Christopher Sapp returns home to perform in national tour of ‘Les Misérables’

The ensemble of the national tour of "Les Misérables." (Photo courtesy Brave PR).
The ensemble of the national tour of “Les Misérables.” (Photo courtesy Brave PR).

Christopher Sapp is returning home to perform in “Les Misérables” at the Fox Theatre.

Sapp, who was raised in Calhoun and attended the University of Georgia, serves as a swing for all 11 male ensemble parts in the national tour of “Les Misérables,” which is playing at the Fox from June 4-9.

The Tony-award winning musical is based on Victor Hugo’s novel and takes place in 19th century France following the story of Jean Valjean. The musical includes famous songs such as “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Bring Him Home,” and more.

As a swing, Sapp is responsible for knowing a multitude of different ensemble roles and must be able to go on for any one of them at the drop of a hat. Ahead of opening day, Rough Draft Atlanta spoke to Sapp about how he got started in musical theater and the life of a swing. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

How did you get into theater in the first place? Was it something that you were into from a young age? 

Christopher Sapp: In fifth grade, we had a field day where you’d play different games throughout the day and that kind of thing, if you’re familiar with it. There was a karaoke part to the field day. It wasn’t a competition, but kids could sign up to sing to exercise their right to be performative. I signed up with two other boys, but the other two boys dropped out at the last minute, so I had to sing by myself. My mom was there, and she encouraged me to do it, even though I was gonna have to do it by myself, and I never really sang in front of people before this point. I get up, and I start singing, and before I know it, I just had this feeling of, wow – this feels right. This feels good, to be sharing my gift with people who are enjoying it. That was kind of the moment where I was like, I know I want to be singing, and I know I want to be doing it in front of people. I don’t know to what capacity, but that was where I got the bug. 

Do you remember what song it was? 

Sapp: Yeah. “How Far is Heaven,” [official title, “Heaven”] by the Los Lonely Boys. 

When did that interest transform into musical theater? How did you make that leap?

Sapp: We had a local theater that would do youth programs, youth concerts, where we would sing different pop songs of that age, or of the time period … I started doing those kind of local theater productions, but then I started doing the productions of my middle school. Then, as I got up into high school, I was being vetted essentially for all of the theater shows that we were doing at the high school as well. We had different competitions that we had to do regionally and statewide. So I was both performing in what were called the one-act competitions, but I was also in a barbershop quartet that was a part of a different competition, a high school competition. There was an element of theatrics to that as well, because you had to sing the songs well, but you also had to perform them well for the audience, and had to tell the story. So that was equally as fun and theatrical as the other things. 

That’s kind of where it  bloomed, was up until high school with those activities. Then I went to college for voice performance. It was kind of the same thing as fifth grade – I knew I wanted to sing … I didn’t know what capacity. So I just auditioned with my voice, auditioned for the voice program. It was a classical program, but I was doing a lot of musical theater at school, so that was my main focus. Towards the end of undergrad, I started to perform more regionally with some summer stock, and then I went to grad school at NYU specifically for musical theater. The rest is history, honestly. 

After going through college and grad school, what was your first major production?

Sapp: I would say the first big thing I did was a cruise ship back in 2018 to 2019. I worked for Disney Cruise Line. My master’s degree, we had a showcase at the end of our training for agencies and casting directors. I was able to get an agent from that, and he pretty much immediately booked me on this cruise ship, which was really awesome. That was kind of the start of my professional career. And, you know – it’s feast or famine. So I did that, but then afterwards, leading all the way up until the pandemic, I pretty much did a lot of smaller things. I had the opportunity to go back on the cruise ship, but I decided against it because sea life is hard [laughs]. You know?

I can imagine. 

Sapp: I wasn’t too keen on doing that immediately after. But then the pandemic happened, and things shut down. Honestly, [“Les Misérables”] was my next big break after the cruise ship. Like I said, I did a lot of smaller stuff. I was teaching voice in the city. I was a singing waiter. I was doing small regional things, doing a lot of operetta. My agent was auditioning me for things, but as it goes, you know, you can have a lot of close calls but can never seal the deal for years. But this was the one that did it for me.

