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Interview with Vegas 'Phantom' Stars Holden and Gleason

After seeing Kristi Holden as Christine and Tim Martin Gleason as Raoul perform magnificently in Phantom – Las Vegas Spectacular, I did not expect to sit down for a chat with these two people as though I had known them my entire life. Though I was a bit star struck, the two put me right at ease and by the end of the interview, they practically had to throw me out because the conversation was so interesting.

Holden just recently joined the Phantom cast. Originally from Colorado, she came to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career and is thrilled to be a part of this wonderful production. Her regional credits include The Sound of Music, Sweeney Todd, and Carousel. Gleason came to Phantom – Las Vegas Spectacular from the Broadway production. He also performed in the role of Raoul on the road tour. His credits include Terrance Mann's Romeo & Juliet: The Rock Opera, The Rhythm Club, Sweeney Todd, and Joseph. 

S: Vegas has a reputation for glitz and glamour and spectaculars. What were your expectations coming to Vegas to do a show?

T: Well, we'll have two different perspectives because we're from two different coasts. I came straight from the New York show. But I knew there were going to be lots of changes. And they did just what they said they were going to do. They threw $50 million or some odd crazy figure like that into the show and just made everything bigger, better, stronger.  They really do it right. They knew what they were getting into when they came to Vegas and they didn't disappoint at all. 

K: And I think that Phantom the Las Vegas Spectacular really lives up to its name and is a great highlight for Vegas. When I came to see the show after being hired, I really enjoyed the entire spectacle. I think the Broadway version and the tour version those effects of that day are still relevant and work really well but I think this is a very exciting production and I'm excited to be a part of it. 

T: Well also it won the 2006 Best Show of the Year Award. Now that's over all the Cirque shows and all the things that people attach Vegas to and we topped it. So obviously we're not the only ones who think we're doing it right. 

S: How do you spend your free time? Have you seen any of the other Vegas shows?

K: Well I'm from LA, not originally but have been in LA for 8 years. I didn't think I'd like to live in Vegas but I'm actually enjoying it because I'm on the West side, by Red Rock, by the mountains. I've gone hiking and I can feel like I'm in a small town on that side. Also there are beautiful sunsets.  I just joined a gym and when it's not too hot I hope to be outside more. I still have lots of shows to see, I haven't seen any shows yet. I have friends in the other Broadway shows here, so I am looking forward to seeing them. 

T: I play golf. I play poker from time to time. But I've been here for over a year now and being an East coast guy, I'm just so ready to go home. I'm actually going back into the Broadway show in September and at this point, I feel like Vegas was great, but with my kind of temperament and my kind of personality, East Coast is where it's at.  But it was good for the year and I did a lot of what Christy said, did a lot of hiking joined a gym. You really can live a suburbia life when you're in one of the 'burbs. You don't have to be anywhere near a casino, which is kind of nice. It's not like you live on the strip. But just an East Coast mentality is really not present here and that's kind of hard for me being an East Coast city boy. 

S: Tim, you worked on the Phantom on Broadway. What are some things that are different here?

T: There are three or four set pieces that are not even present in the Broadway show.  A couple of them were mandatory because we don't have an intermission so on Broadway during intermission the stairs are set up on the stage. Well, we don't have that luxury here. So they very ingeniously created this thing which I won't give away but it's one of the highlights of the show. The pace is different because it's ninety-five minutes and Hal did a really good job of cutting down to the nitty gritty and what was really important. So the pace of it is a lot faster. But it's the same show. The story is exactly the same, the music is the same. And they both have their pluses and minuses as far as I'm concerned. 

S: So for a Vegas attendee who may or may not know the show, do you feel that they might miss any plot points?

K: I think everything runs smoothly, being a patron of both. I felt the story is very well spelled out. So I don't think they are missing any part of the plot.  It's just that scenes are longer in the Broadway version and the tour version. It just cuts to the chase a little quicker. 

