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Interview with Las Vegas Phantom Star Anthony Crivello

When Broadway comes to Las Vegas, the directors pull out all the stops. When Phantom – Las Vegas Spectacular opened in the Venetian Hotel last year, the dreams of massive chandeliers and dark, terrifying lairs were realized in this multi-million dollar production. The theater is extensively decorated like an opera house in Paris, with classically grandiose staircases and lavish ornament. The theatergoer is transformed from a tourist in Las Vegas to a Parisian before even walking inside the theater. So when Phantom's title character, Anthony Crivello walked up to me in jeans with an outstretched hand, I was a bit taken aback to remember that I was still in Las Vegas.

Anthony Crivello's credits include Kiss of the Spider Woman, Marie Christine, and Evita. He has received a lengthy list of awards, including a Tony Award, a Jefferson Award, and a Carbonelle Award. Film and TV credits include Material Girls, Texas Rangers, CSI: NY, Frasier, and Seinfeld. Crivello's Phantom is breathtaking in his dangerously dark performance. For anyone coming from Broadway to work in the Las Vegas entertainment world, there are definitely changes that will be made…

AC: There have been different articles in Variety and the New York Times about the difficulty of selling shows on the road, and how product coming out of New York is not playing to Middle America, and they feel that there is a certain sophistication or that it's a type of subject matter that is not going to necessarily play to tourists. You think of shows like Wicked, and that's an easy sell. And even a show like a Spamalot or even a Producers, you gotta find your audience. This show is relatively bulletproof. We're doing much better numbers than what is the average on the strip. But even so, we are still doing things to maximize, how can we get the most bang for the buck? That's why they're still playing around with the schedule. And after doing it for a year, we realize that most people are driving out of town. So that's why we're going to switch from a Wednesday to a Sunday being our dark day and then opening double shows. And tonight is the beginning of that shift so that we will be running, at least through the summer, a schedule that goes from Monday to Saturday night. 

SB: There have been a number of Broadway shows that have come to Las Vegas. Some have done very well while others have flopped. What do you think it takes to be a successful Broadway show in Las Vegas?

AC: You gotta find the specifics of where your audience is and when they wanna see the show. This city, unlike other cities, doesn't really play a normal theater schedule. In a normal theater schedule, you know that from Friday to Sunday is when the majority of people are going to have time off.  You can do a matinee specifically on those weekend days because that's when you can get families coming, depending on the show. If it's a more sophisticated bill of fair, shows will do the Wednesday matinee, because you're hoping to get an older crowd that will have the time who can come to see the show in the middle of the week. That's not the case here because you deal with these parameters: it depends on what's in town, what conventions are in town, what time of year it is, are we around a holiday? – all that comes into play here.  Specifically on Sunday people drive out and so a late show on Sunday actually works better than an early show because if there are people that are staying here, they're going to want to go see the bill of fair at night. So it's still a bit of adjusting here. In spite of that, we're doing pretty good numbers. When you have a lot of Broadway bill of fair you're still competing with each other to a certain degree, although it's great because you have a lot of support from those other companies. But you're also competing with, unlike Broadway, on any given night you can see Barry Manilow, Better Midler, Celine Dion, Cirque de Soleil, any one that you wanna see, a girly show, Jerry Seinfeld, Marty Allen, Don Rickolds, Ray Romano, The Who, the Beatles, recreated by some mock up band. You know it's a different kind of competition to try and sway the audience. Even with that, we're doing great just because of reviews and word of mouth. 

SB: Well besides scheduling, what kind of things did Hal Prince and Andrew Lloyd Webber do when the show came to Vegas to change it from the original version? 

AC: When this show was done, it was a complete re-conceptualization because they had to fit what they called a 2.5 hour show into a 95 minute production. But if you look at the structure: when you eliminate the intermission, that's twenty minutes. In the Broadway theater, we had an insertion of the scene that was put in where the chorus, after the phantom hands them the opera of Don Juan Triumphant, is rehearsing the scene and they're saying, "Look at this, he's crazy, why do we have to do this, we're scared" and then they do the opera. That scene was inserted because the staircase from Masquerade had to be disassembled and hidden piece by piece because the parameters of most theaters; there is a much smaller backstage space. Here, we have the space. We can wheel out the staircase. And because we can wheel it out, we can do it right afterward. Boom! it cuts off ten minutes of time. That's one aspect of it. Another aspect of it is with this company, you've got a much bigger budget. Twenty-two years ago, you had a nine million dollar budget and now with this you've got a 38 million dollar budget. Here, you've got scenic aspects that are much more fulfilled; you've got pyrotechnics and stuntmen that have never been used before, going from a 6 foot high chandelier to a 2 stories tall chandelier – all of those aspects come into play and (because I've heard this repeated over and over) people say that from the get-go of the production you're put on the edge of your seat and then you remain there because it's so rapid fire and because it's all condensed. We're still keeping story line, we're still keeping the love story. Something must be going right because some woman at the end of my curtain call last night yelled out, "Marry me!" Something's going on… knock on wood. 

SB: Oh yeah, the chandelier scene is just amazing, it makes you jump right out of your chair.

AC: Which one, the opening one when it goes up or when it comes crashing down?

SB: When it comes crashing down. I was right underneath it. 

AC: The opening scene is pretty spectacular too, if I may say so. 

SB: As an on-screen and on-stage veteran, what are some of the advantages of working on stage for you?

