BWW Interviews: Balgord Enjoys Taking on Another One of the Webber Women
Back as part of a national tour for the first time in 17 years, Linda Balgord finds herself in familiar, but new territory. Balgord plays Madame Giry in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, marking the fifth different character she's played in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
The tour rolls into Columbus on March 5-16 at the Ohio Theatre.
After earning her equity card playing as the understudy for EVITA, Balgord has played Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD, Rose Vibert in ASPECTS OF LOVE and Grizabella the Glamour Cat in CATS before taking on Madame Giry.
"What's wonderful about those Webber women is how strong they are," says Balgord in a telephone interview from Chicago. "There's this wonderful strength that is mixed with vulnerability."
As Madame Giry, Balgord acts as a conduit of sorts between the Phantom (played by Cooper Grodin) and the outside world. She often carries notes from the Phantom to the theatre owners Monsieur Firmin (Craig Bennett) and Monsieur Andre (Edward Staudenmayer) and to Christine (Julia Udine).
"(Giry) is a terrific character to play," Balgord says. "Her life is the opera house. In some ways she's a surrogate mother for Christine. She's the keeper of secrets which is always exciting to play. No one thinks of Madame Giry having a big singing role but it's an incredibly rangy role."
The U.S. tour is one of six different productions of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA currently performing, joining companies in London (27 years), New York (26 years), Budapest, Hungary and Hamburg, Germany as well as an Asian Pacific tour.
This tour marks the first time PHANTOM has come to Columbus since 2005. The 12-day stopover here will mark the first visit to Columbus for Balgord, a Wisconsin native.
"It's kind of like having an adventure," Balgord says. "We're now settling into our road life will be. Everyone is finally finding their footing."
Columbus is the second stop for the 2014 tour, which visits 12 cities and concludes in Des Moines, Iowa in September. The show is directed by Laurence Connor (who also directed the 25th anniversary of LES MISERABLES). It promises something new for PHANTOM veterans as well as an exciting performance for those who are seeing the musical for the first time.
"The show has a new set design, which is really stunning," she says. "Laurence Connor brings the backstage world to life with this production in a way that PHANTOM fans will find very intriguing.
"People who love PHANTOM tend to want to see it again but there's an entire audience out there that hasn't seen this show. I love being able to tell a story like PHANTOM that is so beloved and timeless. You get the chance to let the story unfold to people who don't know what's coming."
Balgord has been telling stories through acting since she was very young. She grew up watching THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW and wanting to make audience laugh like Burnett did. She caught her first break when she landed the understudy for EVITA.
"I only got to do the role twice a week but it was about as thrilling as a musical score as I've ever gotten to sing," Balgord says.
Balgord lists singing "Memory" as Grizabella in the final performance of CATS at New York City's Winter Garden Theatre as one of the highlights of her career. The last week of the show's performances was packed with many of the creators, former cast members and even Webber.
"It was a very emotional performance knowing everyone was out there had such a long and personal association with the show," Balgord says. "It's not that you were just singing 'Memory' but you were singing it through every filter they had. I had to stay in the moment and sing it but it was a remarkable experience."
In SUNSET BOULEVARD, Balgord had to bring another faded star to life. She played Desmond, a former silent film star who struggles to grasp her best years in Hollywood are far behind her.
Balgord says playing Desmond was a physical and mental challenge.
"Norma was one of the most difficult characters I've had to play," she says. "It's a difficult role physically because you're going up and down these staircases in a lot of heavy costumes. It was also tough dealing with the emotional depth that character has to go through. It's difficult to face that kind of darkness eight times a week."
The physical challenge of Desmond was relatively easy compared to playing Queen Elizabeth I in THE PIRATE QUEEN. The show opened on Broadway in April, 2007 and, after being savagely reviewed by several critics, closed three months later.
Balgord created the role and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award nomination. She refers to her character's bulky costumes as "Elizabeth's prison" because every part of her was covered save her hands and fans.
"I loved wearing those costumes," she says. "It let you experience what it must have been like for Queen Elizabeth. It was an amazing experience but it didn't end in the way any of us had hoped.
"(Period piece) musicals, except for classics like LES MISERABLE or PHANTOM, have a hard way to go. The audiences seem to like them but critically there doesn't seem to be much appreciation for them."
However, Balgord can't foresee a time when PHANTOM will have a problem drawing a crowd.
Asked what she'd tell someone who has already seen past productions of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA to convince them to go, Balgord just laughs.
"You haven't seen this PHANTOM," she says. "If you're a fan of the show, I can't imagine you would want to miss it. If PHANTOM hasn't been a part of your world, it's a great and beautiful show. It's the perfect thing for people who have been trapped inside by the winter and want to see something colorful, beautiful and thrilling."
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA will be performed March 5-16 at the Ohio Theatre (39 E State St, in downtown Columbus). Tickets are available at the CAPA Ticket Center (39 E. State St.), all Ticketmaster outlets, and www.ticketmaster.com. To purchase by phone, please call (614) 469-0939 or (800) 745-3000.