T: Well just to give you an example, I've been with the show five years. My parents have seen the show probably a dozen times at least. Not that they are theater experts by any stretch but after they saw the opening here, they really didn't know what was cut. So I slapped them around a little bit. But if you're a casual theatergoer you won't know the difference, even if you've seen both. And there'd be no reason to do a show here that cuts out important plot points. This isn't about showing the people who've seen phantom, hey this is what we've done different. This is a show in and of itself. It's a completely intact story. 

S: Kristi, you mentioned being a patron of Phantom before starting with the cast. Have you always been a fan of the show?

K: Well I grew up in a small town in Colorado so I never got to see Broadway shows growing up and then worked my way through college in Seattle so I didn't get to see a lot of musical theater but I've always known Christine was the perfect role for me, vocally and physically. I grew up singing the songs in show choir and really loved the music. So, yes I've been a fan my entire life. But I didn't really get to experience it until one time I went to New York and just fell in love with the score and the story. 

S: So besides certain set pieces that Tim has mentioned, what are some other things about working in this theater that are different from working in other theaters?

T: Well the theaters in New York are very small. Most of them are 60-70 years old, maybe older. Basically when a show goes into New York, you have to fit the show into the theater. And that could make for a very cramped space backstage and small dressing rooms, you have to make a lot of adjustments. But here they built the theater for Phantom. So everything is blueprinted and designed for this theater. It's a very wide open space here, the dressing rooms are wonderful. For an actor, it's a great space, it's a perfect space. The theater is massive. Even the front of house, the stuff with mannequins is incredible. That's not in the original. But they had the space and Hal got a little giddy and decided to do that. It's wonderful. That's the first three minutes of the show when people realize they are surrounded by what this Paris opera house is really supposed to be. 

K: Well I definitely got chills when I came to see the show. You hear that overture at the start and the chandelier is being put together, it's just an incredible scene to engulf yourself in. I sometimes still get chills backstage waiting to come onstage listening to that music. 

T: Well the chandelier is totally different too. I mean that's kind of numero uno, number one. The chandelier is kind of worth the price of admission; I've heard a lot of people say. 

S: Speaking of all these special effects, there are bound to be some mishaps. You ever have any problems where the chandelier came crashing to the ground in a fiery explosion or something?

T: I did once. 

K: I've gotten my costume stuck in places I'd rather not have them stuck in. Not getting onstage on time but…

T: Again, the beginning was very different, as with any show that first starts out. A lot of it is trial by error. They know what they're doing but something will go wrong that they wouldn't have thought of. The first six months of the show were a little dicey here and there. Sometimes the chandelier wouldn't work. We'd have to stop the show once or twice. But now… I can't remember the last time something big went wrong. You never have a perfect show, whether someone drops a line or a cue goes wrong but 99.9% of the time, the audience would never know. And I can't remember the last time that something went wrong that was big enough that the audience would know. It's probably been a couple months.  How much was the theater? 40 million dollars? And the show was another… ok so that's a 75-80 million dollar production.

K: A lot of kinks to be worked out. 

T: Yeah a lot of kinks. It was a little frustrating a first. You'd have to stop because this massive 8 million dollar piece of machinery just didn't feel like working. But it's nice to be in a groove now where all those kinks are worked out. 

K: And I feel lucky that I didn't have to do all that. (laughs) Everything is streamline. 

S: Be careful what you say… 

T: Yeah or you'll be hanging from the chandelier. 

S: With characters so well-known as these, it seems like it would be difficult to come in and try to fill the roles. Did you have leeway in creating your character? What kinds of things did you bring to your character?

K: Well, I understood from the very beginning that they let you put your own stamp on the character. But they do have point A point B and subtext that they want you to work with. But as far as us each being individual we are granted the freedom to put a piece of ourselves in the character which I think is a really wonderful thing that they allow us to do. 

T: It would be miserable if you had to replicate someone else. 

K: I think each actor or actress brings something different to the role. I don't compare myself to all the Christines I've seen because we are all individuals and, as far as the different Phantoms and different Carlottas, I think everyone is pretty amazing at bringing themselves to the table and creating something different. 

