Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, now in its 30th year on Broadway — by far the longest-running show in Broadway history — has an estimated worldwide box office of over $5.6 billion, making it the most financially successful entertainment event ever.
In case you have never seen it before — there must be someone who hasn’t, right? — or if you never miss an opportunity to see the sweeping, creepy, romantic musical, the newly redesigned North American tour arrives at the Kravis Center this Thursday for a stay through April 1.
What explains the show’s phenomenal success? “I think the thing about this show that makes it so appealing, it really holds a mirror up to human nature and allows us to get a glimpse of ourselves and the way we behave. And it does so in a way that’s non-threatening. So every person can have an opinion of what this show is about. Because it’s really just a love story, right?”
So says Jordan Craig, who plays Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, childhood friend of opera soloist wannabe Christine Daae and rival for her hand against the mysterious, disfigured Phantom. As he puts it, “It’s love, lust, betrayal, joy — all these basic human emotions that we all experience.”
Phantom marks Craig’s tour debut, having moved up to the principal role after six months in the ensemble. He says it took him awhile to get used to life on the road, but now he enjoys it. “I really like habit and routine, and that doesn’t exist on the road. But there’s sort of a way of making inconsistency your new normal,” he says by phone from an earlier tour stop. “The only thing that’s consistent is that everything is in flux. Once you embrace that, it really makes touring interesting. You learn to adapt and you get to see the country.
“Really this country is so diverse. No matter where you go, people have different wants and needs and beliefs,” Craig adds. What they seem to have in common is a demand for Phantom of the Opera. “We’ve been selling out everywhere. It’s a juggernaut.”
Most theater fans have probably seen the show before, except Craig. “Of course, I heard the music growing up, but I’d never seen it until I booked this show,” he concedes sheepishly. “I flew into Miami, because that’s where the show was playing at the time, and my first rehearsal was to sit down and watch the show. So I got a really great seat and I was just blown away. I went, ‘How did I go my whole life without seeing this?’ ”
Being busy on the road for the past year, Craig has still not seen the Broadway production, but he considers that an asset. “Because the approaches to the show are so different. Ours is a very gritty, realistic, grounded version of the show, whereas what I know of the Broadway show — what I’ve been told — is it is a more stylized, highly Victorian production,” he says. “And those two approaches could not be more different from one another. So I think having somebody that was unfamiliar with that style made it easier to mold me into what they needed for this one.”
A press release for the show quotes a theater critic who calls the production “bigger and better than ever before.” Can that really be true? “I’ll leave that up to those who come to see it,” says Craig diplomatically, “but the scale of the set that we use is titanic, it’s massive. We have a 30,000-pound cylinder that facilitates all the scene changes, that ends up as the Phantom’s lair. It’s an ingenious set design. It’s grand, it embraces the spectacle of it.
“Basically, one of the goals of re-envisioning the show was that in the ’80s we didn’t have a lot of the stage technology that we now have — the lighting, pyrotechnics, automation, all of these different elements that we now are able to use and harness,” explains Craig. “And so, they’ve integrated that technology into the show in ways that I think are going to surprise audiences.”
Regardless of the production concept, Craig says that singing Lloyd Webber’s music is like a dream come true. “It’s like Christmas. If you’re in a Lloyd Webber show, it’s like getting to play Hamlet on Broadway. It’s one of those things that actors dream of doing,” he gushes. “I certainly never imagined that I would get this opportunity.”
Whether or not you have seen the show before, Craig feels certain you will come under the show’s spell. “For those who know the show but have not seen our version, this is the ‘Phantom’ you know and love, re-imagined in a way you would not expect,” he says. “It is a way to experience the story that you love in a fresh way that will let you think about the material completely differently.
“For those who have never seen the show before, like me, I can say from personal experience, if this show is your first experience with ‘Phantom,’ you’re in for a treat that you can’t even imagine. It has tremendous spectacle, it has something for everybody. Wonderful sweeping music, drama, romance — what’s not to love there?”
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Kravis Center, Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. From Thursday, March 23, to Saturday, April 1. $37-$115. Call: 561-832-7469, or visit www.kravis.org.