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'The Phantom Of The Opera' Returns To Proctors

Phantom of the Opera
Jesse King
Crew work on the chandelier used in 'The Phantom of the Opera' ahead of a Thursday matinee.

“The Phantom of the Opera” is back at Proctors in Schenectady through May 5. This new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic strives to be “bigger and better than ever before.” 

The crew at Proctors is madly assembling a matinee of one of the most celebrated Broadway musicals of all time. First performed in 1986, the story centers on a masked phantom who haunts the Paris Opera House and obsesses over its young soprano, Christine. Stage Manager Mitchell Hodges says this time, the goal is to bring audiences even closer in Cameron Mackintosh’s production.

“So they wanted to redesign and reimagine our show to be more of a cinematic feel. So you’re kind of on the journey with the actor – you’re watching things bump, fade, wipe across, dissolve – you’re not waiting for a scene change to happen upstage," Hodges explains. "It’s a very quick movement, so there’s not a lot of time to think or doubt, or have any of those emotions where you’re just kind of there with every actor in the scene, and whoever’s the main actor in that scene you’re with them on their journey.”

Phantom of the Opera
Credit Jesse King / WAMC
Proctors also has some of the production's costumes on display.

This Phantom is one of the biggest touring productions in North America. In addition to a 52-person cast and orchestra, it has new lighting designs, staging, and visual effects. The crystal chandelier that comes “crashing down” in each performance weighs more than a ton, and Hodges says the show needed a pyro license just for the special effects.

“I think every show has its own unique set of hurdles, and this one for us is there’s live pyro, there’s a lot human error that can happen, there’s a lot of computer error that can happen, there’s a lot of  '20 trucks of stuff' that can go wrong," Hodges says. "So, that just in itself is a hurdle – and I think that, for me, is the biggest one for this show.” 

Hodges says the tour has 14 permanent crew members, and requires an additional 110 locals to assemble and run each performance. Setup at each new location takes two and a half days, when the cast tries to get some rest. Quentin Oliver Lee takes center stage as the Phantom. He says staying in shape while on tour requires sleep, exercise, and a lot of tea – but from night to night, it’s all about focus.

“Well I have about an hour before the show to get into makeup, and I spend that time really trying to get into the mindset of the character," Lee says. "And then prior to each scene there’s a couple of minutes that I’m able to really refocus and think about the given circumstances. And then of course, vocally, that’s warmup and just training.”

Lee has a number of musical and opera credits to his name, including a Broadway appearance in “Prince of Broadway” and a national tour of “Porgy and Bess.” He says he was drawn to the role after seeing Norm Lewis wear the mask in 2014. In his own portrayal, Lee says he draws from the Phantom’s isolation.

“I just know him as a person who hasn’t been loved, and who really has something to say, but nobody wants to hear him. And he will say it regardless, you know what I mean?" he asks. "And honestly, one of the more important things is he tries to provide to Christine all of the joy that he has from music. He tries to provide that. And when that’s tainted in any sort of way, that’s what really sets him off.” 

Lee has played the Phantom 500 times in roughly the past year and a half. While he’s never performed at Proctors before, he thinks this run is particularly special – he’s hanging up the cape on May 5. 

“It’s been an incredible run, truly. I’ve learned so much about both the character and the show in general," he says. "It’s an honor to be able to bring it my last time here, in Schenectady. Truly.”

You might say night time will sharpen and heighten each sensation — for a few more days.

Jesse King is the host of WAMC's national program on women's issues, "51%," and the station's bureau chief in the Hudson Valley. She has also produced episodes of the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."
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