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'Les Miserables' actress is 'dreaming a dream'

Shawna Hamic says she knew since she first saw the show as a child that she would be Madame Thenardier.

June 07, 2012|By Candice Baker
  • A scene from "Les Miserables," which opens at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Tuesday.
A scene from "Les Miserables," which opens… (Courtesy Deen van…)

Shawna Hamic "dreamed a dream in time gone by," but unlike the destitute young mother Fantine who sings those words each night in the new Broadway tour of"Les Miserables,"Hamic has lived to see hers realized at a very young age.

Hamic, who plays the bombastic, unscrupulous Madame Thenardier in the musical based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo, was born in Oregon and raised in Southern California from a young age.

"I actually got into theater because my parents would take us to see the national tours when they came into Los Angeles," Hamic said. "I never got to go to New York as a kid, but for me, 'Broadway' was the national tours.

"'Les Mis' was one of the first shows they took us to see. Literally in the middle of that show, 25 years ago, I leaned over to my mom and said, 'Mom, I'm going to be Madame Thenardier someday.' That really was the tour that set me on my path."

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"Les Miserables," like its predecessor novel, has become a cultural touchstone over the past decades — a musical that makes everyone from hardened businessmen to cynical hipsters laugh, cry and ponder their own humanity. It explores topics like justice, mercy and love against a backdrop of revolution. The new show's staging was inspired by Hugo's own paintings, and has received top praise worldwide.

Hamic said the hardest interview question — “Tell me about ‘Les Mis'” — though simple, is anything but.

“There is no short answer for it,” she said. “I think what it comes to overall is that it's about redemption and the choices [protagonist] Jean Valjean makes throughout his life, and the way others affect his life and he affects theirs. I think people love the new show because of its all-new staging. The sets are so lovely and it's all very cinematic in approach. In the factory scene when Fantine is singing ‘I Dreamed a Dream,' if you look closely, you can see smoke coming out of the smokestacks.”

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'On My Own'

Hamic first joined the show as a member of the ensemble at its precursor version in Houston, which was created by the same set designer.

"I had heard a rumor in that production that they were talking about taking it on the road as a new production for its 25th anniversary," she said. "It was probably two and half or three years later that it finally came about."

Hamic was desperate to be in the production.

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