(*homocinematically inclined)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reverend's Interview: The Phantom Says Farewell

Tina Turner has done it. So has Cher... sort of. Now, Andrew Lloyd Webber's mega-musical The Phantom of the Opera is ending its touring career, and the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles will host the 17-year old company's final stop beginning tonight. After the frighteningly appropriate date of October 31, Halloween, theatergoers will only be able to see the original production on Broadway, in London or in its truncated incarnation at The Venetian Hotel Casino in Las Vegas.

Having first premiered in London in 1986, The Phantom of the Opera (based on the classic novel by Gaston Leroux) has proven to be an unprecedented global phenomenon. It has outlived Cats, Les Misérables and every other long-running stage musical over the past 24 years. One gay member of the farewell tour's cast, Luke Grooms, recently shared his thoughts about the secret of the show's success with Reverend.

"First and foremost is the music," Grooms said. "There are melodies in Phantom that everybody knows. A lot of us, including myself, listened to the music as children." Webber's score includes such memorable songs as "The Music of the Night," "All I Ask of You," "Masquerade," "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" and the anachronistic but danceable, techno (for the 80's) title tune.

Grooms, who is 31 and openly gay, continued to reflect on what has fueled the Phantom phenomenon: "The costumes and sets are lavish; some people say (the touring company has) been around for so long that the sets must be falling apart and the costumes fraying, but that's just not true. Everyone involved puts so much care into the upkeep of this tour and it shows."

The final key ingredient in the show's popularity is, according to Grooms, its moving story of the disfigured Phantom's love for his musically gifted ingénue, Christine. "The Phantom, even though he is an anti-hero, is a great character," Grooms said. Tim Martin Gleason, who has played the secondary romantic role of Raoul longer than anyone else has, plays the Phantom in the touring production. Sean MacLaughlin plays Raoul, while Trista Moldovan and Kelly Jeanne Grant alternate as Christine.

The operatically trained Grooms plays the role of Ubaldo Piangi, the Paris Opera's male star who falls prey to the Phantom's violent tendencies. Born and raised in rural Tennessee, Grooms has earned a name for himself in the opera world singing with such prestigious companies as New York's Metropolitan and City Operas, the Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall, and Glimmerglass Opera. I asked him how his participation in Phantom came about.

"The Phantom folks saw me in the New York premiere of Jerry Springer: The Opera (for which Grooms was nominated for the 2010 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Musical Performance) two years ago," he recalls. "After that, there were numerous auditions and here I am." Grooms has been with the Phantom tour for six months. He voiced his hope that he will eventually get to play Piangi in the Broadway production. First, though, he is scheduled to play the classic role of the Duke in a Florida mounting of Rigoletto after Phantom comes to an end.

The Phantom of the Opera marks Grooms' first tour and first time performing in Southern California. He spoke fondly of his experience to date. "They are great people to work with," Grooms says of his cast mates, adding, "(Phantom) is truly one of the best musicals ever written." If that weren't enough, he met his current boyfriend during the tour's stop in Baltimore.

Grooms intends to make the most of his time in Los Angeles. He will be doing a special cabaret performance called Put Your Junk in Your Trunk at the Gardenia Restaurant & Lounge in West Hollywood on Monday, October 4. The show will feature all-new works by up-and-coming musical theatre composers. For reservations or more information, please call (323) 467-7444.

I asked Grooms if this is truly the farewell tour of Phantom or if there will be a Cher-esque, "Never Can Say Goodbye" encore. He laughed, then said, "As far as the company members know, this is the final tour of this particular production, which is just like the Broadway production." If one wants to save themselves the expense of a trip to New York or London, one had best order tickets now for the Phantom's final appearance in Southern California.

Tickets for the Pantages Theatre can be purchased at or by calling 1-800-982-2787.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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