Ladies of PHANTOM: Past and Present
With the arrival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Love Never Dies in London's West End, we catch up with some of the ladies who have graced the stage in the classic original, The Phantom of the Opera, and find out a bit about the women behind the man behind the mask.
And what a line-up we have! Our ladies from the past are Rebecca Caine, who took over the role of the heroine Christine from Sarah Brightman in London and went on to become the original Christine in the Canadian production, and Margaret Preece, who played the role of Carlotta in the West End in 2000, and went on to provide the voice of the opera Diva in Joel Schumacher's 2004 film adaptation. Our quartet of incredible talent is completed by Gina Beck (Christine) and Rebecca Lock (Carlotta), who are currently wowing audiences on a nightly basis at Her Majesty's Theatre.
When did you first see Phantom and how did it make you feel?
GB: I first saw Phantom in Edinburgh in 2000; my then-boyfriend bought us tickets as he was at university there. They were in the nosebleed seats and sadly I had forgotten my glasses, so I couldn't see much! I loved the music though, and the way the Phantom and Christine walked along the ramps on their way to the lair, very exciting!
RL: I saw Phantom for the first time in 1997, I think; I was in Martin Guerre at the time. All I really remember was that I wanted to wear the frocks and have Christine’s hairdo!
MP: I saw it in the early 90s with my parents at a midweek matinee - I was singing with English National Opera that night at The Coliseum and thought it would be great fun to play The Diva, so was thrilled when I eventually did!
RC: I saw a matinee right after the show opened and thought, ‘That’s for me!’ Legit soprano roles don’t come around often!
Three words to describe your character and the way you choose/chose to portray her...
RC: Back at the beginning of the show we were very much made to play her only one way. I found it releasing to do the show in the Canadian production after I had been in the London show, and make a fresh start with Hal, Gillian and the rest of team. I was given more freedom than I had the first time I did it, and was allowed to play it more passionately than had been the norm up till then, which I think comes across on the Canadian cast album. Now as you can see from Gina's performance, it's not a problem to play her with a thought process and a wider range of emotion.
GB: Impressionable, passionate, exuberant.
RL: My Carlotta is…selfish, luscious and vicious!
MP: Real, passionate, vulnerable.
Oooh, quite a mixture there…that’s what I love about theatre!
What is/was your favourite song to perform from the show and why?
MP: ‘Prima Donna’. Fab piece of writing by Andrew Lloyd Webber! Exhilarating to sing, and it encapsulates her operatic nature and her commitment to her 'art'!
RL: I’m with Maggie on this one. ‘Prima Donna’…it’s so diverse vocally, I think I go through every emotion possible whilst performing it. It’s difficult to sing but it’s exhilarating....a mini play all in itself!
GB: 'Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again'. It's great to sing because it builds and builds to a big crescendo, then pulls back at the end into silence, and Christine's left to make her desperate plea to her Father… "Help me say goodbye".
RC: I really can't remember. I think as I played the role for such a long time, nearly a year in London and two and a half in Canada, it was more to do with what felt vocally comfortable. The role, rather like the role in the sequel, sits low for a soprano. It's almost a mezzo role but then one has to fly up to notes like the top D if you do the alternate cadenza. I loved floating the word ‘soar’, which may be an A? Angel of Music too for the same reasons. I found it hard to keep the role in my voice as an alternate, was easier six times a week. I was a very high soprano back then.
If you could play any other role in Phantom, male or female, what would it be and why?
RC: Can’t see that happening!
RL: Mmmm that’s a toughie…I’d have to say the Phantom. He’s complex, and I like complex. Not sure about the makeup though...my Carlotta eyebrows are annoying enough to endure!! Although, I’d like the tux!
MP: The Phantom, of course! He's so malevolent and hypnotic! I should love to be in that harness above the stage venting my spleen! What fun!!
GB: Definitely Carlotta. After having a little taste singing Carlotta's part in Prima Donna at a concert recently, I experienced how thrilling it is, and what beautiful melodic lines that song has. Also it would be great to play some of the comic moments Carlotta has.
Phantom: Murderous or Misunderstood?!
RL: Agreed, I like to think of the Phantom as a mixture of both. Yes, he's had a hideous life and you do feel for him on lots of levels. However, he is a manipulative, driven, psycho killer!! Which, let’s face it, is MUCH more exciting in a story!!
GB: Yes, I agree with both Beckys…Is it nature or nurture? Is he murderous because of the way he's been treated and how he's been misunderstood? Or would he still have been a psycho without the facial disfigurement? I guess we'll never know!
MP: I think he was misunderstood in the past but he is now so bitter and twisted that he is murderous. He is so full of bile and hatred towards his fellow man that he has only glimmers of compassion and kindness left in him, even towards those who could care for him like Giry and, of course, Christine.
So then, ladies…Team Raoul or Team Phantom?!
GB: But of course Christine is both! Personally, though, I would choose Team Raoul, as I'm more of a glass of champagne type of girl than a shot of absinthe!
MP: Difficult one! Raoul becomes the gallant hero and has to save Christine from The Phantom's cruel and vengeful clutches, which makes him a hero - but you can't help feeling sorry at the end for the unhappy and lonely Phantom.
RL: Team Raoul! Better hair!
RC: Team Meg.
Team Meg, eh?! Well, that might explain some of the tension between Christine and Meg in the sequel…Speaking of which, Carlotta isn’t in Love Never Dies; what do you think she’s up to these days?!
RL: Carlotta will be married to an obscenely rich and powerful man, spending her days lounging on cushions with her poodles eating chocs.
MP: I hope she is still singing her heart out on the operatic stage! I saw her as a fighter with guts, who cared deeply as a performer and was too proud and determined to just give up, in my eyes!
What’s your favourite Phantom mishap to date?
MP: Gosh! I had loads of personal mishaps, mostly involving falling over or having trouble with my costumes! On one occasion I entered the stage for Prima Donna with such energy and speed that I slipped on the wet floor and shot to the front of the stage on my rear end still singing my heart out! Quite an entrance! I also once did virtually the whole of Hannibal with Piangi's foot caught in one of the hoops of my very heavy skirt, so we had to perform like Siamese twins for most of the scene! We were both trying not to cry with laughter, and he was a real giggler!
RC: Usual stuff. Prime Minister’s security walkie-talkies making the boat go on a rampage. Flashing a high member of Thatcher’s cabinet outside the VIP room during the quick change during Masquerade. Punjab lasso not working in the final lair scene, and Raoul miming an imaginary force field. Finding a pair of Degas’ girl knickers on the floor in the final lair scene. Colm (Wilkinson) picking up a dress shield in the curtain call and shortsightedly presenting me with it like a flower. I never had the famous ‘Think Of Me’ skirt malfunction, however!
Gosh! Gina, have you ever flashed anyone?!
GB: Hmm, I flash the rest of the cast regularly backstage during my multiple quick changes, it's just something you have to get used to in this business! Luckily I've never had any serious onstage wardrobe malfunctions…unlike some!
RL: Oooo there have been LOTS of mishaps! Most things for me go wrong in Il Muto (the opera scene): Wobbly wigs, tripping up…my skirt came undone the other day! I had to hold it up for the whole scene…and it’s HEAVY! Gina Beck often treads on my toes in her over-eager spinning-out-of-skirt moment...always a joy!
GB: Err... Often, Becky? Often?! Huh! Once or twice maybe…but hey, come on, they're only size 4s! Ha ha!
Join us again soon for the second part of our interview.