When the national tour of Les Misérables stops at the North Charleston Coliseum & Performing Arts Center Oct. 16-21, audiences will have a chance to see a homegrown talent take the stage.
Matt Shingledecker, a Charleston native, plays Enjolras, a passionate leader of the pro-democracy revolutionary group, Friends of the ABC. Charming and charismatic, Enjolras rallies his peers to partake in the anti-monarchist June Rebellion. He encounters the show’s central protagonist, Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who seeks redemption, during the chaos and subsequent violence of the uprising.
“He’s an idealist and a futurist,” Shingledecker says of Enjolras. “He is willing to lay down his own life and the lives of his friends for the ‘betterment of men’ achieved through the pragmatic policy of education for all, something most of us take for granted today.”
The character of Enjolras is a change of pace for Shingledecker, whose previous roles include Fiyero in Wicked and Tony in West Side Story on Broadway. “For most of my professional career I’ve played ingenues whose passion was love,” he said. “It is quite the opportunity and privilege to play someone whose passion and courage for social progress is rivaled by few other characters in both fiction and history itself.”
Les Misérables, which debuted on Broadway in 1987, has captured a devoted fanbase over the years, and Shingledecker said the national tour will give audiences even more reasons to enjoy the production. “In addition to everything that people already love about the show, some of the highlights include Victor Hugo’s paintings — he was quite prolific — as projected backdrops, the dark and almost cinematic lighting plot, and the very realistic sound effects of the battles of the barricade,” he says. “You really feel like you’re in a gun fight with musket-balls whizzing past your ears.”
Shingledecker last performed in Charleston 15 years ago before leaving to attend Elon University in North Carolina, and the opportunity to return to the place where he first discovered his love for theater is undoubtedly special. In addition to being in school plays at Porter-Gaud, Shingledecker cited playing Pan the Forest God in Charleston Stage Company’s production of Bat Boy: The Musical while in high school as an experience that inspired him to later pursue a career in acting.
“I never had so much fun nor felt so much fulfillment,” Shingledecker says. “The cherry on top was being paid a stipend of $125. I thought, ‘I’m rich! Wait a minute, I can get paid to play dress up and make-believe. I want to do this forever!’ The rest is history.”
Despite now living and working in New York City, Shingledecker has kept in touch with his Charleston roots. He’ll be in town for a one-night-only musical revue performance, called Matt Shingledecker & Friends: From Charleston to Broadway and Back, at South of Broadway Theatre Company on Nov. 11. The performance is not only a fundraiser for South of Broadway but also a chance for Shingledecker to collaborate with one of his former mentors, Mary Gould, the company’s producer and CEO.
Shingledecker was one of Gould’s voice students, and Gould said she knew when she met the then-16-year-old that he was full of potential. “I could see from day one how talented he was going to be. … I could see it was all there,” she said. “I was pretty sure he had the fire in his belly required to get even this far.” Over the years, Gould worked with Shingledecker, a tenor, to expand his vocal range and reach his high notes.
Gould saw Shingledecker’s performance as Enjolras in Charlotte, N.C., and during dinner afterward the two came up with the idea for the revue. “It’s going to run the gamut from barbershop harmonies to pop music to classical musical theater,” she said. In addition to Shingledecker, performers will include three of his Broadway colleagues; George Slotin, a fellow Charleston native and New York transplant; local a cappella group The Charlestones; and a five-piece band.
“I said I loved the idea of bringing him back to Charleston to show his friends and loved ones what he’s been able to accomplish,” says Gould.