WITH well over 550 performances as Jean Valjean under his belt, Dean Chisnall is uniquely qualified to reflect on what it is that makes Les Miserables so successful.

As The Lowry gets ready to welcome the blockbuster musical next week, Dean’s enthusiasm for the show - set during the French Revolution - remains almost schoolboy-like.

“I love what I do and I’ve been lucky to be in so many great things,” said Dean, “but just the sheer magnitude of the story; the sheer scale of the production, it’s the greatest story ever told on stage and the world’s most successful musical. It would tend to dwarf anything I think.

“It is absolutely phenomenal.”

Talking to Dean - who has starred in everything from Shrek the Musical to Evita - you get the feeling that even after all those shows he still can’t quite believe he has got one of the great roles in musical theatre.

Dean Chisnall in Les Miserables (Picture: Danny Kaan)

Dean Chisnall in Les Miserables (Picture: Danny Kaan)

“I think the dream was always to be in Les Mis,” he said, “but never did I imagine I would get to play the part I always dreamed of. It is the biggest dream come true possible, it really is.”

Les Miserable is an absolute juggernaut of a show and is one of the few productions for which the description ‘epic’ is genuinely appropriate.

“This production is absolutely enormous,” said Dean. “You will never see a production more epic than this and the cast have brought personality and a complete and utter freshness to it that have perhaps never been seen before.”

With its themes of struggle, revolution, love and finding a place in the world, Les Miserables is probably more relevant to a modern theatre audience than it has ever been.

“It has always had a relevance in society with the stories and themes within the show,” said Dean, “but just look what’s happening in the world right now. It brings in a whole new meaning. Les Mis has always been relatable but I’m not sure it has ever been as relevant as it is now.”

As Jean Valjean, Dean has one of the stand-out moments in the show, singing the heart-wrenching Bring Him Home.

“Oh, that song always gets me every night,” he said. “It’s a total privilege to be able to sing it. You know that every single person in that room is having their own moment when you’re singing that song for a whole variety of reasons.”

Being part of a show which is so special to so many - many diehard fans have seen the production hundreds of times over the 37 years - brings with it an extra responsibility.

The cast of Les Miserables (Picture: Danny Kaan)

The cast of Les Miserables (Picture: Danny Kaan)

“When you go for the audition you are fully-focussed on doing your best and trying to get the job,” said Dean. “Then you get the phone call and you suddenly think ‘oh my God, I’ve got to do it now’. There is pressure, there is an expectation but you have to relish that. I approach it with the mindset of ‘OK, I’m going to give it all I’ve got’ and that’s what I’ve done for every performance. I know it sounds naff but I genuinely do have to pinch myself every day that I get to do this.”

Les Miserables was due to come to The Lowry as the pandemic struck.

“We were in Norwich when the lockdown came,” said Dean. “Ten days later I was I was driving a Tesco van providing what was then a crucial service to se many vulnerable people. I’m really proud that I did it; not proud of myself but proud that I was able to bring something to society that was desperately needed.

“As an actor you never know what the hell is round the corner but nobody imagined a global pandemic would be. I was proactive, I needed some stability. I like routine and driving my delivery van gave me a reason to get up every day. I’d set the alarm for six and I’d be at the depot by seven and off I went. It was an extraordinary period for many actors, I just made sure I got out and did what I could.”

The response the show has had since the theatres reopened has been amazing.

“I think we all took things for granted,” said Dean, “it was no fault of anyone’s, that was just life. But life has changed now and I think there is a greater respect for the theatre.

Dean Chisnall as Jean Valjean and Katie Hall as Fantime in Les Miserables (Picture: Danny Kaan)

Dean Chisnall as Jean Valjean and Katie Hall as Fantime in Les Miserables (Picture: Danny Kaan)

“I am very passionate about this art form and it does change lives; in some circumstances it saves lives. I have had letters from people whose lives have been saved just coming to see the show because it’s moved them in a way they never thought possible. It is a very relevant art form and it has been different coming back after the pandemic.

“The amount of people who have come up to me and said ‘this is the one we wanted to see first’; this is the reason they have come back to see theatre. That really hits you.

“I know people have been waiting for The Lowry run for a long time. I’m sorry it took so long but trust me, it’ll be even more special than if it had come before.”

Dean makes no secret that he’s living his best life in his dream role, but what happens when inevitably, that comes to an end?

“I knew you were going to ask me that,” he laughed. “There will obviously come a time where I’ve had enough or they have had enough – I suspect it will be them having had enough of me – but honestly, I don’t know

Dean Chisnall as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables (Picture: Danny Kaan)

Dean Chisnall as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables (Picture: Danny Kaan)

“As an actor you never know what’s around the corner and I fear the day it comes to an end, I do; it means so much to me.

“But until then I just take it day by day and get on with it, enjoy it and love it. What will be will be.”

With the show extending into 2023, Dean will certainly have plenty more shows to enjoy.

“Cameron Mackintosh will have to kick me out the door, I think he knows that,” he laughed.

Les Miserables, The Lowry, Salford Quays, March 29 to April 23. Details from www.thelowry.com