Haley Dortch stars in “Les Miserables” / Publicity photo

Queer Actress Headlines ‘Les Miserables,’ Atlanta Fringe Festival Features LGBTQ Work

For out performer Haley Dortch, being in the cast of the musical, “Les Miserables,” is a career highlight. The actress plays Fantine in the ever-popular production hitting the Fox Theatre courtesy of Broadway in Atlanta on June 4.
While in college, she was looking for a summer job and saw an open call for the show. She didn’t have an agent and wasn’t a union actor, so the odds didn’t seem to favor her. Yet Dortch’s philosophy was that the worst the producers could say was no, so she taped an audition and sent it in. It worked.
For Dortch, “Les Miserables” seems timeless and universal.
“So many scenes seem so relevant to what is going on today about what you believe in and what you want to stand for,” she said. “That is our entire epilogue — will you join our crusade? Will you be strong and stand up for what you believe in? I think there are so many messages about persistence and survival of the human spirit that still speak to so many people today.”
No one in “Les Miserables” persists like Fantine.
“She will do anything for Cosette and her story is so beautiful,” Dortch said. “It’s like watching a flame die — you try to keep it ignited as long as you possibly can. I think [the character] is just such a fighter.”
Dortch vaguely remembers watching the film version of “Les Miserables” when it came out, but that was while she was in high school, and she didn’t understand all that was going on. The first time she saw a professional production on stage was when the tour came to Dallas. Now she is part of that tour — years later — and contracted to be with the show through the end of September. This is her first time performing in Atlanta.
“Les Miserables” has been around for 40 years and Dortch understands its legacy, especially among queer audiences.
“It’s so epic and there is beautiful music,” she said. “People are still blown away by the production values of the show.”
She is particularly excited that the producers constantly bring in new and young actors, which is exciting for those “who have seen it 26 times or so.”
The annual Atlanta Fringe Festival always brings with it an eclectic and queer slate of performances, but this year the offerings include 28 performance groups from seven different states and Thailand.
One of the queer artists is Lily Kerrigan, who headlines “The Lily Show.” In it, the performer says she talks about “queer identity, professional cuddling, and the time I dislocated my jaw giving a blowjob.” It’s for the whole family, she jokes.
Kerrigan, who moved to Atlanta in 2018, is an actor, writer, and stand-up comedian who has been in the business for 10 years. Kerrigan will be staging “The Lily Show” four times during the festival, all weekend gigs. She has been working on this show for four years, beginning after the 2020 election, and calls it part storytelling, part stand-up comedy.
It’s a personal work for Kerrigan and important to her that the audience walk away feeling they have made a friend. She includes talk of monogamy, the kink scene, and bisexuality. Since those are unusual topics, she wants people to get a chance to get comfortable with her. As such, she includes a Q&A with each performance. One time, during a Q&A, a woman in her 60s asked Kerrigan if she would take her and her friends to the sex dungeon she mentioned in her show.
Although Kerrigan has attended before, this is her first time performing at Atlanta Fringe Festival. She feels every fringe event takes on the personality of the city it is in.
“In D.C, you get a lot of Shakespeare and in Prague you get lots of weird experiment stuff,” she said. “Atlanta is a lot of productions that are heartfelt and unique to each performer. Last year I saw a one-woman Bible-themed clown show. It’s also really cool and quirky and fun and down to Earth.”
Almost all fringe festivals have queer components, too.
“Fringe is a lot of small companies and DIY and people who decided to pick up a pen and pencil because they did not feel they were being represented at the huge theaters,” she said. “You get a lot of diverse perspectives.”
Other queer-themed shows at this year’s event are “Officer Scott” and “Aqua Loves a Monster.”
“Les Miserables” runs at the Fox Theatre June 4–9
The Atlanta Fringe Festival runs June 3–9 at various area venues