Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” Broadway’s longest-running show, has delighted and thrilled audiences for more than three decades.
Based on the 1910 French novel “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra” by Gaston Leroux, the musical tells the story of a disfigured, violent and musically gifted phantom who lives beneath the Paris Opera House, and his obsession with a young soprano.
Restaged and reimagined by producer Cameron Mackintosh and director Laurence Connor in 2013, “Phantom” returns to the Hippodrome Theatre from Oct. 9-20.
Jmore recently spoke with Seth Sklar-Heyn, the production’s associate producer, about “Phantom” and his life in the theater.
Jmore: What’s the allure of ‘Phantom’?
Sklar-Heyn: When ‘Phantom’ came to America during the 1980s, it was part of what was called ‘The British Invasion.’ Shows like ‘Cats,’ ‘Les Misérables,’ ‘Miss Saigon’ were all part of this. At that time, Broadway changed from using more traditional staging to large-scale productions, lush orchestral arrangements and huge casts. Shows were pushing boundaries with the technology that was available.
‘Phantom’ was really an event that enveloped people. That’s still true. We take what’s a success on Broadway and recreate it in Baltimore or wherever we are. We bring 20 trucks, 100 people working backstage, 52 actors and orchestra members. … We arrive in a city with ‘Phantom’ and install ourselves in the theater. We literally hang the chandelier in the building, which automatically breaks the fourth wall and makes anyone in the audience feel like they’re part of the story. It’s an important component for audiences, and they expect the impact.
There’s also the music. The music tells the story in any language in which the play is performed. Webber’s score and David Cullen’s orchestration drive the drama. When you hear a song, it allows the audience to understand the character. Andrew wrote a brilliant play through the music, and it’s another way into the story.
It’s also lovely living through a story from another time. This is really a Victorian melodrama.
How’s the new production different?
This production is created by [Cameron] Mackintosh, using original material from Webber, but Cameron allowed the new creative team to take source material and put it onstage with new taste, style and a new approach to telling the story.
That doesn’t take anything away from the original [which is still running on Broadway). But there are gaps in the story. For instance, how did the Phantom get to live underneath the opera house? The new version tries to flesh out the story and fill in the gaps. It tries to create a real person. The audience can have more empathy for the Phantom.
The design delves into all the nooks and crannies of the opera house. It’s not the same black, stylized scenery we see in the original show. We’re now putting up walls, and that makes the spaces more real. We’re trying to present real people in a real world.
Growing up, were you a typical ‘theater kid?’
Yes. I grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut. I was an usher at the touring theater in town. I danced; I did community theater. I knew I wanted to work on Broadway.
My entryway came really quickly and suddenly. I wrote a paper in high school that involved me interviewing some actors on Broadway, and through those actors I was introduced to a director, Stafford Arima. During my freshman year at [Vassar] college, he called me and said he was workshopping a show called “The Visit,” with music and lyrics by Kander and Ebb and starring Angela Lansbury. ‘You should come and work, get people lunch and make copies,’ he said. So I got the job, and probably within seven or eight months I fell into a job as assistant stage manager for ‘Phantom.’ I got my union card soon after.
What’s your job like these days?
I’m executive producer for Cameron Mackintosh [Inc.]. So, I’m production supervising, casting, providing creative support on the road, whatever it is, I’ll pick up the pieces. The variety has been remarkable. [I am working on] ‘Phantom’ on Broadway, ‘Phantom’ on tour and I’ll direct a new production of ‘Phantom’ in the U.K. The original director of that production was Hal Prince who just passed away. I’m excited to have the opportunity to direct the show in his name.
Do you see a connection between Judaism and the theater?
There’s so much music in Judaism, whether you’re going to the theater or Saturday morning services. Also, in my experience Jews tend to be a little theatrical. Why not be paid to be yourself? I don’t have any Jewish relatives in the theater, but I definitely had a mother who said, ‘Go to New York. See the shows,’ and she was part of the reason I had access, since she paid for me to be there.
For information about ‘Phantom of the Opera’ at the Hippodrome, visit france-merrickpac.com.