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Revisiting ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’: 10 Questions With The Cast In Singapore

The world-famous musical by Andrew Llyod Webber is returning to Singapore from 24 April 2019!

Photos: Base Entertainment Asia

Musical theatre fans, get ready! The Phantom of the Opera is returning to our shores from 24 April to 8 June 2019.

The world-renowned musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber is Broadway’s longest-running show to date, a masterpiece of iconic and stirring songs like Think of Me, Music of the Night, and the titular Phantom of the Opera. It’s a tale of love, obsession, and passion between the disfigured maestro enthralled by a talented young singer, Christine. Besides being drawn into the sensational world of 19th century Paris opera, get ready to be amazed by the brilliant cast performances, intricate costumes and stunning sets.

We had the chance to speak with the cast about the musical. Meghan Picerno (Christine Daaé), Jonathan Roxmouth (The Phantom), and Matt Leisy (Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny) share their personal takes on their characters, their dream roles, and what to expect for the Singapore run of Phantom.

Hi Meghan! As someone from an opera background, how is it like doing musical theatre? Were there any major challenges that you faced?

Meghan Picerno: I absolutely LOVE performing music theatre. I am utterly consumed and obsessed with it now. I am a stage animal, and communicating is what I love to do best. Whether it be opera or music theater- I love telling a story, and to be able to tell such an iconic story to so many people quite literally all around the world in my native language, through the magnificent music of Andrew Lloyd Webber every day is nothing short of a dream.

The largest challenge and difference for me coming from the opera world to the music theater world is the sheer number of performances one does. Yes I sing with microphone in the music theater world, but I also perform every single day. Mic or no mic, I can tell you that this an Olympian feat. Pacing myself emotionally, physically, and vocally so that I am able to give my audience 100 percent of myself each day is the greatest reward and challenge of performing music theater.

What would you say makes your Christine different from the other Christines, given that Phantom is a musical that has had many runs before this?

Meghan: One must first of course acknowledge the deep rooted tradition this piece commands. There is a style that must be observed and honored, much akin to when performing operas (one cannot sing Mozart as one does Puccini). That being said, there are a few noteworthy points which I believe set my Christine apart from others. Each actor who has had the great responsibility and privilege of wearing the iconic skin of Christine Daae has something ever so slightly different to add to the role.

One such point is indeed the fact that I come from the opera world. The color of my voice due to my classical training is already somewhat different than the norm. Working side by side with the brilliant creative staff, particularly our unparalleled Music Director, Kristen Blodgette, we found a color which serves Andrew Lloyd Webber’s gorgeous score to its fullest, while being most appropriate for the young Christine found in Phantom.

Christine is, of course, an opera singer, a prodigy, albeit a young and developing one. This is particularly important, as I believe I’m the first to ever “travel back in time” as it were as the Principal Christine from Love Never Dies and into that of my younger self in The Phantom of The Opera. In Love Never Dies, I was living as her future, world-famous, opera diva (and therefore more developed in every which way) self. Having this knowledge and living her future is something I very much have ingrained into my being, and yet must also as much as possible, forget, as young Christine has yet to discover herself in this manner. However, there are seeds within her younger self that I know will blossom one day in her future, when she reaches her full potential. Seeds of strength, wit, talent, and charm.

My way of infusing as much strength into her as possible is also I believe unique. As a female actor of 2019 performing a period piece portraying a woman who did not have the same rights nor access to tools we do of this age, there are many challenges to face. However the aforementioned incredible creative staff and I found a way to infuse as much strength as possible, particularly at the end of Phantom, into this young version of Christine, whilst still remaining true to the constraints of the story and time period. I must say, it is absolutely thrilling.

Hi Jonathan! You’ve played the Phantom before in 2011 and 2012 – what do you enjoy most about playing this role?

Jonathan: The Phantom is an enormous challenge. Not only is is a very tough sing, the character is so multilayered that you are even more challenged as an actor. He is a tormented, disfigured genius obsessed with beauty and love. It is an internal as well as an external struggle and transformation. It is SO difficult to get it absolutely spot on but so rewarding and addictive to play.

Is there anything different about returning to this role after a period of time?

Jonathan: I’m older! I was very young to play the role before and the 8 years since have been filled with experiences and general “life” that inform my choices as an actor today. This is especially helpful with the Phantom as he is a very old soul to play. My mindset is also different in terms of my confidence and my daily preparation is completely different in that it is calmer and more together than before.

Some may say that the Phantom’s story is one of unrequited love, while some argue that he is the antagonist of the musical. What is your personal take on the Phantom as a character?

Jonathan: Both are true in a sense. The Phantom is an example of what happens when society treats someone who is born different badly. He is the culmination of man’s cruelty and innate fear of the unknown. He is also a symbol of unbridled love and passion – sometimes to the point of evil and obsession. Antagonist…? That’s a tricky one. He is his own antagonist to be honest.

Hi Matt! You’ve done both theatre, as well as film and television acting. Which is more challenging for you?

Matt Leisy: Hi there! Yes, I’ve worked across the board in television, film and theatre. I love all three and they all pose their own challenges. For me, it’s the technical elements that are the most challenging. I want to be able to just focus on the scene, but there are so many other things that you have to think about. I usually say that acting in television and film is more technical than theatre.

