November 2005 marked the first time the Phantom of the Opera – anti-hero of literature, stage, and screen – appeared on Star Playhouse’s stage. Although most theatre-goers associate the masked man with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running Broadway musical, this iteration of the story – titled Phantom – explores the plot of Gaston Leroux’s novel with a book by Arthur Kopit (Nine, Indians, Wings), accompanied by original music and lyrics by Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic). Now, 14 years later, a few members of the original cast and production team return to bring the musical back to life.
A Timely Tale
Rick Grossman directed the original production of Phantom at Star Playhouse. A familiar face at Star, he has directed at the Commack theater for over 25 years with Phantom marking his 18th production. When it came to remounting this particular show, the director said he was struck by how relevant it was in 2019.
“What this show is about is a person who has [a] deformity and because of the way they look [they are] ostracized by society,” Mr. Grossman explained. “It’s like ‘No, you can’t be with us, you can’t live in our society. You know why? Because you look different.'”
Mr. Grossman said he recognized the same rhetoric being expressed right on television.
“When are we going to as people, as humanity, just look at people and accept them for their character, for their kind hearts, for their warmth? This is what [the Phantom] has – wonderful humanity and great character – and yet he has been forced to live a life apart from society because of the way he looks,” he said.
Throughout the rehearsal process, Mr. Grossman kept this in mind as he worked with the actors in developing their characters – especially the Phantom, played by Marc Strauss.
Mr. Strauss explained this version of Phantom actually delves into the Phantom’s backstory. Erik, the Phantom’s name in this adaptation, is more fleshed out as a character as a result. There are also many twists and turns along the way that allow for a more sympathetic portrayal. The actor said he is excited to bring this version of the character to the stage.
At the Ballet
Also part of Mr. Grossman’s vision for 2019’s production was the exploration of how the ballet and opera worlds meld together. As a result, the show features more ballet and dance sequences – all choreographed by Tyler Matos.
Mr. Matos expressed his respect for Mr. Grossman, who he has collaborated with many times before.
“[Rick] is trying to get the younger, more contemporary flair in these classic shows, which is really cool,” said Mr. Matos.
The choreographer said the challenge of the piece appealed to him. While he typically choreographs modern musical theatre, the task of choreographing the ballet pieces piqued his interest.
“I am really trying to make the ballet pieces also part of the story,” he said.
This concept especially comes to fruition in the retelling of the story of the Phantom first falling in love in a dream sequence.
Despite the challenges, Mr. Matos said he is impressed with the level of talent in the show and their execution of the material.
Returning to Paris
Cast member Caitlin Nofi was familiar with the ballet elements of the show, having danced in the ensemble of the 2005 production. Now, however, she steps into the role of leading lady Christine Daaé.
Ms. Nofi first auditioned for Phantom when she was 14 years old. It would be her first show at Star Playhouse and an experience she remembers with fondness.
She praised Mr. Grossman for his talent and intensity, saying he created a professional setting where everyone shared a mutual passion. When he offered her the role of Christine all these years later, Ms. Nofi said she was happy to return to Star Playhouse and rejoin Mr. Grossman and other members of the 2005 cast and production team.
“It was so much fun. I fell in love with the music and the story. I liked it better than the version that everyone else knew so it was a really awesome experience to have at that age,” she recalled.
“I honestly think Phantom was the reason why I fell in love with classical music and I started to really study it,” Ms. Nofi said.
“14 years and thousands of voice lessons later, it’s nice to come back and sing the music I fell in love with when I was 14.”
Phantom runs November 9 thru November 24 at Star Playhouse. Visit website for tickets and additional information.
Photos courtesy of Gene Indenbaum