Meath man Killian Donnelly talks about landing the role of a lifetime in Les Miserables
When Drimnagh native and 1978 Eurovision contestant Colm Wilkinson took on the role of brooding Jean Valjean in Les Miserables he became a Broadway and West End legend.
Now Killian Donnelly is picking up the torch and becoming the second Irish actor ever to take on the role of Valjean in Claude-Michel Schönberg’s musical.
“They’re definitely big boots to fill,” Donnelly says.
Originally from Meath, Donnelly’s love of musical theatre began at a young age – when he joined amateur dramatic clubs.
At the age of ten his father gifted him a CD of Colm Wilkinson songs – so perhaps it’s not totally surprising he followed him into the role.
“I never trained or went to musical theatre college, but I loved Am Dram.
“I was cast in the Gate Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd and after that thought I should head to London and try to get seen,” he says.
That was in 2003 and since then the actor has started in sell out West End and Broadway shows such as Kinky Boots, Phantom of the Opera and Billy Elliot.
He also landed the lead role in Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments.
“I started working on Les Miserables in 2008 shadowing 10 of the supporting roles so it feels like it’s come full circle to now be playing Valjean.”
Working in musical theatre is notoriously gruelling with long hours and days off as rare as hens teeth.
“I feel like you end up living like a monk,” Killian says.
“You are doing eight shows a week, you’re working late into the night and getting up late in the day to save your voice.
“If you get up too early there is a chance you’re voice could be starting to fade when you’re on stage at 10pm in front of 1500 people.
“So there’s only so much social life you can have,” he says. “Your life is built around your job but the upside is you completely love your job.”
This Christmas the show will run in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre.
“Coming back home to play the part will be amazing,” he says. “I haven’t been home for Christmas in four years so it will be special.”