For J.C. Witherspoon, the biggest challenge of playing Inspector Javert, the principal antagonist in “Les Misérables,” isn’t memorizing his lyrics or mastering the melodies. It’s the drive.
Witherspoon, an officer with the Princeton Police Department, begins his day at 4 a.m. and ends it after nightly rehearsals at the Market House. With traffic, the drive from Princeton takes every bit of an hour, he said.
Witherspoon said he didn’t even know the Market House Theatre existed until someone told him it was holding auditions for “Les Miserables.” When he heard the news, he decided he couldn’t pass up a chance to be in the musical.
“Once you see the show, it gets in your blood,” he said.
At the age of 16, Witherspoon understudied for a part in “Les Misérables” in Louisville, where he attended a performing arts high school. He didn’t have the chance to go on stage in that production, and his life soon took a different turn.
“I looked around one day and said, ‘What am I going to do with a career in music?’ Two weeks later I was in boot camp,” he said.
Witherspoon served in the Navy, and is still in the reserve. He was a law enforcement officer in Louisville, moving to his current job in Princeton a little under eight years ago.
But even after 24 years away from the theater, his desire to be in the production didn’t go away. And now that he’s back in the spotlight, he’s found that his work ethic translates well to the world of musical theater.
“I give a hundred percent or I don’t show up,” he said.
Witherspoon added that his co-workers at the police department have been more than supportive of his musical interests.
“They have bent over backwards to make sure that I’m able to make rehearsals, yet still able to work. Most of the department’s coming to see it. The ones that aren’t are working,” he said.
His law enforcement background helps when it comes to nailing the mannerisms of the police inspector, but he’s more likely to see contrasts between his role and his job.
“(Javert) is very black and white. There’s no gray area,” he said.
Actual police work is different.
“There are some laws that are as black and white as they can be, but you cannot function effectively as a law enforcement officer if you can’t see some gray areas. You have to be able to see both sides of a story ... to establish where guilt is, or where probable cause is,” he said.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641 or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.