Monday, October 26, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: From Business to Broadway

Actor Tim Martin Gleason has gone from being a dashing, rich nobleman to being a hideous, catacomb-dwelling rageaholic with separation issues — and he’s happy about the change. Of course, only in the musical phenomenon The Phantom of the Opera can such progress be called a promotion.

Gleason is renowned for his portrayal of the show’s romantic hero Raoul, a role that he has played more often than any other actor in America. He originated the role for the Las Vegas production and played Raoul on Broadway when the show became the longest-running production in history.

Still, in Phantom, you’re never fully dressed without a half mask and crypt to call your own, so Gleason is thrilled to be playing the title role in the current US tour. From his reviews, it’s clear that the feeling is mutual. Ten years ago, Gleason was pursuing a business career when he made the leap of faith — he put business aside and followed his dream, which culminated in playing the Phantom, one of the most recognizable pop culture icons around.

Gleason is upbeat and jovial about playing the wounded hero. He said it’s “pretty spectacular” to be playing the show’s title character. “I was Raoul for seven years, which is kind of a dubious honor, actually,” Gleason said. “That whole time, I was the Phantom understudy, so I had played the Phantom a bunch of times, so by the time I took over the role, I had about 125 , 150 (performances) under my belt, so it wasn’t exactly brand new when I took over the role. The character of the Phantom’s just so much meatier – Raoul’s a leading man, so you’re kind of limited in what you can do with the role. They’re always very, very supportive and nurturing of you to make the role your own, but you can only do so much with Raoul. The Phantom’s a character, you can basically do whatever you want with him.”

Gleason said the producers never stunt cast or get lazy with the show, which is why the production has maintained its quality over the past 20 years. He loved working with original director Hal Prince when he came in to stage the Vegas production.

Asked what he’s doing to put his own mark on the role, Gleason said, “I’m just doing what feels honest, and I don’t really know how to define it, but a lot of people have told me that he comes off as a wounded child. You see the child in him a lot. I’ve seen 10 or 11 people play the role, and I’ve seen 10 or 11 interpretations. That’s what’s really great about it. It’s almost like there’s nothing you can do that’s wrong, as long as it’s honest.”

The Phantom of the Opera, a Broadway Across America production, will play at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe from October 28 to November 22. For more information on future dates and locations, visit the tour's official website.

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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