Thursday, July 16, 2015

Phantom-I had to hear it; Scott Davies & Claire Doyle, London

Scott Davies as the Phantom, 2009-present
Photo is property of Cameron Mackintosh/RUG
Friday 18 November 2011-7:30PM
Her Majesty's Theatre

Among the clearest things I learned while studying at the Globe was the idea of hearing a play being performed was even more important than seeing it. Being literally touched by the sound waves of a performer is a different experience than seeing it. And although my favorite musicals are amplified, there is such a thing as natural acoustics and intent energy filling the space.

Of course seeing an entire stage picture is a wonderful thing, but if a company is playing to the whole space, there is still a great amount of story with which one can be touched if it's not seen. On November 18, one of my many Fridays off during the London education experience, I was trying to listen to my Phantom recording to get the blues out of me. I was following on Twitter the then current West End Phantom cast and noticed that Claire Doyle would be playing Christine and Scott Davies would be playing the Phantom. She was understudy, he standby. I decided to go for a walk as show time was approaching. Not living far from Her Majesty's, I was there in a jiffy and  saw the cast board as I peaked inside the foyer- more than half the cast was out due to holidays and illnesses.

Already aware of the exquisite sense of play this company gave, I jumped at the chance to see a show filled with on-the-edge staging compromises (which would include the fabled swing track costume of the Hawaiian girl during "Masquerade!" and certainly less people on stage than usual) and a  new Phantom/Christine combo. It was something like Ms. Doyle's second ever performance as Christine. The box office went out of its way to release a ticket to me as they saw me in earnest. A 20 sterling nearly half-view seat on the Grand Circle (upper circle), house left, row C. I didn't care, because I knew I would hear them.

Claire Doyle as Christine, 2011-12
Photo by Chris Brown
Seated directly next to the house left spot light operator (who was clearly passionate about the show, evident when he rocked out to the title song and chatted with me during interval), and surrounded by other last minute purchasers, there was a sense of excitement. We all knew we would have to lean over one another from time to time in order to see downstage right. Compromise and structure that forced us to actively search for moments created joy. It even got me to talk to my fellow patrons before the show! Two gents were celebrating a birthday behind me.

There she was, Claire Doyle as Christine. I believe she had a strong dancing background, and it was more than evident in her performance. With a slight husk in her voice and an open heart chakra, Doyle was a Christine filled with faith. I saw someone who believed in God, who celebrated life! This celebration wasn't a head-in-the-clouds Christine, though. That husk and dark disposition balanced the elements. I almost want to say she was earthy.

Her full body-movement and earthy energy made it seem almost as if she was speaking text. That sounds strange, perhaps, there was this sense that every phrase ended with a energetic stamp from her physicality. This is important in classical theatre because otherwise thoughts and ends of lines get jumbled. There was nothing unclear about this Christine. This was especially effective during what some might call "sung dialogue," such as when she confided with Meg in her dressing room and in the Final Lair confrontations between she and the Phantom. The information just...just came out!

Then there was Scott Davies. Wowza. I was so thrilled to see Scott Davies for similar reasons to my excitement to see Marcus Lovett the following year in the same production. He was an "old school" Phantom, having played the part during the 90s, when casting choices were a little more classical in sound and acting. Dare I say, things were a little more edgy for the Phantom. Although Davies is the standby for the Phantom (since 2009 he has held this title, save for two months in 2010 when he was temporary first cast), he was principal in the UK Tour and West End at the turn of the century.

His classical sound was expressive, deep, and soaring. However, he wasn't afraid to sound ugly when a truthful moment compelled him. His physicality was definitely in league with legendary Phantom of the UK and Canada, Peter Karrie- very tense hands and an awkward, almost wobbling walk. When he would cry out, it was an upper register, straight tone yearn for love.

Like all West End Phantoms I have seen, his interpretation was semi-free form, while still adhering to the physical and emotional arc. During the "close your eyes" verse in "Music of the Night," Davies walked all the way to stage right and back to her, again, for example. A general note- because Her Majesty's stage is so narrow, and the house itself so intimate, actors tend to have more variance in their movements toward stage pictures.

If there's any moment of his I'll never forget, it's his exploration of Christine's lips with his hand after she kissed him in the final scene. The marching drums had started, and he brushed her lips with his hand, in such a state of disbelief. He had to remember the moment. Generally, all London Phantoms I have seen take their time during the marching drums between Christine's kiss to releasing Raoul. It must be encouraged by the resident directors. Every nuance of the Phantom's revelation lands, felt and shared with the audience.

