?  When I wasn’t in the show because no one had called in sick, I would hide in the quick change area and tie people’s costumes to their chairs to slow them down and then crack up while they struggled to untie them.  Also good?  Putting “Wet Ones” tissues in the toes of shoes.

This could go on and on.  Oh, fun times.  And that was just Les Miz.  My CATS stories are legendary (and horrible).

To read the next in this series, go here




About Sharon Wheatley

I'm a mother, an actress and a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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5 Responses to The Daily Dose (November 29, 2011) Backstage at Les Miserables

  1. Pauline says:

    Boy, am I impressed by your memory for what was put on top of what! I've totally buried that info, though I do remember feeling like my year with the show was just an endless series of costume changes. You didn't mention, though, that the make up had to change, too! Especially in my track, because you had to wipe off all the dirt and the whore lipstick and rouge to become a nun for, what 35 seconds. That maybe why I never bothered with the mascara and eyeliner. Knew too much of it would get rubbed off anyway by the time of my third make up switch. Thanks for posting, brings back memories. (I believe my track had the most changes in the show, didn't it?)

  2. Mark Motz says:

    Love it. Have you ever talked to Kevin Kern about barricade/turntable hockey? You zany French peasants. But you bring extra work on yourself…. Now I HAVE to hear some Cats stories.

  3. Ruth says:

    This is brilliant, Sharon!

  4. Julia Haubner says:

    Oh, this made me so happy. I never had the privilege of meeting Max but I was extremely close to dear old Scabby. Have I ever told you the story when Scabs almost went on for eponine the ghost at the end? I shook with laughter all through Do You Hear the People Sing…I love these SHAR!

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