Broadway’s Phoenix Best On Her Role in Les Misérables
Les Misérables comes to Juanita K. Hammons Hall in January 2020. We speak to Phoenix Best, who plays Éponine in the Broadway production, about her musical career.
by Jamie Thomas
Dec 06 2019 at 8 a.m.
“I am so excited to be back on this tour, I'm really excited to bring this tour to Springfield and to continue to tell this story.” At just 25 years old, Phoenix Best is embarking on her second run as Éponine in Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s enduring musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. The Broadway show is touring the country, and will be playing at Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts from January 21–January 26, 2020. Best has starred in Broadway productions of The Color Purple, Dreamgirls and Dear Evan Hansen. 417 Magazine spoke to Best in her first interview after going back on tour about her experiences doing what she loves and what the future may hold.
An Early Start
From a young age, Best knew she wanted to act and sing. “I always wanted to be an actor and I always wanted to sing,” says Best. “I was more focused on acting on TV and wanting to be a pop star. When I saw a musical [Cinderella] when I was in 5th grade I was like ‘wow, you can do both of them at the same time!’ That was where my love of theater came in, and then I started doing theater the next year when I went to middle school. I've been doing it ever since.” Best always had the encouragement of her family, from the moment she made the decision up to the present day. “My family has always been very supportive of me,” says Best. “I’ve been singing since before I could talk, so I think they always knew it was in me.” Best’s mother and sister both have their own creative streak: “Growing up, my mom used to dance and my sister is an artist.”
While the passion was there from an early age, it was a high school performance of Aida that really secured the idea of musical theater as a career for Best. “I was like ‘this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ That’s when things really clicked.” From Phil-Mont High School in Pennsylvania to DeSales University, Best continued treading the boards, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Musical Theater and taking part in multiple internships and the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival at DeSales. “They have a program for students to be interns over the summer and work with professional Broadway and TV actors,” says Best. “I did it three years in a row.”
The Big Break
It was during her final stint at the festival that Best’s big break would come. “My last week at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival I saw on Playbill that they were having an open casting call for an understudy in The Color Purple on Broadway. I was like ‘it's on my off-day, I might as well just go and try it. Why not?’ Long story short, I got called back four times within that next week and made it down to the final two.” Casting agency Telsey+Company told Best that she needed to move to New York, and helped her secure an agent to start applying for auditions. Within a month of moving from Philadelphia to New York, Best had booked her first Broadway show.
Despite how fast everything happened, Best felt comfortable and confident with her new life in a new city. Growing up in Philadelphia had prepared her for life in a major metro area, and a few fellow alumni of DeSales were already living in New York. Coupled with the fact that she moved to the city with friends, it was a smooth transition. This all helped give Best a foundation to focus on her rapidly escalating career. “It was a little crazy because I was only 21,” says Best of her first experiences performing on Broadway in The Color Purple. “There were a lot of high-level celebrities and theater performers who were very seasoned, and it was the first major thing I had done.”
On Stage with Stars
One of her first moments of realizing where she was and what she was doing came when she shared the stage with Oscar and Grammy award-winner Jennifer Hudson. “She's absolutely phenomenal and amazing and she's still to this day one of my biggest inspirations and role models,” says Best. A casual visit to the rehearsal studio by Oprah Winfrey was a similar moment of realization. “I remember thinking 'oh my gosh, that's Oprah Winfrey. I’m in the same room as Oprah.’ It’s moments like that that I was like 'this is crazy, how am I even here?'” Along with Hudson and Winfrey, Best also cites Audra McDonald and Heather Headley as major influences, although she’s careful about not trying to imitate them. “I'm not trying to be any of those women because those women already exist. I can just be the best me I can be.”
Defining your own style and sense of identity is one of the most important pieces of advice Best offers to any other young, aspiring performer. “Learn as much as you can and trust the talent that you have,” says Best. “The hardest thing is putting yourself out there for auditions and possibly getting 'no's.' I don't like to think of them as 'no,' because making a show or casting a musical is a puzzle. Sometimes you may just not be the right puzzle piece. That doesn't mean you're not talented or you're not good enough. Be yourself, work hard, know your advantages and disadvantages and keep working as hard as you can.” Looking ahead, Best wants to branch out into acting and releasing her own original music, while still maintaining her musical theater career. “I'd love to do something that's never been done before so that I can be the Heather Headley to someone else.”
Don't Miss Les Misérables in Springfield, MO
The support of her family, experience honed through Shakespeare and musical theater, inspiration from seasoned performers and her own passion for the arts is clear in the confidence and poise that Best exudes—whether in a casual conversation about her career or in her earnest, soulful performance as Éponine on the stage. You can see a short preview of Best’s vocal talents here, along with some extra insight into her personal experience in this video. To get the full experience, order your tickets for Les Misérables at Juanita K. Hammons Hall now.
Get Your Tickets
Les Misérables at Juanita K. Hammons Hall
January 21—26, 2020
525 S John Q Hammons Pkwy, Springfield
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