'The Phantom Of The Opera' is set for Malaysian debut at Istana Budaya

Jonathan Roxmouth, who plays the Phantom, says his character is a misunderstood creature. Photo: Base Entertainment

The call of his voice was irresistible. Its dark magnetism and deep melancholy ignited something that she’d never felt before. Here was a forbidden passion … a desire so lustful and dangerous, that even before she realised it, young Christine Daae was under the spell of this fallen angel of music.

Let your soul take you where you long to be, only then can you belong to me, the Phantom said to Christine, and for that one blind night, she surrendered to her darkest dreams. Both characters - Christine and the Phantom - are central to The Phantom Of The Opera storyline.

“Christine has had a very difficult and rather lonely life and has therefore created a land of fantasy she lives in to escape it all. And now those fantasies and dreams appear to be coming true via the Phantom,” says American actress Meghan Picerno, 30, in a recent email interview.

The Chicago native plays Christine in the international tour of acclaimed musical The Phantom Of The Opera (Phantom). The Andrew Llyod Webber gothic masterpiece has played to over 140 million in 44 countries since its debut in London’s West End at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1986.

At long last, the epic musical is ready to meet Malaysian theatregoers when it opens at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur on June 15. This could, arguably, be the largest West End and Broadway musical to ever grace the Malaysian stage. Roll out the laundry list of 230 costumes, 37 cast members and a 15-piece live orchestra.

"We must remember Christine is a young woman dealing with extreme emotional challenges for the first time. Of course she will not make what we of 2019 deem as the strongest decisions,” adds Picerno, a soprano, quickly dispelling the biggest misconception she believes people have towards Christine.

“We see her make choices (mostly out of love and trust) and then deal and, most importantly, learn from the consequences of each decision as she sees reality for what it is. Through the course of the show, we see her take the very important and powerful journey of a girl becoming a woman,” adds the Manhattan School of Music Conservatory graduate, whose first stint as Christine was in the 2017 US premiere of Phantom’s sequel, Love Never Dies, another creation of Webber’s.

Picerno and her fellow cast members are currently in Singapore for Phantom’s run at the Marina Bay Sands till June 8 before they make their way to KL.

In the Phantom story, Christine Daae is a young chorus girl at the Paris Opera House, who is pushed into the limelight when resident soprano prima donna Carlotta quits the production after barely escaping a stage accident, an incident many attribute to the elusive Phantom.

In the upcoming Phantom show in KL, the lead role is played by South African actor Jonathan Roxmouth.

Everyone is amazed with Christine’s heavenly voice, not realising that the young girl is in fact tutored by the Phantom himself. Upon her triumphant stage debut, the Phantom finally reveals himself to Christine and lures her to his dungeon for a night of reckless abandon. She soon becomes the dark obsession of the Phantom who desires to showcase his musical genius through his young protege and love interest.

Caught in the middle of this illicit love affair is the Opera’s new patron Raoul (Matt Leisy), who also falls in love with Christine. The love triangle puts into motion a dangerous chain of events that ultimately sees the Phantom going to unholy and criminal lengths to force Christine’s hand in choosing him over Raoul.

Roxmouth, who’s played the Phantom in the 2011-2012 production in his home country, fervently believes that the Phantom is not cruel without reason or provocation.

“Everything he does is a reaction – stunted though it may be – to something he has endured or suffered. He is not in it for the sake of sadism. He is just childish emotionally,” says Roxmouth, 32.

Roxmouth, whose acting portfolio includes The King And I, Beauty And The Beast and Cats, says the Phantom’s “layered and complex character” is what drew him to the iconic character, a role he had dreamed of playing since he was a young lad.

“It is a consistently challenging and rewarding role to play,” says Roxmouth, before adding, “But the stamina required is almost superhuman.”

Based on the 1909 gothic French novel of the same name by Gaston Leroux, Phantom is a tale about the complexities of the human condition, told through the story of the Phantom, a man born with a disfigured face and gifted with remarkable intellect and musical talent. He hides his deformity by wearing a half mask, which Roxmouth admits takes nearly an hour to put on.

The musical's story, in a raw sense, reflects on society’s rejection of anyone who is different and how that someone can do unthinkable things, even in the pursuit of love. Essentially, says Roxmouth, the musical delves into “what it is to be human: love”.

The 'Masquerade' number is one of the most popular scenes in the musical. Photo: Base Entertainment

“It is also about what happens to us when we are denied or given love in our lives.”

These very human and painful themes are beautifully written by lyricist Charles Hart and brought to life by Webber’s scores.

The Phantom’s love song to Christine is poignant and beautiful in Music Of The Night and the lurking danger and impending doom soars with The Point Of No Return.

For Picerno, who has previously acted in My Fair Lady, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street and West Side Story, one such song that resonates deeply with her is Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again. This is a song Christine sings over her father’s grave, longing for his presence and guidance.

“It is very personal to me. It took me many times rehearsing through it with our brilliant creative team to not completely breakdown emotionally.

“I know personally what it’s like to lose those close to me and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music captures this emotional journey to perfection. To this day, I still have to pull myself together particularly at the end in order to finish the song,” shares Picerno.

In the end, beyond the grandiosity of the musical, with its epic scores, rising music and poetic lyrics, Phantom stands behind the idea of love, convoluted though it may be, and the healing and liberation that it provides.

“What a different world we could be living in now if we, as humans, put our differences aside and base our decisions on love instead of fear,” concludes Picerno.

The Phantom Of The Opera will be staged at at Panggung Sari, Istana Budaya in KL from June 15-July 7. Tickets start at RM200. Visit: worldtour.thephantomoftheopera.com, premier.ticketcharge.com.my.

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