It was an adventurous night at Phantom, and one that has left me an impression on me. Just hearing the show and working hard to see it, I felt the need to be there, and had a community around me in our little section. I felt, like Doyle's Christine, perhaps a little closer to God or the Force, or the Universe that night. My smile couldn't subside. It's that feeling- that knowledge that there is something bigger in this world than our own individual experiences that keeps me going, personally.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Phantom- Marcus Lovett

Marcus Lovett, London 2012.
Photo by Alistair Muir
Marcus Lovett's title role performance in The Phantom of the Opera is arguably the best-acted I have ever seen. In a video posted here, Lovett shared that he always left the score open in his dressing room, to ponder over new angles and meanings in the text. His constant openness to inspiration exemplified how the year-long run is an exciting opportunity to keep digging deeper.
It was some of the most effective "living under imaginary circumstances" and text/movement integration I've ever witnessed.

When I saw him play the role in London in December 2012, I wrote the following statement:

Marcus Lovett is the first Phantom I've seen to truly echo the Leroux. His thorough work shows. He has a specific physicality, and looks absolutely grotesque from start to finish. He is frightening, sexy but unsexy, cruel and villainous yet sympathetic. He truly plays a selfish, cruel figure, and his energy seems to leap from side to side of the stage as if he might strangle any one (on or offstage) at any moment. It's rare that I am truly scared during the "Red Death" sequence. Because he creates such a terrifying figure, Anna O'Byrne's Christine's seeming hatred and very clear rejection of him at the end makes clear sense, as does her empathy toward his self realization at the end.

On his Twitter, Lovett would even prompt questions with fans to analyze the text's clues of his character arc, which would lead to lively discussions. These topics ranged from figuring out inciting moments to internal motivations to new clues in the text about environment. He thoroughly engaged his mind and body with an imaginary environment, clearly supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber text and source novel by Gaston Leroux, that informed his choices to be more than reactionary- they created the illusion of a full, complicated human being.

Mind, opinions were quite divided among the online forums and tumblr accounts of Phantom fans. Many felt that he "couldn't sing." I believe one person likened his voice to a motor of some kind, a choppy lawnmower's, if I remember. Marcus was actually aware of such criticisms. He stated during his last week in the role, via his public Facebook page:
"To detractors [of my performance as "The Phantom"]...All I can say is I love you, and you are not wrong...I suspect that I am capable of singing this score more beautifully, and of making fewer acting mistakes by taking fewer risks. (And every actor I know could benefit from a bigger dose of talent.) But I will tell you here and now that while on that stage for the past year, I seldom if ever thought of singing. I almost always thought of the imaginary world, and how to behave truthfully within it. I move in a world of words and verbs, and have no interest in results. I could not care less what I am feeling on a stage, as a feeling is always a result."

It can be deduced Marcus' intent as an actor is actually to be an artist, one who serves. He definitely stated that his work was in the "service sector," and that his job was nowhere as difficult as the effort fans put in to working, saving money, and travelling distances to see him perform. I was certainly one of those people.

For me, I was transported into the illusion of a man's full life. When I saw him appear from within the mirror, something about his energy made me envision that he had come from a labyrinthine path to this spot. Lovett likely had imagined all of that, based on his research.

I can remember every moment of his performance, and yet it is difficult to describe them. His arc was very clear, and his understanding of how his body moved in space provided him with a solid base from which to create spontaneous sparks of seeming life. Hence, it is difficult to describe him in detail. It was the little vocal tics, the turns of the head, the shear intensity that could say a thousand more words in a moment than the most grandiose, generic performance ever could.

Lovett's work, because he never apologized for the Phantom's actions, but rather pursued them head on with an eye toward the arc, made his Phantom a complicated figure to watch. Instead of praising him with general adjestives backstage afterward, I told him I thought his Phantom was absolutely disgusting and cruel toward Christine initially, which led to a more effective ending, where his character learned something about humanity. He proved through action why everyone was afraid of him. Even I, sitting fourth row, felt scared that his Phantom would jump off stage and strangle me or another audience member. And it was my umpteenth viewing!

His Phantom was Erik from the source material. His physicality was toad like, his desire for Christine was self fulfilling. I believe he looked at the facts, or given circumstances: 1) he takes advantage of her vulnerability, pretending to be an angel her father sent; 2) he believes that his actions would fill in a gaping hole-that she would be his companion. I perceived him using Christine as a means to end. It wasn't until the Final Lair that head realized his follies. Understanding what love truly was came all too late.

