The Other Phantom: Robert Cuccioli
Although referring to Robert Cuccioli, as the "prince of darkness" might be a stretch, the stage vet is used to the darker roles of Phantom (Yeston/Kopit) and Jekyll & Hyde. After a run of Man of La Mancha Cuccioli returns to the Westchester Broadway Theater to reprise the title role of The Phantom.
Described as a more "humanistic" and "realistic" approach to Gaston LeRoux's famous novel, Phantom will run with Cuccioli through Feb. 9. In-between shows, BroadwayWorld contributor Benjamin Crossley-Marra got the chance to ask Cuccioli about his feelings on gothic themes and directing vs. acting...
Benjamin Crossley-Marra: What do you think it is about Gaston LeRoux's novel, "The Phantom of the Opera" that's caused it to be adapted in so many ways?
Robert Cuccioli: A lot of the stories in the "Gothic" genre are based in deep psychology. Here is a character that's disfigured facially and he is a person that's looking for love, beauty and acceptance. I think that all of us (although not to his extreme) feel some part of that within us. I think a lot of the Gothic stories speak to people because they deal with emotions and themes that are timeless.
Benjamin: Do you feel Phantom is the most faithful adaptation?
Robert: The only other adaptation I'm familiar with is the Andrew Lloyd Webber version, although I'm aware of some other adaptations as well, but what I love about Phantom in particular is that it's a very human take on the legend. It's not about some psychopathic creature lurking in the depths of the opera house. There are certain elements that are like that, but overall he's a very human character. The audience really knows who this man is and why he is the way he is and how he got disfigured. I think in this version it's easier to connect with the people, plus the music is just gorgeous and I think that's something the audience loves as well.
Benjamin: You've played a few "Gothic" parts both in Jekyll & Hyde and Phantom, how do you personally identify with parts like these?
Robert: To some extent I identify with all the parts I play. Like I said before I can connect with the humanness of the Phantom character and likewise I identify with the duality in Jekyll & Hyde because that's something in everybody. I don't think I identify with one part over another though.
Benjamin: You recently had your non-musical directing debut with The Glass Menagerie, what was that experience like for you?
Robert: It was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life! It was a play that I didn't know a whole lot about and from total scratch I tried to learn as much as I could about Tennessee Williams. I did a lot of research not only on he play but the actual history and time-period as well. It was very exciting project to do and I would love to continue doing in the future.
Benjamin: Will we be seeing a lot more plays directed by you in the near future?
Robert: I hope so, I would like to. I'm the kind of guy that like to keep my creativity flowing in many directions. It's something that keeps me feeling alive and well rounded.
Benjamin: What do you look for in deciding whether or not you are going to do a play?
Robert: I always like to find something new, something fresh. I like helping in creatively structuring a play from the ground up and I think that what I'm ultimately looking for has not yet been written. But I enjoy taking on engaging, meaningful work that I'm proud of at the end of the day.
Benjamin: What advice do you have for aspiring young performers?
Robert: My advice would be to never stop learning. Find knowledge in every aspect of life, don't pigeonhole yourself talking about the theatre or trying to attain an encyclopedic knowledge of theatre, branch out and learn as much as you can about everything that you can because it will all come back to you later on in life. Everything you learn has its use so keep learning everyday. Keep your mind and your vistas wide.
Benjamin: Is there anybody you'd like to work with that you haven't gotten the chance to yet?
Robert: There's tons. Unfortunately whenever anybody asks me that the names just fly out of my mind, but there are a lot of people both in the United States and abroad that I'd really look forward to working with.
Benjamin: What's next for you after Phantom?
Robert: There's nothing that's hit the ground yet. I have a couple of projects that I'm working on myself plus I may be returning to The Shakespeare Theatre in New Jersey this season but nothing is set in stone just yet so I can't really talk about anything concrete.
Phantom, with a book by Arthur Kopit and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, is based on the novel "Phantom of the Opera" by Gaston Leroux. "The story revolves around the central character of a man named Erik, (also known as the Phantom) who was born and raised in the catacombs under the Paris Opera House. Through a series of circum–stances, he takes on as a pupil a young woman named Christine, who has been a street singer. She has a natural talent and a beautiful voice, but she lacks the special training to perform in an Opera company. He agrees to take her on as a student with certain conditions, the main one being that she will never see his face. After a lot of hard work she eventually auditions for the company and is not only accepted but is given the opportunity to play a principal part in an Opera. Without realizing it, they fall in love with each other. The relationship becomes obsessive and impossible, leading to a stunning conclusion," explain press notes.
For tickets call 914-592-2222. Groups call 914-592-2225. Performances are Thursdays thru Sundays (with selected Wednesday Matinees & Eves): Wed. and Thurs. Matinee. - Lunch, 11:30am. Show 1pm. Thursday thru Saturday Eve. - Dinner, 6pm. Show, 8pm. Sunday Matinee - Lunch, 12 noon Show, 1:30pm. Sunday Evening - Dinner, 5pm. Show, 7pm. For more information visit BroadwayTheatre.com
Photo by Linda Lezi: Robert Cuccioli (top); Photo by John Vecchiolla: Robert Cuccioli (bottom)