The Phantom of the Opera
Simon joined the cast of The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London in September 1994 playing the part of Raoul. He was asked to take over the role some months after his final performance as Chris in Miss Saigon. It was another young leading role but very a different character.
Simon: Playing Raoul was completely different from playing Chris, although they are both romantic young leads. For a start it’s a very different period and I love all those period clothes in Phantom and Les Mis. Raoul is very much the high born young aristocrat who expects everything to go his way. But it was nice to play such a contrasting role.
Claire Moore, Jill Washington and Nikki Ankara were my Christines during my time as Raoul and Ethan Freeman the Phantom. While I was doing it we had a phone call to say that Hal Prince was coming over. He always does that to tidy up the show and give everyone notes but he called me to one side and said he thought I could play the Phantom. So they filmed me singing ‘The Music of the Night’ and sent it to him, but lots of other people were auditioning too. Anyway the next thing I knew Cameron said: ‘Here’s your plane ticket – you’ve got to go over to Broadway and rehearse with Hal over there.’ So that was great for me. I rehearsed and performed with the Broadway cast and when I came back I did more rehearsals with Gillian Lynne the choreographer. Most people don’t know this but when I left Drama College I was a dancer on Top of the Pops with the Flick Colby Dancers!
After playing Raoul for 18 months, Simon’s first night playing the Phantom was 15 April 1996.
Simon: Of course the Phantom is a very different role from Raoul and it was exciting to make that transition to my first mature lead. In some ways it’s an easy role because you’re not actually on stage that much, although when you are there’s a huge impact. But because you’re masked you can’t convey things with facial expression, so body language is really important. I love telling a story with my hands and use them to express a lot of things, to make them kind of artistic and expressive so people focus on them. I wanted a kind of maturity about the Phantom as well as the period it’s set in. He does manipulate Christine – think of those lines ‘Turn your face away/ From the garish light of day’ – he’s actually turning her head without touching her – she’s watching his movements and his hands and she’s magnetised by him.
Occasionally you have to improvise if something doesn’t go to plan. One night, as Christine was handing me back my mask as I was crawling across the stage in the ‘Stranger than you dreamt it’ sequence, the mask twanged and pinged right out of my hand and into the pit! So I had to use my hand as a mask, grab her hand and say: ‘Come we must return’ as we ran off the stage. You just have to be prepared for anything and react quickly.
Vocally it’s different from anything else I’ve done. It’s very operatic and controlled. Even though it’s a rock opera it’s more operatic because of the way it’s written. There’s a deep richness and maturity to his voice and of course he teaches Christine to sing. You can use a chest voice for the powerful operatic moments and at other times a kind of floating, head voice, for example in ‘The Music of The Night’ the lines: ‘Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar!’ It’s nice because you can mix and match the different voices.
The Phantom’s prosthetics have to be custom made to fit each individual actor’s face. Once the death mask cast has been made then new foam latex prosthetics are made and each used for only one performance.
Simon: The procedure is rather different now from when Phantom first opened. It took over two hours then and the make up was added after the prosethetics had been fitted. Now it’s much quicker – a little over half an hour, because the highlighing and shading make up has already been applied to the prosthetics and it just has to be blended in with the rest of the make up and then the radio mike added.
Simon: While I was playing Phantom it was the 10th Anniversary of the show and after the main performance I sang on stage with three other Phantoms, Sarah Brightman and Andrew Lloyd Webber at the piano. It was an amazing evening with a masked ball at the Park Lane Hotel to celebrate afterwards.
It’s many years now since I played the Phantom on stage but I was chosen along with John Owen Jones, Earl Carpenter and Ramin Karimloo to perform the title song with Nicole Sherzinger at the 2011 Royal Variety performance, which came shortly after Phantom’s 25th Anniversary. It’s one of those all time great musical theatre roles and maybe I’ll play it again one day.