T: I kind of had a different experience. I started on the tour and I had auditioned for Phantom four or five times and they weren't interested. And then an ensemble role opened up on the tour to cover Raoul and they asked me to go in and I did and three months into it, I took over for Raoul. Ever since then I've been playing Raoul. When I first started, I had a little of that where there was a set and I had to give them what they wanted, but they still allowed me to put my stamp on it. When you're on the road, you have a little bit more leeway because you're not in NY where a couple of times a week the "bigs" are watching you. I had more room to explore and that ended up helping me. I ended up going to Broadway for a year and then when I came out here, I got to start from scratch and really flex my muscles with where I wanted to take it, and have Hal there to give the limits and the leeway. It was really nice. I kind of got both of them. I had to get squeezed in but then when I came here and I got to start new with everyone else, that was a nice change. 

S: Kristi, what are some ways in which you relate to the character of Christine?

K: Well I do like to pretend I'm innocent and pure. (laughs) I guess I really relate to her in finally having a break in my career and having the moment to sing for a lot of people. I've done CLO and 99 cent theater in LA and I felt pretty strongly about my performances in the theaters I've worked with but to start Think of Me and I like to pretend those mannequins are real people because you can't really see the audience but to just take in that moment to finally have the moment to sing and have a break in your career. I think that's the strongest point that I connect with Christine, and there are moments that I have been scared in my life, I mean everyone has their theater ghost stories I have a good one…

T: Um… I don't. Am I missing something?

K: (laughs) I have a very good one. I'll tell you about it sometime.

S: Why not tell it now?

T: Yeah tell it now!

K: It's really long.

T: Well give us the short version. Are you seeing a ghost, girl?

K:  In college there was a theater with lights that would come on for my husband and I. 

T: Oh that's just an electricity problem.

K: No, no. These were lights that were coming on by themselves. But there are always unknown things in your life. And I think that the Angel of Music, as she hasn't seen him, there is that moment of unknown and curiosity. But I just connect with her in singing because you love to sing and having the opportunity to give your talent and gifts to others. I love "Think of Me" for that reason. 

S: Tim, you have said that you usually play the role of "the guy who falls in love with the girl". 

T: I have said that?

S: You have said that.

T: Where have I said that?

S: I read it…

T: Wow, I'm being quoted now. That's a first. 

K: You're big. 

T: So, what did I say?

S: You said you usually play the role of the guy who falls in love with the girl. 

T: Oh yeah yeah. I said that. 

S: So then are you a romantic in real life?

T: No, I'm a big old cynic these days. (laughs) Don't get me wrong it's not hard to play that role. It's very easy to fall in love on stage, there's no question about it. And that's pretty wonderful that I get to do that. You know, there was a time in college when I might have been as romantic as the people I play. Although, Raoul's romantic, but…. no I wouldn't even say that Rauol doesn't even get a chance to be that romantic in this show. From the beginning of this show, it's heightened and it's all about saving the girl. So you don't see much romance. You see a lot of love and a lot of passion but he doesn't really get to romance the girl much because he's too busy trying to save her life. So I've played much more romantic roles like Tony in West Side Story or things like that. And sure there was a time when I would run down the street screaming a girl's name but these days I'm just looking for someone to tell me a good joke basically. 

K: I'm not good at jokes. 

T: I'm not the romantic that I used to be but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

S: You don't need to defend yourself to me. 

T: Ok… just write whatever you want. Make me look good. 

S: Speaking of romance, The onstage chemistry seemed so real between the two of you, which it has to be to take audiences along for the ride – did that develop in rehearsal, or onstage, or what?

C: Well I had to start kissing him before I really knew him. You just have to use your acting talents. But Tim is a lovely, lovely man. (laughs) But I am happily married so…

T: At this stage of the game, at this level, you just do it. You don't have to go out to dinner with the person and build a connection… no. It's acting. At this stage of the game what we do on stage is just like anything else. When we have to act mad we have to take the audience along for the ride too. So, it's the same thing. And the music and the story really serve well enough to bring you there. 

K: It's easy. I think it helps to when you have people that you really love working with. You don't have to work as hard at it. 

