Once I made the decision to buy the tickets to see John Owen-Jones in Les Misérables, I also decided I was going to get the best tickets I could afford. It was truly just a stroke of luck that I found two front row tickets available on a date that worked for me and that I wouldn’t have to break the bank to pay for.
I bought the tickets in March for the June production and spent the next three months crossing my fingers that 1) I could afford to get down to New York and stay at least over night and 2) John Owen-Jones didn’t fall down a flight of stairs or contract malaria before I got there. Number 1 worked itself out and I wasn’t sure about Number 2 until he tweeted his daily “2460Tunes” on Saturday night. (Before each performance he tweets out the music he’s listening to pre-show. On Saturday it was For All Kings by Anthrax.) Even when we got to the theater and there was no understudy listed for him I didn’t dare TRULY believe I’d see him perform until I saw the tweet. At that point, I was so very ready for the show to begin.
Our seats were front row, center, on the aisle. There was barely any space between my feet and the orchestra pit. Close enough for John Owen-Jones to spit, sweat or fall on me and I wouldn’t have complained.
I’m not a reviewer and God knows I’m completely biased in this instance, but I found the restaged production stunning and I couldn’t find a weak link in the entire cast. I think with Les Misérables you either like it or you don’t so unless they just pulled the cast off the streets you won’t be disappointed. But this current cast goes well beyond not being disappointing. I went to see John Owen-Jones, make no mistake, but the rest of the cast was so compelling that there were times when, even if JOJ* was on stage, my eyes darted all around the stage to see what the other characters were doing. Hayden Tee as Javert and Joseph Spieldenner as Grantaire were standouts for me. Their acting, especially when the focus wasn’t on them, was subtle and engaging. There was no point in the show when I thought any of the actors could have done something better (and Alison Luff made me even sadder than I already knew I’d be that Fantine left the show so early).
Holy hell, though, John Owen-Jones.
As I fully expected, everything he sang was fantastic. But when the first few notes of Bring Him Home began it was as if time had stopped. There are many places online where you can see and hear John Owen-Jones sing Bring Him Home. Hell, he has three albums and an EP and out of the four the song appears on three. Youtube is full of videos of him performing the song and you could spend plenty of time watching them. Trust me…I have. But there is absolutely nothing you could listen to on a cd or watch online that prepares you for how absofreakinglutely, outrageously, wonderfully he sings that song. The song itself was created to tug at your heartstrings but there are plenty of versions that don’t quite hit the right spot for me. JOJ’s version Saturday night was not one of those versions. It was perfection.
There was a point before I got to the theater when I worried that I would forget myself, see John Owen-Jones on stage and lose it. Yell and cheer like I was at Fenway Park watching the Red Sox. Instead, I was so bewitched by his performance that I sat in stunned silence (sobbing quietly through most of it and not so quietly, I was told, through the second act**). After he sang the last notes of Bring Him Home (sitting down, I feel I should add. HE SANG THE ENTIRE SONG SITTING DOWN!) I momentarily had to hold myself back. We’re at a show, you can’t be obnoxious after the most iconic part of the production…they have Barricade Boys to kill…but something amazing happened. The place went insane. For a good two minutes (maybe longer) he got an ovation. I’ve been to plenty of shows both in New York and Boston and I’ve never seen a show stop after a song for such an ovation.
And holy cow was it deserved.
Okay so the show ends. I’m a puddle and everyone around me is a puddle and Kelly, the friend I dragged down to New York who only knows John Owen-Jones because I often don’t shut up about him and only came with me because she’s an awesome friend who wanted to be with me when I experienced this, is a puddle (success!). Now what?
I know full well that John Owen-Jones usually greets fans at the stage door and signs autographs and poses for pictures and is, by all accounts, generally fabulous with the fans. But as much as I can fangirl and as much as the entire point of this trip was John Owen-Jones being in my country and close enough for me to go see, the idea of waiting for him and asking him for something (even just an autograph or photo) seems greedy. I’m shy. I’m not one who muscles her way through crowds because I think famous people who do something I enjoy owe me something. But we’re here, we have no after show plans and there’s a line of people waiting at the stage door who all seem perfectly nice and not too entitled. Okay, let’s wait in line and see what happens.
