The Man Behind the Mask: Quentin Oliver Lee of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Quentin Oliver Lee, the man behind the mask - the dynamic singer/actor leads the national company of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, now on tour throughout the United States - first stepped onstage in the iconic role during its Memphis run earlier this year and he freely admits that the experience left him eager to return to Tennessee to perform on the stage of Nashville's Andrew Jackson Hall.
For Lee, the company's pending two-week run at Music City's Tennessee Performing Arts Center is like a homecoming, of sorts, because of the time spent in Memphis, where he rehearsed the title role, subsequently taking it over for the remainder of the tour.
The opportunity to put on the mask in order to take over one of the best-known and most beloved roles in musical theater is somewhat daunting and rather awe-inspiring, but it's clearly the chance of a lifetime, Lee contends.
"It's been overwhelming," he says, "to be in a show that gets a standing ovation literally every night and that, of course, is very rewarding - it's not why I do what I do, obviously - but the show is so well-received by audiences no matter if you're in Springfield or Memphis or Fort Lauderdale that it's great to be part of the legacy of the role and of the show. And no matter where we play, people love it - and I'm really glad to get back to Tennessee to perform for audiences in Nashville."
Cameron Mackintosh's spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera - the longest running musical in Broadway history - returns to TPAC October 25-November 4. Hailed by critics as "bigger and better than ever before," this production boasts many exciting special effects including the show's legendary chandelier, new scenic and lighting designs, new staging and choreography. The beloved story and thrilling score will be performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this Phantom one of the largest productions now on tour.
Becoming the Phantom, however, is not something that Quentin Lee dreamed of while growing up. Instead, the role became his after a circuitous journey toward a home in musical theater that started in high school when a director recruited him to audition for his school choir.
"It was a high school choir director who asked me to audition," he explains. "She had seen me in band and new I had some experience there and she recruited me."
Subsequently, the happenstance manner by which he became involved in choir led him to a decision that proved even more significant: He majored in opera performance at Northern Arizona University, later becoming a regional finalist in the Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions. After roles in La Bohème, Carmen and Gianni Schicchi, he subsequently toured in Porgy and Bess and The Lion King (his resume also boasts a stint in Prince of Broadway, the musical revue highlighting the career of Hal Prince, the director who first brought The Phantom of the Opera to the main stem), and it was from there that he ultimately came to his current starring role.
Yet, Lee admits, he wouldn't have counted himself among the legions of fans of The Phantom of the Opera, people who seemingly know every line of dialogue, every note in the score and all about every character's back-story. Rather, he's been able to embrace all that fervor as he has delved into his character and the musical to bring them to life onstage.
"I had been familiar with The Phantom of the Opera since high school," he explains. "It's a musical that's been around now for 30 years, so I've always been aware of it, but I wasn't a big fan necessarily. Then, in college - especially when you're majoring in opera performance - you cannot help but know about The Phantom, you hear people talking about how much they love Phantom and its music."
"When I first started undergrad," he reflects, "I never would have ever thought - even in my wildest imagination - that I would be doing something like this. It's very humbling. Even before I joined this tour, when I was doing The Lion King in Hong Kong, I remember I was totally taken aback by the response from the audience and now, to be on the road again with this company, I sometimes just say to myself, 'Wow! Who would have ever guessed I would be where I am now?'"
It wasn't until he auditioned for producers of the national tour that Quentin Lee really came to know and to appreciate The Phantom of the Opera and the shows other-worldly appeal to its audiences: "I didn't know the majesty of it, the grandeur of it all, until I was given the chance to sing the role night after night," he says.
And while his favorite song from the show's score tends to change from one performance to the next, depending on the circumstances of a performance - or, perhaps, audience reaction - his personal pick might be "Point of No Return" (the song that many of the super fans we interviewed for a feature piece earlier this week chose as their favorite) or the show's title tune, "The Phantom of the Opera."
"'Point of No Return' is a great song," Lee maintains. "It's got a certain charm about it."
Performing Lloyd Webber's lush score for The Phantom of the Opera is certainly a part of the show's continued vitality and popularity, but Lee says that for him there are other attributes that make his role far more rewarding.
"I get to work with people like Eva [Tavares, who plays Christine Daae, the object of the Phantom's desires] and Jordan [Craig, the actor who takes on the role of Raoul, the rival for Christine's affections], who are superb actors - it's nice because it's so easy to connect to your scene partners," he says. "And I get to see a lot of the country in the process. It's a very rewarding experience and I have learned a lot and I have grown so much as an artist during this process."
A native of San Bernardino, California, Lee says he didn't come from a family steeped in music - "Oh, I remember my dad singing in the car and making tuff up - and my mother played piano when she was in high school, but it never went much further than that," he recalls.
Lee credits his parents with keeping him grounded as he has pursued a career in the performing arts. "My mother, bless her, is always incredibly supportive in anything I do, and she's been a rock in holding me up when I didn't think I could do it," Lee says, while his father, ever the pragmatist, asked the harder questions like "How do you make a living? And what are you gonna do if things don't pan out?"
Those are questions Quentin Lee is unlikely to have to face, so far as he can gaze toward the foreseeable future, as the adventures of his life as The Phantom keep him on the road, onstage and on top of an enviable career.
About The Phantom of the Opera
Cameron Mackintosh's spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera makes a triumphant return to Nashville for a two-week engagement at Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Jackson Hall October 24 through November 4.
"Having received great critical acclaim in the U.K. and North America, I am really pleased that Laurence Connor's new production of Phantom will continue to tour the U.S., playing in tandem with the Broadway production which just celebrated 30 years at the Majestic Theatre," says Lloyd Webber.
"With Phantom still the reigning champion as the longest running production on Broadway after 30 phenomenal years with no end in sight, I'm delighted that this spectacular new production of Phantom has been as well-received in the U.S. as the brilliant original and has already been seen by more than 3.7 million people across North America since it opened in November 2013," says Mackintosh. "With an exciting new design and staging, retaining Maria Björnson's amazing costumes, the new Phantom is thrilling audiences and critics alike all over again. With the production continuing to be such a success, we are delighted to welcome our exciting new stars to keep the music of the night soaring for many years to come."
This new production of The Phantom of the Opera is presented by Cameron Mackintosh, The Really Useful Group, and NETworks Presentations. Directed by Laurence Connor (who co-directed the new production of Les Misérables on tour across North America after a hugely successful revival on Broadway, directed the award-winning new production of Miss Saigon that played London's West End, Broadway, and a new national tour in 2018, and also directed the stage version of the movie School of Rock, now playing on Broadway, in London's West End, and on North American Tour), with choreography by Scott Ambler, set design by Paul Brown, Tony Award®-winning original costume design by Maria Björnson, lighting design by Tony Award®-winner Paule Constable, sound design by Mick Potter, and musical supervision by John Rigby. The production is overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Mackintosh. The Phantom of the Opera: music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by Charles Hart (with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe); book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber; orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Based on the classic novel Le Fantôme de L'Opéra by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera tells the story of a masked figure who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, exercising a reign of terror over all who inhabit it. He falls madly in love with an innocent young soprano, Christine, and devotes himself to creating a new star by nurturing her extraordinary talents and by employing all of the devious methods at his command.
Mackintosh's original production of The Phantom of the Opera continues performances at Her Majesty's Theatre in London and in its record-breaking run at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway, and many other cities around the world.
For more information, visit www.ThePhantomOfTheOpera.com and follow the show on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For ticket information about the upcoming Nashville performances, go to www.tpac.org or call (615) 782-4040.
production photos by Matthew Murphy