BWW Interview: Derrick Davis of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at Lied Center For The Performing Arts
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is arguably one of the most loved musicals in the history of musical theatre. Since 1986 Andrew Lloyd Webber's music has captivated audiences across the globe. Together with Charles Hart (lyrics) and Richard Stilgoe (book and additional lyrics), Gaston Leroux's haunting novel was breathed to life as a spectacular love story that has captured numerous awards. Cameron Mackintosh's production has the distinction of being the longest running musical on Broadway. And now, the 25th Anniversary Tour is headed to Nebraska.
On October 23 the Lied Center for Performing Arts will be filled to the magnificent chandelier with glorious sets, costumes, music, and 52 cast members and musicians, making this one of the largest touring productions. Derrick Davis, the first African American Phantom on national tour, is an artist who has realized his dream from childhood. His first experience with a Broadway show was his mother taking him to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in New York City. Who could have foretold that one day he would be playing the title role?
"I was about 11 years old and I had fallen in love with the music of the show by listening to it first on classical radio back at home. Then my parents bought me the cast recording. It's so interesting because traveling across the country and getting to speak with a lot of the patrons that come to see the show, it's such a recurring narrative that people had taken their kids to see Phantom for their first musical. And it sparked for them a love for musical theatre," Davis said.
What is it in this show that sparks this excitement for musical theatre? Davis sees it as more than just great music. He explained, "It's a love story with the triangle between Raoul, Christine and Phantom. But there are these other very complex characters that are so colorful and full of life. Carlotta, the managers- across the board there are so many wonderful characters."
Speaking of the music Davis said, "If you dissect it, the melodies of the music are almost like lullabies. They are very simplistic so any age can really grab hold of those melodies and repeat them. But then the underscoring which is so ingeniously penned is just so lush and full of emotion. There's something for everybody. There's something for the young people to grasp and then come back and see it again when they get older and fall in love with different levels and parts of the story and a different understanding."
I had read several comments posted about Davis as I was researching his background online. Numerous people mentioned the intense emotion that he pours into his role as Phantom. How does he manage to maintain that depth of emotion as he plays eight shows a week?
"I sleep all day," he laughs. "Not really. A director when I was back in New York once told me that you don't get the luxury of not performing at 100%. Because at every performance there is somebody who is seeing theatre for the first time, and there is somebody seeing theatre for the last time. So they're deserving of 100% of whatever you have in that moment. At every show I start the show with that thought."
Davis also stresses the importance of maintaining balance. "Our human being is what's creating the art. I make sure that I stay very connected to my family and my main circle of friends back in New York. I check in with them; they check in with me just to stay mentally, emotionally, and physically very healthy."
We talked about what it was like for Davis to be the first African American to play the iconic role of Phantom on national tour. Did he experience any pushback?
"The country is very polarized right now. It was a little daunting at the beginning. But shortly after I set out to begin my performances I realized that what the country is isn't really what it's said to be. We are so much more united and so much more open-minded and accepting than what some of the media might portray us to look like. I can count on two fingers when I felt any kind of pushback whatsoever. It was so minor. It didn't affect me at all. By and large everyone's been just so hospitable and kind and so, as they say, 'colorblind.'"
Derrick Davis is a tall man at 6'4". I wondered how his height might affect him with his onstage interactions with his costars.
"Oh, that makes it more fun! It heightens the intensity of the scenes because most of the Christines being ballerinas and women of smaller frames." Davis explained how he can literally sweep Christine off her feet.
"And then when it becomes one of the more aggressive moments for the Phantom, it's really frightening. I make an imposing character. It creates a dynamic in a much more forceful way."
Davis has never been to Nebraska, so I was curious what he had pictured in his mind.
"I really don't know. A lot of the cities in the country I hadn't been to and I walked in with a preconceived notion of what it would be, and I was completely blindsided. I feel like I am going to have some of the best times on the tour in Nebraska. I'm really looking forward to it. I just want to meet people and do the local scene. Of course I want to do the touristy things that should be seen and the historical things, but beyond that I want to walk the street (it'll be cold!), and enjoy what the city has to offer."
I know that I am looking forward to seeing this imposing man on stage in one of my most loved musicals!
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA will run from October 23 through November 3. Show times are varied, so please check the box office at https://tickets.liedcenter.org/events/1786 or call 402-472-4747.