Monday, September 29, 2014

Beyond the Stage: A New Tour for a New Time


Resident Director David Ruttura and actor Cooper Grodin. Photo by Frank Chin
If you haven’t seen ThePhantom of the Opera since it was last on stage at The Orpheum Theatre in 2001 – and especially since its first visit in 1997 – you can expect a new look at the characters, the set and that fabulous chandelier.

The beloved songs, the moving score and the epic story remain the same that we’ve always loved, but the 25th anniversary tour of Phantom also brings the show into a new generation. Our world has changed since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh conceived the original production in 1986, and as resident director David Ruttura said, “Our production is a little grittier, a little bit more realistic, and a little more grounded than the original.”

At a press event Thursday, Ruttura and the Phantom himself, Cooper Grodin, sat down to share some inside scoop about the new tour. If you’ve always wondered why the Phantom is so driven to revenge, or how Christine copes while pulled in a tug-of-war between love and music, this production will help answer some of your questions.

“We sort of shy away from the Victorian melodrama and look into who these people actually are,” Ruttura says.

Those universal feelings of unrequited love, isolation and loneliness at the heart of Phantom’s story are one of the many reasons so many of us love Phantom. Ruttura knows many people, especially teenagers, identify with the characters’ struggles.  

“That’s something this production was really focused on, was finding those people, catering the storytelling to something they can relate to, and I think it’s been very successful,” he said.

Phantom’s original fans are sharing the show with younger audiences too. You’re not alone if your love for the show has spilled over to your children, friends and family members.

“One of the luxuries of being involved in such a successful production is that it has in fact been running so long that the children of the fans are here with their parents being exposed to it,” Grodin said, “and every night when I come out I’m really, really surprised to see just in fact how many young, really young, people really love the story.”

The storytelling isn’t the only aspect of Phantom that’s been given a fresh look. Ruttura says the tour’s set – including the legendary chandelier – is a “marvel of technology.”

“Our show has a tremendous amount of bells and whistles. We have tons of pyrotechnics, we have a chandelier that  – I won’t give away too much – but it has 28 years of new technology so it does all sorts of new tricks. It’s really exciting, it’s really fast – it’s explosive.”

The production is one of the largest national tours of a Broadway musical. We’re not exaggerating when we say it takes a mammoth amount of hard work to put this show together. Twenty trucks are used to move the show from city to city, and 75 additional local stagehands are hired to load in the set. A 10-ton scenic wall rotates around the stage, and the chandelier alone weighs 1 ton and contains 6,000 beads. About 100 talented cast and crew members make the show happen backstage each night.

All of that hard work is clearly paying off, and wowing Memphis audiences. Grodin says he received some of the most exciting feedback he’s ever gotten on opening night at The Orpheum.

“The audience was so engaged, they were so excited, they were so comfortable being heard – it really had an old-school feel, where theatre was a real profound give-and-take,” he said. “We have a very exciting ending and I can tell you that I had not even remotely finished my final note and the audience – they were screaming. And when that happens you are sort of reminded exactly why you do what you do.”

The Phantom of the Opera plays at the Orpheum Theatre now through October 5. Get tickets here!

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