The Phantom Of The Opera returns

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 2, 2013

The Phantom Of The Opera seems to stalk Singapore's stages.

The masked spectre has skulked in the shadows of the Kallang Theatre (1995) and the Esplanade Theatre (2007). Come July 16, it will take up residence in the Grand Theatre at Marina Bay Sands.

Created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and directed by Harold Prince, the deeply

romantic musical with its gothic overtones has been a smash hit worldwide, telling the story of a disfigured musical genius who falls deeply and tragically in love with a talented young opera singer rising through the ranks.

American actor Brad Little, 49, will be returning to Singapore in the role of the tortured, lovelorn Phantom. His mask fits him like a second skin - Little has performed the role more than 2,200 times across the globe, including the run at the Esplanade six years ago.

Speaking to Life! at a stopover in Singapore last month, he says with great emotion: "I love playing this role and I still do. I still find different energies, different ideas, something will just suddenly spark you'll go, wow, I never thought of it that way. Different Christines will bring something new."

In this production, the ingenue Christine - the object of the Phantom's obsessive affection - will be played by Australian actress Claire Lyon, 26, a much newer addition to the cast.

Fact overlaps with fiction when it comes to Lyon. Little says fondly of his co-star: "She is Christine."

He adds: "Because Claire's career started off as a ballet dancer, went into classical singing, and then the understudy and then - it's amazing, the parallel of her career and Christine's career."

The trained soprano, who was a part of Australia's national opera company Opera Australia, grew up listening to and singing the soundtrack to the musical at Christmas each year. Her enthusiastic family and friends would gather around the piano and belt out familiar tunes such as The Music Of The Night - with her father playing the Phantom.

She laughs: "He's got a lot of projection, but he's not always in tune."

The Phantom has also played a large personal role in Little's life. He dedicates each of his performances to his firemen friends in Battalion 9 of the New York Fire Department, which is also known as the Broadway firehouse because of its proximity to the theatre district.

Many members of the department, who were familiar faces and performed regular safety checks on theatres, were lost during the tragic terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001.

This year, the Phantom celebrates its 25th year on Broadway, where it remains the longest-running musical.

Along the way, the beloved musical has picked up 130 million audience members in 27 countries and earned more than US$5.6 billion (S$7.1 billion).

When asked about the near-magical longevity of the musical, Little says: "I actually give a different answer all the time - and I think that's the answer. If there is a reason, I think it's because it speaks differently to everybody."

Lyon, who sometimes performs emotional scenes with tears and mascara streaming down her face, adds: "You can't just see Phantom once. There's too much to take in. It's just such a spectacle that once isn't enough."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 2, 2013

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