For instance, all of the direction is thrown at you right before you shoot the scene and you maybe get one rehearsal (run through) before the cameras start rolling- “make sure you hit this x mark on the floor by the time you say this line, while running away from the other actor (who actually isn’t there), but can you run a little slower and not run into the guy holding the boom mic, while looking natural? And go!”

But doing a large scale musical like Phantom of the Opera is also extremely technical. For the most part, the original Hal Prince staging is very much set from when it was conceived over thirty years ago. Add on top of that all of the safety issues like getting out the way of fire, smoke, climbing tall ladders and jumping in the dark, not to mention being in the same place every night, offstage in the wings, so you don’t get hit by huge set pieces. It’s a very structured, well-oiled machine, that once learned, does allow the actors the freedom to make it their own, but there are many technical elements that have to fall into place. You really have to stay on your toes and that makes it more exciting!

What is your dream role?

Matt: Oh wow! I don’t know if I have just one! Some of the roles I see in my future are Bobby in Company, Leo Frank in Parade, Mozart in Amadeus and hopefully King George in Hamilton.

Hey producers, are you reading this?!

In Phantom, Raoul is sometimes seen by the audience as being bland, unlikeable, or “breaking up” the Phantom and Christine. What is your take on Raoul as a character, and what sets your Raoul apart from the ones before?

Matt Leisy: Ha! I can see how Raoul can come off that way. It’s a tricky role, one that has the ability to come off as two dimensional and annoying. I have worked hard to bring many layers to the character so that you really get to know him. He’s actually more complicated than you would think. Not to sound egotistical, but people say that I’m blessed with a natural like-ability and honesty. My Raoul is charming and very much in love with Christine. How can you fault the guy? They have a past and a childhood flirtation, and when they are reunited after her triumphant debut, he quickly dumps his playboy ways and falls hard for Christine, risking his life along the way.

Phantom is fascinating story-telling because it’s written in a way that the audience, myself included, want the Phantom and Christine to get together. But when you really think about it, the Phantom is a highly manipulative kidnapper and mass-murderer! And then Raoul is seen as “unlikeable” or “breaking up” Christine and the Phantom?! Raoul is the non-criminal who just wants to love Christine and take care of her! I think our trio of Phantom, Christine and Raoul is very strong and a truly balanced love triangle. The audience’s allegiance shifts throughout the night between #teamphantom and #teamraoul. I think that makes it just that more exciting!

Phantom is one of the world’s most beloved musicals – why do you think it is such a well-loved classic?

Meghan: Phantom is as timeless as it universal. Though it is a period piece, it ingeniously communicates the human condition in a way that is understandable throughout the generations and geography. As both a current performer and a former audience member of the show, I can tell you that there is something magical about it that no other production seems to be capable of capturing quite in the same fashion. The very essence of the show is nothing less than spellbinding.

Jonathan: Who hasn’t been rejected? Who hasn’t lost out on love? These are some of the things that make us human and vulnerable. Phantom makes you feel things in a way that other shows don’t. It reminds you that you have a heart as well as tear ducts. Big tough men constantly tell me of the tears they shed and the feelings they felt whilst watching the show. It’s truly unique.

Matt: That is such a good question. Being new to the Phamily, I’m still figuring that out for myself and looking for more answers beyond the obvious. It cuts deep into peoples cores, and for different reasons, I believe. The #teamphantom people connect with the misunderstood outsider, the #teamraoul people connect to the romanticism of the piece and the #teamchristine people connect with a girl who grows into a strong, independent woman. And then there’s the gorgeous, sweeping melodies, lush orchestrations, and the incredible and opulent set and costumes. It’s a feast for the eyes and ears! And it speaks to audiences on many levels, so much so that they keep coming back year after year or, in our case on tour, weekly!

What do you think Singaporean audiences can look forward to in this staging of Phantom?

Meghan: Singaporean audiences are in for an extraordinary evening as they are transported into a world beautifully staged by the legendary Hal Prince, designed by the brilliant Maria Björnson, choreographed by the late Gillian Lynne, and composed by the genius behind the mask himself, Andrew Lloyd Webber. The sets, the costumes, the cast- THE MUSIC. From the moment that epic overture resounds into every fiber of your being, I promise you are in for an utterly transformative evening. There is a reason this show is the most successful and longest running show on broadway, has been performed in 41 countries and in 17 languages (to date). In a time where our world is filled with fear, it is so important to experience a show that is based in that of love. Come with an open heart and soul, and be ready for a night you will forever remember- whether its your first time, or 100th time, I know based upon my own experience as an audience member, that you will leave, to paraphrase: hearing as you’ve never heard before.

Jonathan: This production boasts some really wonderful updated technology and special effects. I don’t want to give them away though. This production also has brand new sets costumes true to Maria Bjornsen’s designs. It’s more sumptuous than ever!

Matt: This staging of Phantom is brand new! It’s a new set with new costumes and a cast that all started together from the beginning to create something new. You are seeing the original cast of the World Tour. When you go to Broadway or the West End, you will see a great version of Phantom, but it will be a mix of cast members who all came into the show after it opened. They have each been quickly put into the show a cast member or two at a time. They did not have the luxury of a full 8 weeks of rehearsal together before the audience arrived. And as I said before, it’s a compelling love triangle, and a company of brilliant artists. Look out, Singapore!