Interview | John Owen-Jones | The Phantom of the Opera
Since it opened in March 2010, The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre (formerly The Grand Canal Theatre) has brought a steady stream of West-End & Broadway hits to our doorstep, and now one of the biggest of them all is coming to town. Since opening on the West-End 25 years ago, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera has been performed over 20,000 times in the US, over 10,000 times on the West-End, won over 60 major theatre awards and has grossed more than £3.2 billion worldwide, having been seen in 145 cities in 27 countries and playing to over 130 million people. And when it arrives on our shores on July 5th, it’s bringing together the best of the West-End with heavyweight producer Cameron Mackintosh and award-winning directors, actors and designers.
We caught up with 'The Phantom' himself John Owen-Jones and found out about the surprises in store for Irish audiences, asked some never-before-asked questions and heard what he has to say about the upcoming film version of Les Misérables.
Q: How daunting was it to be filling the shoes of The Phantom when you did it for the first time?
A: It's such an iconic role… When I was studying to be an actor I’d go to see lots of musicals, and the two parts that were always on my hit list to perform were Valjean in Les Mis and The Phantom. And now I’ve done both! It was very daunting at first, not just because I knew of the great actors who had done the roles previously, but also because of the fans’ expectations. Fans of Phantom of the Opera are very passionate, but I think they've taken me to heart, which I’m really pleased with. And now I've played the role more than any other actor on the West End.
What is it do you think about Phantom of the Opera that has kept audiences coming to see it for 25 years?
Well if I knew the answer to that I’d write my own musical success! I think it was born of a certain time - like Les Misérables - when people writing musicals just had the right book, the right story, the right lyricist, the right designer. Everything fell into place. And I suppose the story is quite simple really. It’s about rejection and love, and everyone's felt those things at some point in their lives. People pity the Phantom - he murders three people during the course of the show, but he’s still a human, and an outcast, as everyone has been in whatever small a way, be it bullied at school, or trying desperately to get your joke heard outside the pub at the weekend. Those things, together with its music of course.
What do you have in store for Dublin audiences? Any surprises for the tour?
It's really a completely new vision of the piece. It almost tells the story from a different angle. I suppose the original is a classic example of how to do a musical well. But people retell those stories in different ways all the time. With Phantom it's a big risk, because it’s such a well-known brand. Cameron [Mackintosh] wants to breathe new life into the show, so he’s arranged for a new set design, bigger than the West End set, and technically incredibly intricate. Things go wrong with the set all the time, though of course the audience never realises it. There are dazzling special effects, lots of pyrotechnics. So people here in Dublin will see a brand new reinvention of the show. It's thrilling, up to date - a brand new retelling of the story. And in a way too, it’s a more human portrayal.
If you could play any role in the show, other than The Phantom, who would it be, and why?
You know, in all the years I’ve been playing the role I’ve never been asked that question! I suppose, if I was a woman, I’d like to play Carlotta, the opera singer. I think it’s a role often that’s often misinterpreted. It's really a gift of a role for an actor. She’s such a loud, theatrical character, who stomps around with all sorts of over-the-top nonsense. I think it would be great fun to do! Though I really think that I have the best role in the show. I'm playing the villain, and that's often more fun to play than the hero.
Has your performance or portrayal changed slightly over the years, or for the tour itself?
Very much so. When I first played the Phantom I was very aware of how people would see me, but then I started to play it for myself, and how I wanted to see the character played. And actually, the audiences preferred that, because they saw me playing the Phantom, as opposed to another person’s version of him. I've also tried to make him more human. He is a normal man who has been wronged by society, and that’s interesting to play. I've tried to make him more real.
What was it like reuniting with the other Phantoms at the Royal Albert Hall for the anniversary?
That was fantastic. I'd spent such a long part of my working life playing the role of the Phantom. So that night there were several hundred people backstage and I knew all of them. It was great meeting Michael Crawford, the original Phantom. I looked at it all as a big celebration of the show. It felt like a big party. And of course the venue is great to play in.There's such a sense of history there. All I had to do was walk around backstage telling jokes, and then go out on stage and sing at the end - easy!
What do you think of the forthcoming Les Mis film? Are you looking forward to it, and to seeing Hugh Jackman as Valjean?
Yeah, I am really looking forward to it. I'm sure Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe will do a fantastic job. I think it’s been really well cast. It looks amazing from what I’ve seen, and I know that Cameron is very passionate about it and involved in it, and I'm sure that will come across. They've rewritten the show for film, and they’ve really worked at make it work for a film audience. I'm very excited to see it.
What was it like becoming Valjean at such a young age? How has it shaped your career to date?
It's shaped my outlook on everything. I was only 26 when I was first cast, which was very young, and it's an extremely challenging role to play. But of course I took it on - when you’re offered something like that you don’t turn it down - I haven't looked back since.
The Phantom of the Opera opens in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on July 5th and runs until August 4th. Tickets from €25 on sale now through Ticketmaster.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Wednesday 13th June 2012 | Theatre
went to see The Phantom of the Opera last Friday it was just fantasticPosted 23:33 | Fri 13th Jul 2012
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