Photos by Clarissa Villondo, words by Kelly Rodgers
“Remember: there are worse things than a shattered chandelier,” is a line that has haunted me since I was fifteen years old. I will never forget the first time I saw Phantom of the Opera: I was watching what seemed like a normal musical theatre performance, when suddenly the entire stage went black, and a huge chandelier rose above the crowd. Goose bumps violently rose on my arms, as the ominous overture played and the organ shook the entire theater. I instantly fell in love.
It’s been about thirty-something years since Andrew Llyod Webber’s Phantom of the Opera first made its way to the stage in London. Now, it’s a fairly common name even to those who aren’t huge Broadway fans. Though the 80’s organ still makes me giggle (It just sounds so 80’s!), I still think Phantom is a show everyone should see at some point in their life.
For those of you who have never seen the show before, or just really need to see it again because you cannot get enough (like me…), you’re in luck. Phantom is touring across the country, and has finally made its way to the District.
Phantom of the Opera, as recreated by Cameron Mackintosh, is now playing at the Kennedy Center through August 20th. Though the plot has not changed, this production has completely reimagined the way you might have seen Phantom performed in the past. This classic musical theatre show has been reshaped through a new perspective to match the needs and expectations of audiences today.
I got to talk with Seth Sklar-Heyn, the associate producer/director of the show, who has been working on different versions of Phantom for a number of years across the country, including in New York. He explained, “What we have tried to do with the new production of Phantom is bring together the style and tastes of a large-scale environmental production, that is going to envelope you — as they did back in the late eighties when [the show] was first conceived. But, make sure that the viewer who is watching it, gets to see something that will work for the muscles of their minds.”
Jovon Shuck, the stage manager, has been a fan of Phantom since he was fourteen years old, and was excited to be part of a production that has been a part of his life for such a long time. Working behind the scenes, Shuck notes that stage managers are kind of the “backstage traffic cops,” who try to keep everyone safe during the production.
He also gets to hang back stage with the Phantom right before he goes on stage, which is another cool part about Shuck’s role in this production. “Right before [the Phantom’s] first entrance, we do a quick change and there’s a moment where its just me and his dresser standing back there, and that’s awful fun. Right before [the Phantom] takes the stage, its fun to just be like ‘hey buddy, you’re the Phantom of the Opera! Here we go!” Shuck said.
Shuck also noted that he was especially excited to be putting on this production in D.C. because there is always something happening. As a cast, Shuck said that D.C. is a really fun place to spend six weeks while performing at the Kennedy Center, and that he is excited to make D.C. their home during the duration of the production.
There are about 65 people in the entire production of Phantom who move across the country. They take about 18 tractor-trailers to move all of the props and costumes from one city to the next, without breaking any of the props down. The star of the show (well, the shiniest one at least), the chandelier, weighs about one ton and is covered in over 6,000 beads. The crew has to do a safety check of the props before each and every show to make sure everything is in order. Which is probably a good thing, since the chandelier that drops from the ceiling during the show is about the same as throwing a car at the audience. And that’s not even the scariest part.
Props aren’t the only thing that makes this show so magical; there are about a thousand costumes that are used in this production of Phantom. And that’s just clothing — they also have over a hundred wigs and hair pieces too. There are several quick changes that occur throughout the show including that of the ballerinas, who have to change and get back on stage in 30 seconds flat. Some of the most intricate customs are also the heaviest — like that of the female lead’s dress which weighs about 40 pounds. Did I mention she also has to sing and run across stage with that thing on? Talk about a workout.
So what makes this show appealing for the audiences of D.C.? Sklar-Heyn explained that it is great show for parents who have seen Phantom before, and want to share the tradition with their kids. Its also great for a date night. Why not skip the movie and go to the theatre?
Sklar-Heyn said, “It pulls on a lot of things that have made all forms of entertainment appealing for audiences. You have the love story, you have the threat of violence and danger, and you have the comedy.”
Violence, danger, comedy, and romance, what else could you possibly want out of a show? Forget the TV this evening and make your way to the Kennedy Center for a show that is sure to make everyone happy…just watch out for that chandelier.