An hour before the night’s show starts, Brent Comer arrives at the theater. His call time isn’t for another half hour, but he likes to be early. Once he’s checked in, he heads to the dressing room he shares with several fellow cast members. Others stretch or perform vocal warmups, but Comer chooses to listen to music and meditate, centering his mind; he’s been warming up all day.
Next come his microphone and makeup — eyeliner and fake dirt required for his role — before he dons his costume and walks on stage. A few short moments later, the stage manager announces the start of the show, the curtain rises and Comer steps into the world of “Les Miserables.”
Comer, a JMU alumnus (’19), graduated in May, and a few short months later, he was cast as an ensemble member in the Broadway national tour of “Les Miserables,” the musical based on the book by French author Victor Hugo. Comer describes it as being about “the complexities and hardships of persisting through the human condition.”
He remembers exactly what happened when he received the call notifying him of his casting, even down to the exact street intersection in New York where he ran out to celebrate. He said it was a moment that made him feel like he was flying.
“I got the call in the middle of that restaurant, that I had gotten the job,” Comer said. “I went out on 8th avenue — I think it was 34th and 8th — and I was screaming in the middle of the street. I stopped traffic, and I started screaming.”
Comer started chasing that moment his junior year of high school. After accidentally signing up for a musical theater class, he just, as he described it, “stood up and sang” on the first day and earned the lead role in his high school’s musical, “Zombie Prom.” A few months later, he held the male lead role once again, this time in “Legally Blonde.”
After a gap year spent working and taking classes at his community college in Frederick, Maryland, the budding artist decided to pursue theater as a full-time career, starting with an audition into JMU’s musical theatre major that earned him both a spot in the program and a scholarship.
For Ben Lambert, a JMU theater professor who taught Comer, his past student’s success is no surprise. Lambert recalled that Comer flourished from the day he started at JMU, describing him as “one of those rare students that came to us, sort of, as a fully formed artist.”
“When we worked on things together, I always felt like we were able to work as two artists seeing eye to eye,” Lambert said. “And [we were], kind of, coming up with creative ideas and decisions and strategies that were exciting to both of us.”
Praise of Comer’s work at JMU was echoed by his peers as well. Ally Dods, a senior musical theatre major, spoke of the reckless abandon and boldness he displayed in his work as an actor. Dods was quick to say, “You remember him.”
“[He taught me] just to, like, be daring and, like, not being afraid to be bold in your choices,” Dods said. “Because that’s always, like, [going to] be what the audience members remember.”
After his time at JMU, Comer moved to New York City, wanting to “put his money where his mouth was.” After several months living on a few dollars and a dream, the call finally came.
“I spent three, two, three months living in New York, not having much money, no air conditioning, living in, like, a cockroach-filled apartment and just working at a restaurant every night of the week,” Comer said.
On July 5, Comer was notified by his agent that “Les Miserables” was looking for an immediate replacement for an ensemble member. He said that as soon as he heard about the opening, he “knew it was something he could do,” describing it as “a dream show.”
A week after Comer was first notified of the opening, he walked into Ripley-Grier Studios in New York City and sang several parts for the “Les Miserables” character Enjolras. A few days and one more audition later — this time, a private session with the show’s musical director — Comer received the phone call telling him he’d gotten the part.
“It felt unreal,” Comer said. “I felt like I was dreaming, and I was going to wake up at any second. I just felt so thankful.”
Lambert wasn’t at all surprised when he heard the news about Comer’s casting; he expected success, and he expected it to come quickly. In his words, the role “really validates all the work [Comer’s] done.”
“I knew it was going to happen,” Lambert said. “Something like that was going to happen to him fairly soon, and I think this is, frankly, just the tip of the iceberg of where he’s going.”
Comer’s on tour now, living out the first part of the dream, but for him, he’s only at the very beginning of his professional journey. Through it all, Comer’s passion and love for theater remain unchanged, and he said it’s a fire that’ll keep him going “as long as I can, as long as I feel like I’m contributing something to the artistic community.”
“I look at a city, and I know it’s beautiful, and I want to give something to the city, contribute to it,” Comer said. “I think it’s nice knowing that, ‘Well, OK. I’m going to help give that city a great moment tonight.’”
Contact Jake Conley at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.