IT is probably thanks to the 2004 film adaptation, starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum that The Phantom of the Opera received a more mass audience when it hit the cinemas, especially for those who do not frequent or do not have the chance to see the musical live since its West End and Broadway debuts in the mid- and late 1980s.
That being said though, The Phantom of the Opera, the musical, became the longest running show in Broadway history on January 9, 2006, when it celebrated its 7,486th performance, surpassing the previous record holder Cats. It went on to become the first stage production to reach worldwide grossing of $6 billion, far surpassing the world’s highest-grossing films, such as Avatar, Titanic, Star Wars, and yes, even the more recent Avengers blockbusters.
The classic tale, adapted from Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de L’Opéra novel by Andrew Lloyd Webber, about a disfigured musical genius known only as the Phantom who haunts the depths of the Paris Opera House, has won over 70 major theatre awards, including seven Tony Awards on Broadway, and four Olivier Awards in the West End. Worldwide, over 140 million people have seen the musical in 37 countries, 172 cities and performed in 16 languages.
After its run in Singapore the previous month, The Phantom of the Opera will arrive in Kuala Lumpur for its month-long run at Istana Budaya. Presented by Base Entertainment Asia and Lunchbox Productions, the Malaysian leg of The Phantom of the Opera will feature Jonathan Roxmouth as the namesake Phantom, who is taking up the role for the third time, and Meghan Picerno as Christine Daae, whose talent and beauty has captivated the Phantom, setting a dramatic turn of events where jealousy, madness and passions collide.
Roxmouth began his professional career in stage acting in 2006, when he took up the Vince Fontaine/Teen Angel role in Barnyard Theatre’s production of Grease, during the “gap year” he took following his final exams in high school, “to get the theatre dream out of my system,” Roxmouth recalls. “Well, that gap year has lasted 14 years so far!”
Close to 15 years in stage acting, Roxmouth has performed in notable productions, such as The King and I, Beauty and the Beast, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, West Side Story, Evita, and The Phantom of the Opera, which has won him the Best Actor award at the Broadway World Philippines Award in 2012.
Amidst the performances that will run from June 15, Roxmouth and his Phantom cast and crew will be hosting Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, wife of current Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and a fan of musical productions herself, on July 3 for the Tun Siti Hasmah Charity Gala, which is raising funds for two non-profit organisations: the Dyslexia Association of Malaysia (PDM), and the Malaysian Spinal Injuries Association (Masia).
What is it about stage acting that appeals to you so?
It’s live. It is a tangible human experience right before your eyes that will never be the same twice over. It is constantly unique, and the potential for it to go wrong is real. With film or television, you can edit or try another take, but in the theatre, you have one shotyou’re your performance. You could say that it’s like an extreme sport, terrifying, but also addictive and rewarding at the same time.
Being in the “scene” for more than 10 years, how do you keep things fresh, especially for stage roles you have performed before, like The Phantom of the Opera, A Handful of Keys, and West Side Story?
10 years is actually a short amount of time (laughs)! Due to the fact that my projects are always different, the freshness is already inherent, and you are constantly challenged. When I’m on a long run, keeping it fresh comes down to a fantastic creative team around you, and the fact that every audience is naturally different.
Is there a role you would like to take up, and which you haven’t?
In terms of roles that already exist, the Phantom is at the top of my list. Other than that, I’d like to think that my next dream role hasn’t been written yet. It will be written for me once I meet the people I’m supposed to. That’s my hope, at least!
What would you say is the most challenging when it comes to stage acting?
Being completely vulnerable in front of 1,800 strangers is always tough and a real test on your bravery, but it is so wonderful when that connection happens – it’s electric. Being able to last my first decade in the theatre, and making such connections with the public every night, that’s something I’m very proud of.
How do you think something as long-standing as theatre has evolved to fit in to the more modern society of the now?
Theatre is not poised, but rather a reflection of society and the times we are in. The theatre does not aim to fit in with society, but instead challenges the audience as much as it entertains. I dare say it’s a two way street. It is one of the very few professions that cannot be replaced completely by machinery. Everything is cyclic, and as the adage goes: “everything old is new again”. The fact that theatre is still around, when the most “popular” bands that once were aren’t is already saying something, don’t you think (laughs)?
This will be your third time taking up the role of the Phantom, and the second tour with Lunchbox Theatrical Productions. Is there anything you would do differently this time, compared to the previous time, or is it more of a “if it isn’t broken” situation?
The Phantom of the Opera is a well-established brand, and I believe that is what people want. It doesn’t need an actor’s help. As long as you trust the material, and have faith in what you can offer, the audience will get what the show promises. On a more personal level, however, the fact that seven years have gone by means that I bring more experience this time round. My confidence in myself is evolving, which means my attack on the role is different, and perhaps, stronger. That being said, if I have to sum it up, I have nothing to prove this time. I just want to tell the story of the Phantom, while having the best time doing it.
The Phantom of the Opera will be showing at Istana Budaya from June 15 till July 7.
This feature first appeared in the Augustman Malaysia June/July 2019 print issue.
Images: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA WORLD TOUR