Performing Arts

He discovered his calling as a Broward student. Now, he’s a theater star returning home

Joshua Grosso as Marius in Les Miserables. The production opens Tuesday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.
Joshua Grosso as Marius in Les Miserables. The production opens Tuesday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

Joshua Grosso is coming home.

But this time, his stage will be a lot bigger than the one at American Heritage school in Plantation.

Grosso, 25, is a star cast member of “Les Misérables,” opening Tuesday night at the Broward Center of Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

The actor, who grew up in Broward, has been on tour with the show for more than two years. At American Heritage, he found his calling, and even won a national high school theater award.

He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama and immediately started his professional career.

One of his first and favorite performances was the lead role in “In the Heights” in Pittsburgh.

We talked to Grosso about how he got started in theater and his thoughts on playing Marius in his current show, Les Mis, as he sat in the kitchen of his family’s home before opening night in Broward.

11_LM_TOUR_1606_ABC Cafe and Matt  Shingledecker as Enjolras Photo Matthew Murphy.jpg
Les Miserables is starting Tuesday at the Broward Center. At left, with back facing camera, is local star Joshua Grosso, who plays Marius. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Q: When playing a role so many actors have played before, do you watch others perform it, or go in with a blank slate?

A: Half and half. I never watched Les Mis before besides the movie version. I was familiar with the songs, but I really didn’t know the musical. So when I got the part, I did look at a few people to see their styles. You would think Les Mis would have a set formula by now, but it was the complete opposite with this production. It almost felt like we were making an entirely new musical. The director encouraged us to find our own unique takes on the characters.

Q: Did you ever think you would perform in this show?

A: I never expected be in a show like this. Of this magnitude. Ever.

Q: Les Mis is like an opera, where dialogue is sung. How did you prepare for that?

A: There is no stopping because everything has music behind it. It’s not necessarily like in a normal musical or show, that if I forget a word in the middle of a scene I can B.S. my way through. And skip to the next word. If I forget something here, it’s very noticeable because the music just keeps on going.

Q: How long have you been with the touring cast?

A: Two years and a few weeks.

Q: What is your most challenging song?

A: The trickiest song would be “Empty Chairs.” Not necessarily because it’s vocally difficult, but it’s the pivotal moment in the show where the audience is looking for closure. Spoiler alert: After everyone dies on the barricade. The technical challenge is not only making the song sound really pretty, but also carrying that emotional weight. Every night it’s a balancing act at making sure the audience feels what you’re feeling, and you’re not overacting.

Q: If you could play any other part in Les Mis, what would it be and why?

A: Probably Enjolras. He’s just kind of a badass, isn’t he? The way that author Victor Hugo describes him doesn’t even seem human. He’s kind of this symbolic representation of revolution and new ideas and youth and fire. Our Enjolras, Matt Shingledecker, does a brilliant job of doing that. I don’t think it’s a character I’ve ever played before. And you have one of the most epic death scenes ever.

Q: You played Usnavi in “In the Heights” in Pittsburgh. How was that part different than playing Marius?

A: They’re worlds apart. Usnavi was such a treat. I loved doing that show. I worked really hard. The major difference is rapping and singing. You would think rapping is easier because you’re just talking. Well ... You get tired of talking. You get a little hoarse after a while. So you still have to do your exercises. I know it’s a musical that’s very, very special to a certain community of people, as well. Not only Latinos, but more specifically everybody from that area from Washington Heights. It’s a very personal story.

Q: Walk me through a show day. What is your routine like?

A: It really varies. On a Tuesday show day, I’m normally sleeping in until as late as I can because Mondays are our travel days. So depending on how late we get in Monday, I’m sleeping well into the next day. And then it’s getting up, breakfast, doing some exercises. And then getting ready for a 5 p.m. call to do an orientation in the new theater. At 6 o’clock we do our sound check ... and 7:30 we start the show. And that’s it. If it’s a new city, Wednesday through Friday I try to go out and sightsee. I take some photos. I’m really into photography. And Saturdays and Sundays are usually two show days, so that’s getting up, grabbing some breakfast, and getting ready basically to spend the entire day at the theater. From 1:30 till 10:30 or 11.

Q: Now that you’re performing in your hometown, will you have any extra time to spend with family?

A: I’m at the house right now. They’re feeding me like crazy. I’ve only been here for two days, and I’ve gained like 30 pounds. I always love coming back home because it’s where my family lives, and I grew up here. I’ve always loved coming back to Florida.

Q: Did you get involved in theater in high school or were you singing and dancing out of the womb?

A: It just kind of happened, to be honest. I sang at church, and then it just slowly progressed where we were listening to a Christian radio station, my dad and I, and he was like “Why don’t we try it?” I was like 12. After getting a voice teacher, I just linked up with different people. And then, what really kick-started the whole musical theater thing, was that I was accepted into American Heritage high school’s performing arts program. Part of my scholarship there was to audition for every show. The next show was “Willy Wonka,” and I was the first name that signed up in the audition sheet. The rest is history.

Q: So you were kind of thrown into it?

A: I recognize that I have been very fortunate and very blessed to be at the right place at the right time. And thankfully, I’ve been prepared to encounter all of those things and execute them to the best of my ability. I’ve always been partial to rolling with the punches.

Q: When did you know this was what you wanted to do as a career?

A: When I found out I wasn’t smart enough to do anything else. I was like, “Well, if I want to go to college I’m going to have to do this.” It was really when I was applying for colleges. I applied to maybe five or six colleges and I was like “If I don’t get into any of them, that’s it. I’m not doing this. If it doesn’t happen, I’m taking it as a sign that I should reconsider some things.” But thankfully, that didn’t happen. I was like, “OK, I guess this is what I am going to do.”

Q: What advice do you have for a high school theater student?

A: I’ve been asked to do these workshops, and asked these questions, and I constantly remind them I’m only 25 years old. I am not some Broadway legend. I haven’t really lived much of a life. The only thing I can give you is what I’ve gone through and what I’ve experienced. Anybody can be “discovered.” Anybody can put themselves out there. If you work hard enough for it, you will be noticed. If you want to be famous, that’s totally doable.

IF YOU GO

What: Les Misérables

Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale

When: Oct. 8-20, 2019

Tickets: $35-$140 at Ticketmaster.com

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