January 25, 2013 00:00 By Phatarawadee Phataranawik
The tragic monster prepares to haunt the 'Bangkok Opera'
Bangkok’s Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre will double for the Paris Opera House in May when BEC-Tero Scenario stages – at a cost of millions of baht – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beloved Broadway musical “The Phantom of the Opera”.
The show has been running for 25 years, from London to New York and most recently Seoul, its longevity a tribute to Webber’s unforgettable score, spectacular sets and dazzling special effects – and of course the heartstring-tugging romance on which the story centres.
Based upon the 19th-century novel “Le Fantome de l’Opera” by Gaston Leroux, the musical retells the story of a disfigured musical genius who becomes known as “the Phantom” because he haunts the Paris Opera House. He dwells in its depths, but also lurks in the rafters, where he glimpses the young soprano Christine and becomes mesmerised by her talent and beauty.
The Phantom lures her to become his protege and declares a fiercely possessive love for her, unaware that she is already enamoured of a young man named Raoul. The Phantom’s obsession sets the scene for a dramatic turn of events where jealously, madness and passions collide.
Powerfully voiced actor Brad Little will play the Phantom in Bangkok, repeating a role he’s made his own in more than 2,000 shows since 2009, including on Broadway.
“I never get bored with it,” Little told Thai reporters witnessing the production in Seoul this week ahead of its Bangkok premiere. “Even if I’m tired and exhausted when I’m backstage getting ready, when I hear that music start, I feel excited. It still fires me up a lot.”
Little has been the Phantom on Broadway as well as on the US and Asian tours, and prior to that had the role of Raoul in the Manhattan production. He’s also played the lead in “Cyrano: The Musical”, “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Anything Goes”.
“The Phantom,” he says, “is a demon but also a human being and a composer. It’s really hard to be a bad Phantom because of the way the role was so beautifully written. You just have to bring the emotion.”
When Little puts on the iconic white mask that hides the Phantom’s identity as well as his disfigurement, a spark goes off. He excels in his singing and natural acting and kept the Seoul audience spellbound.
Gorgeous actress Claire Lyon is playing Christine for the first time, but commands attention with her sweet voice and skilful ballerina movements.
“Every time I hear the intro being played on the keyboard, I’m so excited because it’s so powerful!” she told the visiting press. A 30-member orchestra provides the thunder – and the tender instrumental moments – for the two-hour show. And the lovely music is enhanced in turn by 22 scene changes, 281 flickering candles – and 250 kilograms of dry ice generating roiling clouds of fog.
Eugene Titus, head of the wardrobe department, is in charge of maintaining more than 230 costumes and getting them to the right actors on cue, including marvellous headdresses designed by the late Maria Bjornson.
“The ‘Masquerade’ and ‘Hannibal’ scenes are the most spectacular because the costumes are so dramatic,” Titus said. Some of the dresses weigh 15 kilograms, requiring two or three of his team members to outfit each actress.
Meanwhile Bernard Fitzgerald, chief of the props department, was fussing over a life-size model of an elephant. Associate director Rainer Fried said the elephant too is keen to see Thailand, and in fact all of the sets will be making the trip – in 22 shipping containers, three of them just for the costumes. The cast and crew of 200 will travel more comfortably.
“As you see, this show is technically extremely difficult and complicated, one of the more challenging productions,” Fitzgerald said, pointing out, among other spectacles packed into the musical, a magical illuminated floor and a dancing chandelier. “Sometimes we have to rebuild part of the theatre ceilings to hold that chandelier.
“We’re really looking forward to working with the Thai crew and Thai orchestra,” Fitzgerald added. “It will be completely new for us and a positive challenge.”
The foreign production team will be in Bangkok in late April to begin transforming the Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre for its Parisian incarnation. Director Thakolkiat Veerawan, who heads the local crew that will help in the work, has seen “The Phantom” five times, dating back to his student days in the US two decades ago.
Thakolkiat was in Seoul to assess what’s needed in Bangkok and confirmed that the Thai audience will enjoy the same world-class standard.
For his part, star Brad Little said we can also look forward to a strong message from “The Phantom”.
“The show helps so many people fight on and gives them courage, the knowledge that they’re not alone,” he said. “It’s been therapy for many, many viewers, and that’s why it’s so successful and why it’s been running for 25 years.”
CHILLS IN STORE
“The Phantom of the Opera” will be at the Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre from May 7 to June 2.