T: Trust me, there have been a few times where I have had to do it with people that… it's just miserable because you just don't like that person. It's happened very rarely in my life but I have one particular person in mind from years ago… and I won't even go there. 

K: But that song is such a romantic song… it just takes you there naturally. 

T: Unless you're sitting there across the stage going, "I hate you, I hate you."

S: So, no jealous partners waiting at home?

K: My husband had to get over that a long time ago. 

T: We're in the wrong business if that's the case. 

K: He might cringe in the audience but he doesn't tell me anymore. 

S: Is this something that has been a lifelong dream?

K: Yes, I always knew I wanted to be an actress. Fame is a whole other thing on its own. I just wanted to perform and make a living out of it, do something I love everyday. It's always been with me, I've been performing since I was a child, even, at the local church or high school and college. It's an ultimate role for me and I am very excited. It's a dream come true. 

T: That's a great way to put it too, about the fame. When you're younger, you don't actually separate the fame from the work, you just think it will come. But as you get older, you realize that you actually have to chase fame and you have to work for it. Sometimes you don't, sometimes it comes to you. But if you want that, you have to go in certain directions. I made the decision four or five years ago to do exactly that where fame wasn't important, it was more about just finding good work and being able to make a living doing something you love. And that has nothing to do with fame. Actually, I prefer not to be famous because it gets in the way of life. I don't mind the money. I'll take the money, don't get me wrong but I don't need people to recognize me on the street. I like the best of both worlds that we have. But I was in the business world for five or six years before I got into this. I never thought about doing this as a kid. And then I actually had a nervous breakdown at like 27 and somehow I ended up on-stage. (laughs) I mean, I've been singing since when I was a kid. It wasn't that simple. 

K: And it's about finding happiness in your daily life. Living in the present. I think it's important for young people wanting to have a career in the entertainment world to realize that there is so much more to life than just that fame. 

T: Well, I never knew it was an option. I grew up Irish Catholic so I never knew that performing for a living was an option. I had done theater all through college just for fun and then I got out of college, and it's like, enough with the games. You had your fun, go out and get a nine to five job so that you can get married, have a fence, a kid, and a Volvo. It wasn't until I was 27 that I realized I was following this path that wasn't for me, it was just what I thought was supposed to be for me. And that's when I fell apart and thought, "What the hell am I doing? I do want to sing. So what, maybe I don't get married until I'm 35 or 40 but here I am now and it's the greatest thing that's ever happened to me.

S: Well, Kristi, then what was your dream role when you were a child dreaming of the stage in your mom's lipstick and high heels? And Tim, for you recently when you realized you needed a change…

T: From my mom's lipstick and high heels?

S: Sure, or your girlfriend's… depending on the situation. 

K: I didn't really have a dream role. I grew up watching Laurence Welk and I just wanted to tap like a tap dancer…

T: I thought you were going to say, "And I just wanted to tap that so bad." And then I thought, "She can't say that!"

K: No… I just wanted to do what the Lawrence Welk people were doing because that's what I would do with my grandparents. We would get popcorn and watch the Lawrence Welk show. I just knew I wanted to perform. So I didn't really have a dream role til I moved to LA and my agent was like, "Make a list." I had to start learning musical theater because I went to school for opera but when I found out about the roles I think Cosette in Les Mis and Christine were the two ultimate roles but I always have done Julie Jordan twice and I think that is an amazing role. I think that is at the top of the list too. 

T: Also, the dream role is the one that hasn't been created yet. The one that we originate. 

K: Right. Who do we call?

T: Everyone always asks that question. Nobody really knows that the reason you go to New York is not to play Marius in Les Mis that's been open for twenty years. It's to star in the brand-new next hottest Broadway show that nobody knew about but you put it on the map. So that's the dream role. But sure, Chris in Saigon and Enjolras in Les Mis…

K: And any Sondheim.

T: Yeah, Sondheim's great.

K: And… Webber. 

T: Yes, Webber. 

K: I'd love to do anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber.   

Production photo by Joan Marcus - 1) Tim Martin Gleason and Elizabeth Loyacano; 2) Kristi Holden; 3) Tim Martin Gleason

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