One tour more: Alum returns to ASU Gammage for second time as beloved 'Les Misérables' character

5 years after his initial return to Tempe venue, Nick Cartell has reprised the role of Jean Valjean in new Broadway tour


Man in 19th-century French clothing onstage.

ASU alum Nick Cartell breathes new life into the beloved character Jean Valjean as "Les Misérables" returns to ASU Gammage from Dec. 5–10. Photo courtesy MurphyMade

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In 2018, Arizona State University alumnus Nick Cartell was given the chance to take on his dream role of Jean Valjean in the Broadway touring company of "Les Misérables." While this opportunity was life-changing for Cartell, the audition process was difficult on both technical and personal levels. The day before his final callback, he had lost his mother to ovarian cancer at the age of 64.

"Losing my mom before coming into this role the first time was very tough,” Cartell said. “I was coming at (the role) from a place of grief, just trying to figure out how to play this man in this arc and how to be a dad to this adopted daughter that he has.”

Five years later, Cartell has reprised his role of Jean Valjean in the new Broadway tour, which will run at ASU Gammage from Dec. 5–10. While the core of his character remains the same, Cartell’s personal experiences since his first performance have reshaped his connection to the show’s central ideologies.

“A lot has changed in the world since 2018 because of the pandemic, and it has even changed for me personally. Five years ago, I was in a place of loss, and I connected to Jean Valjean from a place of grief and overcoming adversity,” Cartell said. “Now, I’m a father, so I connect to Valjean in that sort of way. I now know what it would feel like to make those sacrifices for my own daughter. I'm able to bring those nuances into this character, and it deepens this character even more for me.”

Cartell’s admiration for "Les Misérables" comes from the journey of growing in the relationship he has with his character. For him, the show’s ability to mirror the human spirit is what makes the story so powerful, regardless of how many times the audience has seen it.

“The staying power of this show lies in the fact that you connect with different characters no matter when you see it. Maybe audience members saw it for the first time when they were a teenager, so they were connecting with the students and the angst that they felt,” Cartell said. “Later on, they might be parents bringing their children to see the show. Now, they're connecting with all of the sacrifices that the adults go through, and they can see themselves morph into this new character. That's why I love this show so much. It just deepens the more that you see it, as more time passes, and as you grow.”

While this tour has been special for a variety of reasons, like reaching the 900th performance mark for his work as Valjean, Cartell believes the most rewarding part of touring the second time around has been making memories with his wife and daughter.

“My wife and I had a baby during the pandemic, so she and my daughter are on the road with me this time. I’m getting to show them the country — the different cities that I loved when I toured last time and new ones that I haven't played before,” Cartell said. “I can’t wait to show my daughter the pictures we’ve been taking when she’s older as a reminder of all of the experiences we’ve had.”

Each tour stop has brought his family a variety of memorable experiences. According to Cartell, many children’s museums and zoos have made the attractions list in each city. When the tour makes its way to Tempe, he believes the experiences will become particularly personal for them.

“ASU Gammage is my home. I grew up in Arizona and went to school at ASU, too. The first time I saw 'Les Mis' was in the balcony seats of ASU Gammage with my mom and dad,” Cartell said. “The fact that I get to bring the show back again really does feel like I'm bringing it home. I'm now bringing it to a ton of friends and family, too.”

For Cartell, the timing could not be better — as a lover of the holidays, he feels grateful to be near family and friends this year.

“We have family members that are going to be flying in to spend the weekend so we can all be together and have a mini family reunion,” Cartell said. “Being able to show my daughter around where I spent my childhood as well as visiting my mom are both going to be wonderful as well.

“Arizona and ASU Gammage hold so much history for me, so to be able to perform this role that I love so much again on that stage is a dream come true.”

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