“My mother is a music teacher and my dad plays bass.” So began my conversation with 10-year-old Katherine Forrester, one of two young actresses who’ll perform the role of “Little Cosette” during the touring production of “Les Miserables” coming to ASU Gammage Jun 7-12.
I’d asked about her interest in musical theater, and invited her to share a bit about how she got involved in performing. Forrester says she “began singing for free” at age three, and started “singing professionally” at age six — with her mom accompanying her on piano.
“When I was little I always asked for an agent,” recalls Forrester. “I got one when I was seven.” Her agent made the “Les Mis” connection and Forrester, who hails from Toronto, went to NYC to audition.
“I didn’t think I’d get the part,” recalls Forrester. But she got the call the next day during the bus ride home. Forrester says she “came in” two or three more times. They had her perform “Castle on a Cloud” and sing various harmonies. “Then they measured four of us,” she recalls.
She learned by phone that she’d landed the role. “I was so excited,” recalls Forrester. “I needed to go into the bus washroom and squeal!” Nowadays she’s spending more time on the bus, and on stage. She hopes her dog “Daisy” will be able to join her on tour at some point.
After getting the call, Forrester called her grandmother first. “Everybody was so excited for me,” recalls Forrester, who dreams of a career in film or theater. For now, she’s being homeschooled “on the road.” She’s “doing a regular curriculm” for fourth grade, and her favorite subject is science.
Forrester says the touring life is better than she expected. “I get to see lots of new places and people.” Her favorite stop so far is Ft. Lauderdale, because that’s where she first saw the ocean. “It’s like summer every day,” she says of Florida. Forrester also enjoyed seeing the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
Forrester alternates performing the role of “Little Cosette” with Anastasia Korbal. “When we aren’t Cosette,” she says, “we are little Eponine.” Forrester says she’d love to perform other roles in “Les Miserables” when she is older — and perform in “Wicked” too. She plans to attend college, with a focus on singing.
Turns out Anastasia Korbal has fond memories of Ft. Lauderdale too. That’s where she celebrated her 11th birthday with cupcakes, balloons and all the usual fanfare. But Korbal’s journey to the stage began around the age of three, when she began taking jazz, ballet and tap lessons.
“I kept asking to go,” recalls Korbal — who says her mom took her just to see what it was like. “I’ve been dancing ever since then,” muses Korbal. She remembers watching movies like “Annie,” then “picking a character and playing it at the house the next day.”
She auditioned for a community theater production of “The Sound of Music” at age five, landing the role of Gretel — a role she performed “several other times.” She went from performing in community theater to performing in regional theater.
Her first Broadway touring production was the 35th anniversary tour of “Annie.’ Korbal says she performed the role of Molly for nine months. Nowadays, she’s enjoying the “Les Miserables” tour and doing schoolwork with a tutor on the road.
“I love doing this because it’s getting to be a different person than who you are,” reflects Korbal. She says live theater is more fun than doing a movie or television because “every night is different” — and “anything can happen.” Good audiences are rewarding, she says, because they leave her feeling like she’s done her job.
Like Forrester, Korbal would love to perform an adult role in “Les Miserables” one day. She’d also love to do “Mary Poppins.” Korbal plans to study theater in college because “if you love something, that’s what you should do for a living.”
Both Forrester and Korbal share that “Les Miserables,” though set during the French Revolution, is about something more. Forrester describes “Les Miserables” as “a lot of stories in one story.” Korbal says the musical “is really about getting through tough times.”
“It’s about taking what comes,” says Korbal, “and making the best of it.” She attributes the longstanding popularity of “Les Miserables” to its “strong message” and “phenomenal music.”
Forrester says that folks like me who’ve seen the show several times will love seeing the newest production because of the “awesome special effects.” The show is good for all ages, says Korbal, noting that young children can enjoy it without understanding it all — though she recommends telling children the story before they see the live production.
With any luck at all, older teens who see the show will run right home and beg their parents for a copy of the 1862 Victor Hugo novel that inspired the musical. Little ones will be inspired to try singing, dancing or community theater. And grown-ups will pause to reflect on the power of forgiveness.
Note: An open casting call (for girls ages 6-12) for the roles of “Annie” and the orphans in an upcoming production of “Annie” takes place June 12 in NYC, according to www.annieorphans.com.
Coming up: Women of Broadway, Musical theater memoirs