Getting the chance to compliment someone doesn’t always come up so obviously. So Saturday night I took the time to tell Hayden Tee and Joseph Spieldenner (mentioned above) how much I enjoyed them. They were gracious and pleasant and Hayden even signed my Playbill. Thanks, fellas.
So time goes by and it appears the entire cast except for John Owen-Jones has come out. People keep asking the security dude if he’ll be coming out. Security dude was funny and chatty and assured the masses that if JOJ WASN’T coming out he (security dude) could leave. Security dude was there, JOJ would be coming out.
And after a while, he did.
I’m only moderately ashamed to say that I swooned. Literally swooned when he walked out the stage door.
(Excuse me while I digress briefly): We made conversation with a mom and her pre-teen daughter who saw the show but didn’t know any of the actors and wanted autographs and photos. I kept letting the girl in front of me to get autographs and pics and then at one point told her “I will hip check you into Hamilton if you try to get in front of me when John Owen-Jones comes out.” I was kidding. Kind of. Her mother laughed and then said to her daughter, “You don’t understand, she LOVES him. I don’t mean she wants to marry him, but she LOVES him.” And then says to me “You love him. It’s okay. I get it.” Great, so now strangers in New York think I’m out of my mind. Surprisingly, I’m okay with this. Although I DID let her get in front of me when he came out so she could meet him, so I’m not all bad. – Also, while we were waiting Leslie Odom, Jr. walked by – Hamilton is in the theater next to Les Miz – and these two asked me who he was. I told them his name and got blank stares. I explained he played Aaron Burr and they wanted to know if that was a big part in the show. My response was, “Well, he DID kill Alexander Hamilton.” Kelly thinks I spoiled the show for them. (He went on to win a Tony last night – I hope they saw it.)
JOJ is taking a picture with the girl I let in front of me and I have NO BLOODY IDEA what I’m going to say to him. Kelly suggests it would be good to mention twitter so when he finally approaches where I’m standing I blather on about how I’ve been a fan for a long time and was so happy to finally see him perform and that I follow him on Twitter. (I have no idea how articulate I was because it’s a bit of a blur now.) At the mention of Twitter he says “I know exactly who you are” and I quickly retorted “No you don’t!” (Am I six? What was I thinking?) He laughed a little and said “I do. But I don’t know how to pronounce your name.” SO I told him how to pronounce it and he repeated it and I think I blacked out and then thanked him probably like a thousand times for being so amazing. Oh and somewhere in there he took the Playbills out of my hand and signed them (I don’t remember asking him to. This is where I’m starting to worry that he thought I was a bit spazzy and just figured he’d sign to keep the line going). I DO remember asking for a picture, which he was gracious enough to agree to. So I have that.
I know it’s silly. I’m certainly a bit old to be fangirling over a performer, I get that. But the way I look at it, he’s in the business of entertaining people. His livelihood depends on it. And now he knows that at least in one small part of the world, there is someone he entertains to a degree that brings a ridiculous amount of happiness to her life. I’m sure he is well aware of how good he is, I just wanted him to know how good I think he is. If that makes any kind of sense.
He signed for folks until at least midnight. We left just before then and he was nearing the end of the line of people. Going back to the hotel, I was Cher walking home after a night with Nicholas Cage happy. There aren’t a lot of performers I feel so strongly about so I’m allowing myself this bit of teenager fancy.
I certainly have met famous people whose public persona was light and happy and when we met they were absolute jackasses. That was not the case with John Owen-Jones. He could not have been more genuinely nice and accommodating and seemingly very happy to see the people who stayed around to meet him.
I’m grateful to the theater gods for making this past weekend happen, thankful I have a good friend who doesn’t mind going on 24-hour treks on short notice, and so full of appreciation to have been able to see John Owen-Jones in person and have him be not only breathtakingly talented but gracious and friendly as well.
*In writing this I discovered that it doesn’t feel natural writing “John” or “Owen-Jones” so that’s why he’s “John Owen-Jones” throughout, save for the few “JOJ” mentions.
**I alternated between happy crying and crying over various parts of the show in the first act. I warned Kelly that almost every song in the second act made me cry. When the show was over, she verified that I did my loudest crying after intermission.