Killian brings it home as Les Miserables hits Dublin

Story by John Donohoe

Saturday, 8th December, 2018 8:36pm

Killian brings it home as Les Miserables hits Dublin

Killian Donnelly as Jean Valjean with Cosette. Photo: Matt Crockett

Ten years ago, Killian Donnelly started off at the bottom rung of the ladder in the West End production of 'Les Miserables'. 
This week, he makes a triumphant return to Dublin playing the lead role in the show, staging for the next month at the Bord Gais theatre. 
The Kilmessan singer and actor, who cut his teeth with St Mary's Musicial Society in Navan, took a chance when he moved to London a decade ago to find work in musical theatre, having appeared in a number of productions in Dublin.
He hasn't looked back, and has been working ever since.
“I gathered up all my savings, rented a room in north London, and went knocking on agents' doors,” he explains.
One agent got him an audition for the chorus line in Les Miserables, showing at the Queen's Theatre, and he went along in his t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms to be tried out.
“I didn't get a part in the chorus, but they saw potential – and I got a swing part,” he says.
This covers all the ensemble's male roles. He was singing 10 roles rather than one, and singing “eight days a week”, his voice expanded and grew.
Before he left the show in 2011, he had sang the lead role, Jean Valjean, and had also featured in the 25th anniversary show in the O2 in London. He appeared as the student, Combeferre in the movie version of the story, with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe. 
Now he is the first Irishman since Colm T Wilkinson, for whom composer Claude-Michel Schönberg wrote 'Bring Him Home', to take on the lead role in a major production of the musical.
“I actually have a framed call card from 1993, showing Colm Wilkinson in Les Mis at the Point Depot,” Killian says.
As a child, Killian listened to his father's music such as John Denver, Vince Gill, and The Eagles. 
Then his father gave him a Colm Wilkinson record to listen to.
“Here. This is a real singer,” he said at the time.  
A son of Liam and Miriam Donnelly of Ennistown, Killian's stage debut was as Fagin in a Kilmessan National School production of 'Oliver' as a 10 year-old, and after seeing productions as a teenager of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and 'Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat'  by St Mary's Musical Society, he convinced his mother to bring him to join the Navan society. His debut with the society was also in 'Oliver', as Noah Claypole.
Within a decade he was on the bigger stage, starring as Prince Charming opposite Susan McFadden's Cinderella, and the late Ronnie Drew, at the Gaiety Theatre pantomime. He had been spotted by the director of 'Cinderella' while taking part in 'Into the Woods', a take-off of well-known fairy tales, in the Draoicht Theatre in Blanchardstown, for which he won the best Irish male singer  award at the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera in 2003.  In the same year, the former Dunshaughlin Community College student was nominated for an Association of Irish Musical Society's AIMS comedian award for his role as Pish Tush in the O'Connell Musical Society's production of 'Hot Mikado', a parody on 'The Mikado'. In 2005, he received a best amateur director nomination at AIMS for `Godspell` with St Mary`s Musical Society. 
After his initial stint in Les Miserables in London, he went on to 'Phantom of the Opera', as Raoul, 'Billy Elliott', 'The Commitments', and 'Kinky Boots' and was nominated for  an Olivier award for his role as Huey in 'Memphis'. 
Then, he got asked backed to try for Jean Valjean. “It's very exciting to be coming home to Dublin in the role of Jean Valjean,” he says. “And very daunting.” 
The show began in Leicester, before transferring to Dublin this week and will travel to Edinburgh in the new year to begin a UK tour.

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