Former 'Les Mis' Broadway actor and Suburban grad encourages Belmont performers
Ahead of a two-week run of the storied musical "Les Misérables," student performers at The Belmont Theatre were able to pick the brain of an actor who performed the show more than 1,000 times on Broadway.
Former Broadway actor David Masenheimer spoke to the students during a visit on Thursday, Sept. 7, sharing with them how he broke into the top levels of theater and the lessons he learned along the way.
Masenheimer, a York Suburban graduate, worked on the hit Broadway production for 2½ years, performing in more than 1,000 shows in the early 1990s and again in 2002, playing the role of Javert.
He recalled his experience as an “amazing journey” on a “huge production.”
As students took their places for a performance of the song “One Day More,” Masenheimer uttered “Oh my God,” under his breath.
After the performance, Masenheimer swapped seats with the students, sitting up on stage as students faced him in the audience.
At that moment, Masenheimer aired his emotions at the full-circle moment that occurred before him.
“I’m going to cry,” he said, his voice trembling as he began speaking to the students.
In his talk to students, he shared his story of being a theater kid against his father’s wishes.
“My dad always asked me, ‘What do you do with your spare time?’ as if acting isn’t hard work,” Masenheimer said.
Once his father saw the work put in on a three-hour production, including preparation and makeup, “my dad never asked me that question again,” he said.
Masenheimer also told students about how he landed on Broadway almost by chance.
As Masenheimer described his discovery during a performance of the musical "My Fair Lady" in Allentown, the student cast of "Les Mis" — about 45 students in all — watched intently.
He said he had auditioned during an open call, but the audition process was extremely superficial and “awful.” However, a "Les Mis" production worker happened to have visited the production of "My Fair Lady," and within a few months, Masenheimer got the role of Javert.
“I just remember being swept by this thing,” Masenheimer said of his time on New York’s hallowed street. Today, he works just blocks away from Broadway as the owner of a design business for parties and events.
Tell a story: One of the main lessons Masenheimer wanted to give the students was to make sure they tell the best version of the story to their audience.
“They’re here for you to tell them this story,” he said. “They’re not just watching you tell them a monologue. You’re asking them questions.”
Making viewers question their own thoughts and judgments on situations is the point of theater, Masenheimer argued.
During his visit, Masenheimer spent nearly an hour answering students' questions. The topics ranged from technique, to repairing one’s voice after an injury to help in writing a play — the latter of which Masenheimer simply replied, “Good luck.”
Several students said they left inspired by Masenheimer’s visit.
Vinny Beck, a senior at Spring Grove High School, said it was “a testament of his character that he would come back to York and talk with those of us who are just starting out.”
Beck, who is playing the lead role of Jean Valjean, agreed with Masenheimer’s assessment that acting is hard work, and he hopes to further improve his craft at a performing arts college upon graduation next year.
Orlando “Chico” Monroy, 17, agreed.
“(Masenheimer showed) it’s not just all sun and rainbows when you’re in the theater,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work and dedication.”
Anneliese Reichart, 17, from Central York High School, said Masenheimer gave the group much inspiration on how to approach their seven performances of the epic musical opening this Friday at the Belmont.
“Are we in the rhythm of everything? Will we be live with each show?” she asked rhetorically.
Those will be the questions cast members will ask themselves, Reichart said.
Masenheimer told students he hopes they take advantage of a smaller setting to gain the confidence they will need in a larger setting, as he credits The Belmont with helping his confidence in his career.
"YLT holds a very special place — sorry — used to be York Little Theatre," Masenheimer said.
"The Belmont Theatre holds a very special place in my heart," he said.
Students from York County will perform "Les Misérables" at the Belmont Theatre Sept. 15-17 and 21-24. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $27 adults, $25 seniors 62+, $15 youth 18 and under. Information: www.thebelmont.org or 717-854-5715.