When Actor Joshua Grosso, who plays Marius in the touring production of "Les Miserables," was first asked to mentor a handful of San Diego students competing at the Broadway San Diego Awards, he wanted to make sure no one was making a mistake.
"I went, 'Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure? You want me to teach?'" Grosso told NBC 7 in a phone interview, laughing a little.
The 24-year-old star of the hit musical, in San Diego from May 29 to June 3, is a recent Carnegie Mellon University graduate. In high school, he was the winner of the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, also known as the Jimmy Awards.
That's why he was a natural fit for a special workshop with San Diego students, all heading into Broadway San Diego Awards. The two winners of the Broadway San Diego Awards advance to the Jimmy Awards, where they compete with students across the nation.
But heading into the workshop, Grosso said, he wanted to be less like a teacher and more like a collaborating mentor - an actor who was just like the students not too long ago.
"Starting off the class, I went, okay I just need a precursor, a few words before we start," Grosso recalled. "I don't claim to be an expert when it comes to the voice or an expert when it comes to acting. I'm only really here just to offer you a few words of what I believe may be able to help you and just to share the experiences I've learned and I've gone through."
Grosso said he saw shades of himself in the students and was able to work with them to help them. He also offered words of advice.
"I could see things where I was like, well I did that when I was 18," Grosso said.
"But when I say, 'Oh I did that when I was 18,' that was like 5 years ago," Grosso added, laughing.
Grosso graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2016 and moved to New York, where he spent several months auditioning. Nearly a year into the process, he auditioned for the tour of "Les Miserables."
Most auditions normally last three or four minutes, Grosso said. This one, though, lasted nearly ten minutes and included time spent with the creative team working on the music a bit.
"I really liked how they were approaching a musical that could, a lot of times, be passed off as, you know, it's just a musical where you sing a lot of pretty songs and then you're done after three hours," Grosso said. "But the approach that they were taking, it was extremely grounded in reality, extremely based in real-life circumstances and trying to bring these people to life in a way that people would actually care about them and find them believable."
At the time, he had surface-level knowledge of the musical: he knew the songs, he had seen the movie, but he had never seen the show live.
When he started digging deeper into the show, Grosso said, he wanted to learn what elements of the musical kept it around for nearly 30 years. He was drawn to Marius because the character presented a tough challenge for him, vocally and acting-wise.
Digging deeper, he saw something in Marius that he didn't think other actors had tapped into.
"A lot of things that could be seen as a weakness of the character's, I saw as a strength," Grosso said.
"I think he's one of the few characters in the show that, when you start off, you actually get to see him change and flip-flop back and forth, which is frustrating to see, but it's the strength of his character: he's not afraid to go, 'oh shoot, I was wrong,'" Grosso said.
Grosso has been starring as Marius for just a few months, he said, but helped teach local students a little about what he has learned so far on his journey. One of those lessons was his mentality when it comes to his profession. He always remembers the mantra "hold on tightly, let go lightly."
"Which is basically, work your a-- off for what you want, don't let anybody get in your way, listen to what other people have to say, listen to your mentors, but at the same time, if something doesn't go through, the world still spins," Grosso said.
As he sat in the audience Saturday for the Broadway San Diego Awards, watching students he had worked with earlier that day, he felt both a unique kinship with the students and a sense of relief.
"A part of me was like, I know what those students were going through," he said. "On the other hand, it was really comforting, because I was like, 'you'll be okay.' This is not the only opportunity out there."