How was the audition process for “Les Misérables?” What was your relationship to the show before becoming a part of this?

Sapp: I had only ever seen the movie. I’d never listened to or watched the musical, never read the book. But I knew the story. The way the audition process worked is I had an initial appointment that was in person. The music director, Jim Moore – well, he’s the music supervisor for the tour – but he recognized me, and we had some mutual history from my resume. I’ll never forget one of the things he said to me was – your resume is great, and all these roles make sense that you’ve done. He was like, so – what was your life after grad school? He kind of asked me the same question you asked me. And I told him that I had the cruise ship gig from 2018 to 2019, and pretty much right after that was when the pandemic started. Getting out of that was a slow burn for everybody, especially performers. He said to me, so you haven’t had your chance yet?

That has stuck with me ever since the tour started, because this is, to me, a chance that I was given by him to kind of kickstart my career in a big way. Because, as you know, this show and anything involved with this show is pretty monumental. Being on a North American tour with “Les Mis” as a musical theater performer is about as good as it gets, unless you’re doing “Hamilton” or “Wicked” or any of the other mega musicals. 

You’re a swing for this production, if I’m not mistaken?

Sapp: I am a swing. I cover all 11 male ensemble parts. I have to be ready for any of those at any given time. I mean, you actually caught me the day after I had to do what’s called a mid-show swing on, where if someone has to step out of the show mid-show for any reason – whether it be an injury or fatigue, or sudden loss of voice, whatever it is – I’ll have to step in mid-show while the show is occuring. So I’m always backstage ready to go on. In that instance, I was the only swing backstage. Everyone else was on. First, I heard from the cast member that they might not be continuing to perform that evening, so then I went and grabbed my laundry from the laundry department. I then started changing, just to kind of get ready. The resident director comes into the room and asks me if I’m good to go on, and then we move forward. I get ready for the next scene that the previous person wouldn’t be on for. That’s my job in a nutshell, is always being ready for whatever, whenever. 

How does that feel? I feel like laymen might not really understand what swings do. How do you handle that type of pressure, especially coming in mid show – I can imagine that’s a special type of pressure. 

Sapp: Early on in the tour, when I first started, I had never been a swing before. I didn’t really fully understand what it entailed to be a swing. So those kinds of things were all very, very new territory to me. But at this point, I’ve done that a couple of times and I’m used to all of these tracks. So, honestly, as silly as this sounds – it’s not silly, it’s awesome. The truth is, I felt like a hero last night, you know? Everyone’s really excited to have you in, especially when you’re comfortable with the part you’re going on for, and you know what you need to do. You just go and do it, and as long as you go and do it, you’ve hit a really high bar. That’s how last night felt. 

Of course, people don’t really understand, and a lot of people you tell them you’re doing a theater gig at all, and people that don’t understand theater, they always say, oh that’s cute, you know? Or how cool. And I’m like, well I’m making a full-blown salary doing this [laughs]. The truth is, it’s exhilarating. There’s definitely an amount of stress that comes with it, but my go-to interview answer when people ask me how the job feels in general – I always say the same thing, and it’s very true, as cliche as it sounds. It’s equal parts challenging as it is rewarding. It’s incredibly difficult, and it’s a total gymnastics session for the brain, no matter what you’re doing. But at the end of the day, you’re getting to do this monumental show, but you’re also getting to do all of these different parts in it. That is, to me, so much more exciting than than doing only one part for the entire duration of the tour, because then I get to tell the story from a lot of different perspectives.

Calhoun’s a bit far away from Atlanta, but I wondered if you’re going to have some people come out to the show?

Sapp: I would say my entire artistic educational faculty is coming. My theater directors, my choir teachers, my band directors. Also, a lot of family and friends that live in the area, or nearby. It’s the first time my dad has seen the show. My mom has seen it a few times, but my dad hasn’t seen it since we started in October 2022. So I’m really excited about that, because I’m also pretty much guaranteed to be on all of next week based on what the coverage looks like. I’m going to be doing a lot of shows for a lot of people that are really important to me. I’m really, really excited about that. I’ve been looking forward to this city for a long time now. 

Tickets for the show can be purchased online.

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