Following his lead, this cast really played the show like a thriller, rather than playing up the romance. The romance is built into the show. By trusting that, the production soared into the stratosphere of artistic merit. I wasn't watching a love story. I was watching human beings struggle to find themselves. Performances like this are the reason why I keep going back to see Phantom.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Jane Eyre- Week 2

This is the first time I have been in a show that was previously devised. A devised piece is organically created, with guidance, by an ensemble. Its written script is a reflection of the physical and textual results. Such a work is developed through improvisation, where actors tune into the unspoken energy between them. Thus, the shapes they created together sprang from a sense of drive toward the conclusion of the show and with a physicalisation of the unspoken correlations and subtexts between one another.

This show, then, doesn't have all its lines the page. I don't think any show does, but this one more so than others! The other "lines" are the physical movements. And we can't properly play until we know where are bodies are going into the space. Perhaps we will change these physical lines as the rehearsal weeks continue, but at least now we have a direction both verbally and physically.

On a personal note- I am having so much fun. It's both challenging and not challenging as a process. The challenge is learning how to play different people with far less textual clues than the meatier roles that exist through nearly the entire string of action. But because I feel so buoyantly a part of an ensemble where each actor is serving the central thematic question and one another, I feel absolutely no stress or pressure.

I wish all processes were just so!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Phantom Phandom Celebration

Marcus Lovett as the Phantom
London, 2012 Photo by Alistair Muir
In anticipation of the 20th year since I first saw The Phantom of the Opera, I will begin to blog about the many experiences I have had with the show. Personal essays, reviews of performances and recordings, analysis, perhaps even interviews. I have a lot to say, and I feel compelled to share what this show inspires within me. Certainly, I will do a "write up" profile on each top-5 favorite actor. There should be one post a week!

For simplicity and for a "home base," here is the first master post, recording some facts and figures of my many experiences. If you ever want me to expand on a topic, please let me know!

I have seen 20 Christines, 17 Phantoms, 16 Raouls, and 12 Carlottas.

The two people I have seen in a principal role the most are Michelle McConnell (Broadway Carlotta) a whopping SEVEN times and Jeremy Hays (Broadway Raoul) FIVE times.

Favorite Phantoms
  1. Marcus Lovett (London)
  2. John Owen-Jones (London)
  3. John Cudia (NYC)
  4. Brad Little (Music Box US Tour)
  5. Scott Davies (London)
Favorite Christines
  1. Anna O'Byrne (London)
  2. Jennifer Hope Wills (NYC)
  3. Claire Doyle (London u/s)
  4. Kris Koop (NYC u/s)
  5. Sofia Escobar (London)
Favorite Raouls
  1. Will Barratt (London)
  2. Ryan Silverman (NYC)
  3. Sean MacLaughlin (NYC)
  4. Simon Thomas (London)
  5. Jeremy Hays (NYC)
Honorable mentions:
Jeremy Stolle (NYC Phantom u/s), Elizabeth Welch (NYC Christine u/s) Nadim Naaman (London Raoul u/s)

Where and When I have seen the show (underlined are top-5 favorites)
Providence Performing Arts Center-Providence, RI-November 1995
Providence Performing Arts Center-Providence, RI-March 1998
Wang Center for the Performing Arts-Boston, MA-January 2001
Providence Performing Arts Center-Providence, RI-March 2003
Majestic Theatre-New York City-December 2003
Opera House-Boston, MA-May 2005
Providence Performing Arts Center-Providence, RI-March 2006
Majestic Theatre-New York City-August 2009
Majestic Theatre-New York City-January 2011
Majestic Theatre-New York City-August 2011
Her Majesty's Theatre-London-September 2011
Royal Albert Hall-London-October 2011
Her Majesty's Theatre-London-October 2011
Her Majesty's Theatre-London-November 2011
Her Majesty's Theatre-London-December 2011
Her Majesty's Theatre-London-December 2012
Majestic Theatre-New York City-January 2013
Majestic Theatre-New York City-September 2013
Her Majesty's Theatre-London-November 2013
Providence Performing Arts Center-Providence, RI-December 2013
Majestic Theatre-New York City-March 2014
Majestic Theatre-New York City-May 2014
Majestic Theatre-New York City-December 2014
Majestic Theatre-New York City-March 2015