AC: It's an interesting equation. It's immediacy with the audience. It's a different kind of relationship. You don't get that on TV. A buddy of mine just shot a scene with Al Pacino and ironically Pacino was talking about the same thing. How his work from early on in his career, doing theater work as well from the Indian Walks the Bronx all the way back then when he was first starting his career through the Actor's Studio and etc. that it's a different education, completely different techniques doing it for the camera versus doing it on stage. And they shot a scene that was 2 ? pages long for hours and Al Pacino comes in, gets his job done, and leaves. Here's the cast rehearsing for hours and you bring in the star and you do it! Wait a minute. We were fortunate in this situation to be able to put it together piece by piece with Hal Prince, David Caddick, Artie Masella, Gillian Lynn, and all those original people to be able to work with day in and day out. And literally it's that live experience. I mean, film and TV is wonderful, don't get me wrong. I love film and TV, but my bread and butter is the stage. 

SB: Right. Nobody can yell, "Marry me!" at you from the other side of the TV screen. 

AC: (laughs) Exactly. You don't have a situation where you can come out of the theater and someone can say, "Wow you moved me to tears." And when you get that you can say, "Then I've done my job." I'm so grateful for those kinds of comments. Or when someone says, "Wow that was so intense or emotional." When audience members can wait around and tell you that, you have the immediate response. And it's great to hear.  Besides that, you have applause, and standing ovations and all of that.  For the actor, that's what you live and work for. 

SB: It is a very emotional show. The Phantom has a very complex, emotional personality. What kind of personal aspect did you bring to the Phantom?

AC: Well that's a hard question to answer.  It's actually an ongoing process of discovery for me.  I subscribe to (not to beat a dead horse) method training.  You're always keeping your eyes open and listening.  With live theater, it's always a little different. Everyday something might strike you in a different way.  So the journey is continual, the discovery process to see what happens and how it affects you and then to respond to that.  That's the exciting essence of acting. And then with this particular character, you've got this melodic line that's helping you to support the mechanism, of trying to convey that.  I'm lucky to be directed for the third time by a director like Hal Prince. He knows me, he knows the way I work, and he knows a lot of what I do. He encourages me to stretch the envelope continually, and to continue in my discovery.  Even after a year, he helps me keep it alive, and hopefully for years to come. 

SB: But do you have a darker side?

AC: Yeah I must, I guess. (laughs) God knows that even Hal talks about how he loves the darker aspects of theater and then he keeps on putting me in these kinds of roles. I mean, I don't know if you would call it darker or just complex… it's both.  I mean, I know I have a natural intensity about me.  And that's why I get cast in a role like this or revolutionaries that want to overthrow countries and get rid of Eva Perón, or seamen who get tangled up with women who have a lot of baggage and wind up killing their children, you know all those lovely, wonderful storybook characters that we have in our literature and lives. 

SB: Lots of bloodlust…

AC: Yeah! I also write a little bit. Ironically, I've got two pieces that I'm working on right now for two sides and aspects of my personality.  One is completely over the top, farce and fantasy. I love Borscht Belt and I love that kind of broad humor.  The other one is a dark story with dark humor at the same time. It's like you were saying before, you have different aspects of who you are and how you perceive your character that you bring into your acting.  And I have a great director who does that.  Also Gillian encourages it a lot. Sometimes in critical comment, they say things like, "A surprisingly edgy Phantom from Crivello." versus really playing into the romantic side. It's not that I don't see the romantic side, I really do.  But when I look at this piece, when I look at the original literature and etc. I see a guy who, within the course of the show, kills two people.  There has to be a certain balance -  where is this coming from? I am very sympathetic towards him because he's a tortured human being, because of his situation with his mother, because of his rejection, because he is treated like a circus freak, and he has this twisted inside composing genius.  And also, who put the lair together? He's all by himself, but he managed to do that alone. 

SB: Well the romance that he feels toward Christine doesn't necessarily have to be a loving kind of romance…

AC: No. Well obviously there are controlling issues here. He sees in Christine a beauty of innocence and her voice that appeals to his libido and that's where you see the sexual nature of this being coming out too.  In an 18th century kind of way, he's a bad boy.  Here's a guy who's composing – he's a rock star and he looks at himself that way.  When you look at guys who are fronting for particular rock and roll bands, like the Cure, Cult, Mick Jagger, Bono or Sting, there is a very particular ego, libido, and gentlemanliness to each one of those guys, and vulnerability.  I think the phantom possesses all of those things.  And yeah… so I guess he's complex. 

SB: You must have a process when getting ready for this role. Can you give me a play by play of how you prepare to go on?

AC: I'm a creature of habit. So I like a routine.  My routine starts about four hours ahead of the show.  In my mind, I say, "Ok here it comes." Because I fight allergies and a little bit of asthma, which I've had my entire career and this is a very hostile environment for singers, I have a humidifier running 24/7 in my house. I go to my usual 711 and get a caffeinated coffee. I get into the make up chair. The advantage of this is that I literally get to see myself being transformed. During this time, I just really relax myself. And then I get into costume. When you wear the costume, it helps you to project that much further into the character. When that is done, I put on the mask. Then I have completely transformed. 

SB: What do you do for free time around this fair city?

AC: Well my free time has been occupied with buying a house. I've been doing a remodel on a newer home. Also I have an 8 month old son now and two dogs who love to be up at sunrise so that kind of affects my day so there hasn't been much time for leisure. One of the things I've been swearing to do is get back to the gym. God knows I get an aerobic workout with the show and that has helped to keep me in fighting shape. I swear that someday if I ever write a book, I've already got the title but I shouldn't say it for publishing… but I'll copyright it right now – The Actor is Athlete. If you do a role like this, you have to live your life to be able to do the role. It's demanding. When you have the parameters of the rest of your life, wife, child, houses, you try as best as you can to adjust accordingly. You can't give up everything. 

Production photos by Joan Marcus - 1) Anthony Crivello; 2) Anthony Crivello and Elizabeth Loyacano; 3) Anthony Crivello

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