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Interview: Matt Blaker Talks About Being The New Raoul And The Enduring Appeal Of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

The actor opens up about returning to the show

The Phantom of the Opera
Matt Blaker

Matt Blaker recently starred in Carousel at Kilworth House Theatre. He is now returning to The Phantom of the Opera as the newest resident Raoul. We spoke with Blaker about his career, as well as taking on the role of the Vicomte de Chagny.

Who inspired you most growing up?

I guess there are two answers to this: personally, it's my mum. After my brother and I were born, she went back to work as a secretary to the owner of a design agency. Ten to fifteen years later, she became the managing director! She's a really incredible and inspirational woman, working her way up from the bottom of that company.

And professionally, I'd have to say my dance teachers. I was about 15 years old when I decided I wanted to do performing professionally. I hadn't really done stuff before at school, literally no experience and I said to them that I wanted to theatre professionally, so they said, "Fantastic, here are some ballet shoes and we'll see you at five o'clock!" And having never danced before, I really wasn't impressed, but they managed to push me and give me all the tools I needed to make it happen.

What was your first experience of theatre, and your first exposure to Phantom?

My uncle worked in lighting design, and he took my younger brother and I to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Palladium when we were kids. We got a photo in the car on stage, which was really cool. We were really young. I have no real memory of the trip apart from the car. That was probably my first theatrical experience.

My first experience of Phantom was when I was at drama school: my friend and I went to see it in the West End when I was around 18 years old. It was phenomenal; we were blown away by the magic and spectacle of it all - and both of us are now in the show, which is really amazing to look back on, 10 years later!

How does it feel to be stepping into the role of Raoul?

It's amazing. We when we were at drama school, we had to write our dream roles down: I wanted to play Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys, Raoul in Phantom, and Enjolras in Les Mis - so to have done two out of three is pretty good going, I'd say.

I feel like I've really come full circle: I look at pictures of me from when I was in the ensemble of Phantom five or six years ago. First, I think, "Who is that child? Who is that baby?" We've been through so much with the pandemic and I feel like I'm coming back to the show as a changed person - hopefully for the better.

Stepping into this role full time is such a dream, it's wonderful. I had such a great year in the ensemble, it was my first West End job so it was really special. Everyone in the building is just so brilliant, there's such a wonderful atmosphere, and it's just so great to be back really.

What's your favourite thing about playing Raoul?

Well, you get it sing "All I Ask of You" which is just so iconic and the whole rooftop section is so beautiful; the singing is so lovely. But you also get to be part of that finale, the build-up, the passion, the tension that gets released.

The bottom line is he's a very honest character. He's quite upfront about his feelings and, yes, while at the beginning of the show, he tries to charm Christine in the dressing room, he just lays it all out there in the finale, in the lair, how he honestly feels. That's such a nice thing to be able to play every night.

How are rehearsals going so far?

To tell you the truth, coming back to it, I remember much less of it than I thought. In the 5-6 years I've been away from the show, I'm obviously older and have a different view of the world - especially with the pandemic. I'm approaching the show as a very different person.

I think it's nice to bring a slightly more mature approach to where to where I was 5-6 years ago; coming to things from a different angle has been excellent. I always love rehearsals because you get the opportunity to play and experiment; to try new things - some things that work and some that don't work, and that's the magic.

The Phantom of the Opera
Killian Donnelly and Lucy St. Louis
in The Phantom of the Opera

Working opposite Lucy [St. Louis] and Killian [Donnelly] has been wonderful, they're such generous and honest performers. I've really felt so welcomed. I've worked with a couple of people in the company before but most of them are new to me. It's lovely to be welcomed in like that.

Any other career highlights? This isn't your first Lloyd Webber show after all...

I think Andrew's shows are just, musically, so brilliant. Joseph was pretty special for me: I'd not long left drama school and it was one of my first bigger jobs. Getting to tour the UK was wonderful and playing the Pharaoh was so much fun. Who wouldn't want to shake their hips and sing that song?

I got to do Jesus Christ Superstar in Europe, it was lovely to travel around places like Germany and Switzerland; getting to see these beautiful places and sing that score every night was one of the best experiences. When I was previously in Phantom, Ben Forster was playing The Phantom, so we talked a lot about our experiences in Jesus Christ Superstar.

I've just finished playing Billy Bigelow in Carousal, it was a brilliant show, as was working with Nick Winston. He was the most amazing director and playing opposite Emma Kingston was so special.

That was a huge career highlight for me because, as you get slightly older and see these roles become slightly more accessible to you, it's wonderful to be able to grab these parts in both hands and take all the opportunities you can get to play them.

As a cast, you had a few Covid-related absences towards the end of your run, didn't you?

Yes, in the last week of Carousel, we were five or six people down; but we kept going, that really speaks to the resilience of our company. It was just wonderful to see our understudies and ensemble step up in this, sort of, "post-Covid" world, even more so than before. Understudies and covers should be celebrated for the work that they put in.

The two understudies I have in Phantom, Connor [Carson] and Rafe [Watts], are both wonderful. I would encourage people to come to see them in the show because they really are brilliant.

What do you think is the enduring appeal of Phantom, now in its 35th year?

I think it has some amazing themes: I think of the romance, the desire, the passion, and the jealousy. The show is timeless; these themes are just as poignant now as they were in the 1980s when it was when it was written. The melodies in that score stay with you a long time after you've left the theatre - even now, I catch myself humming "The Point of No Return" or "The Music of the Night"!

Have you got any advice for aspiring performers?

I still think of myself as being in that category!

My first piece of advice is to listen: really listen to the people that you're onstage with and what they're saying to you; listen to the people off-stage, like the director, choreographer, or musical director.

I think I spent far too long in my career thinking that I knew best when, actually, you can't do this by yourself. You need everybody to work seamlessly as a team. Theatre is an ensemble piece; you need to be thinking as a team.

Secondly, have patience: I think this was my third time auditioning for this role. When I was previously the show, I auditioned for Raoul a couple of times and the team said it wasn't going to be this time but it would be at some point.

Learn from each experience, come back stronger the next year, with a clearer idea of how you want to improve and it'll happen eventually.

If you could go on a road trip with Raoul, where would you go and why?

I think being a Vicomte, he would have had quite a nice collection of carriages. Even Christine says "Order your fine horses!" in the show, so he's obviously got quite a collection.

I'm pretty into cars and racing so I think that our road trip would be to the Monaco Grand Prix, very upper class. I'm pretty sure we would stay on a yacht. So if anybody reading this would like to take me to the Monaco Grand Prix, I'm very much available!

Why should people come and see The Phantom of the Opera and this new cast?

I think in an age of minimalism, and uncertainly, come and be swept away in this opulent, beautiful romantic story of love, passion, and intrigue. I think it's the perfect escape from modern life.

I actually went to see the show the other night to see my friend, he was wonderful, and the show was wonderful. It sound beautiful and it's still performed as passionately every night as it was in 1980s.

The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre until 4 March 2023

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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