For Preston Truman Boyd, music runs in the family. His grandfather was an opera singer so when the young man showed some talent in church, people noticed. Eventually he made his way to New York City, appearing in “Sunset Boulevard” with Glenn Close as well as featured roles in the National tours of “Young Frankenstein” and “Jersey Boys.”
He is currently appearing in the National tour of “Les Misérables,” where he plays the “misunderstood” police inspector Javert. I spoke with Mr. Boyd while he was in Washington D.C., performing at the Kennedy Center.
MIKE SMITH: “Les Miserables” is an iconic show, and Javert is a truly iconic role. How do you prepare to tackle a role that so many people are familiar with and may have preconceived ideas on how it should be played?
PRESTON TRUMAN BOYD: I try to bring as much gravita as I can to the role. It IS an iconic role in an iconic show and I know there are fans who have their own ideas in how the want to see it done. It’s the added pressure of people having their favorite Javert. You definitely want to be the pivotal Ying to the Yang of Jean Valjean, which is not only important to the story but important in supporting the theme of the show. The survival of the human spirit. Javert is often referred to as “the bad guy” but I like to think he’s “the misunderstood guy.” At the end of the day, he’s just a guy doing his job. If you’ve fled your parole, I’ve got to come get you. That’s just how it is. (laughs)
MS: Javert the Bounty Hunter!
PTB: Exactly, yes.
MS: You mentioned that some people have a pre-conception of the role. Do you try to model portions of your performance on how others have played the role?
PTB: A lot of us in this business grew up listening to this show. We’d seek it out whenever it came to town. I was always a Philip Quast fan. I’d like to think I sound a little more like him then other Javerts. (NOTE: Philip Quast originated the role of Javert in the original Australian production of “Les Miz,” later playing the role on the West End in London. He also appeared in the hugely popular “Les Miserables: the Dream Cast in Concert). His voice stuck with me. That’s the beauty of our show. So many people have seen the show in so many incarnations and in different companies. The directors have looked at it from another angle. It’s the same story but you can really push certain themes a bit more. Even in the design. Some of Victor Hugo’s paintings are now projected on stage. (NOTE: Hugo wrote the novel “Les Misérables”).
Javert (Preston Truman Boyd) confronts Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell) (photo by Johan Perrson)
MS: What got you into musical theater?
PTB: I grew up in the church singing and once I heard from people that weren’t my parents that I might have a gift I began to seek out other opportunities in the community. I grew up in Fargo/Moorehead (North Dakota). I got involved in school programs and did a lot of speech and debate. A couple predecessors from my hometown ended up moving to the City and had some success so it didn’t seem like an absolute pipe dream. I sought out scholarship programs and what schools to attend. I did a program called The National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts. They bring in (10) kids from each discipline every year and I went down to Miami for opera. We spent a week studying voice with Placido Domingo, which was absolutely incredible. After that I had a few people seek me out for different programs like voice and theater and I ended up at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, where I did four years and a lot of great roles. The show moves you out to New York where you put on Senior Showcase for all of the casting directors and agents, who come each year to scout new talent. I signed with an agent there and the rest is history!
MS: Roger Maris left Fargo and went to New York. He did well.
PTB: (laughs) Exactly.
MS: Was there a show you saw that kind of triggered the bug?
PTB: Yeah. I think the very first show I saw was a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. I had never seen production value like that. Ever. I was just in awe at how good the show looked. And once I was over that, I realized how much fun it looked like the people were having. One of my teachers added, “and their getting paid.” I realized I could live in New York , which sounded fun. I think it was just me realizing that I could have a good time in a show. That my job would be a really good time. I’ll get to tell stories and, hopefully, at the end of the day change some lives.
MS: What was your first professional gig
PTB: It was at the Muni in St. Louis. When I was in college I got my Equity card and I sang “Beautiful Girl” in “Singing in the Rain.” I did “Peter Pan” there. I did “Oklahoma there. I think I’ve done thirteen different shows at the Muni, mostly when I was in college, but I’ve been back a couple times since then. That’s where I got my start. When I moved to the City I went out on the National Tour of “Young Frankenstein.” A week after that contract was up I signed up for the National Tour of “Jersey Boys.” When that contract ended I went back to New York and did seven shows on Broadway. I haven’t been back on the road in quite some time so it’s been fun to get my tour legs again.
MS: Is there a role you’d like to play? Too bad “Phantom” just closed.
PTB: (laughing) Maybe in four years when it comes back. I’d love to play Sweeney Todd actually. It’s back and it’s on Broadway. Josh Grobin is doing it. Maybe when he’s out of there I can get seen for it. That would be great. I’d also love to play George Seurat in “Sunday in the Park with George.” I guess ultimately, I just want to do a Sondheim show! I’ve never done a Sondheim show and I’m really itching to do one.
“Les Miserables” opens in Kansas City on Tuesday, May 2. For tickets and information about this and futurte shows, please click HERE.