Early morning start today as the entire 21st anniversary cast finally meet and greet each other. I find with meet and greets there is always a built up anticipation because usually auditions are a couple months prior to starting. This gives you time to start getting psyched up about starting the new contract. With a long-running show like Phantom there is always a percentage of cast members who stay on and renew their contracts. This is the first time I have stayed with a show two years in a row. There is the new challenge of playing the Phantom full time as opposed to just certain times of the year. It will be sad to see some of the talented actors leave us as they are moving on to new projects, but it’s always exciting meeting new cast members who bring something new to the show.
There was a real excited and positive energy in the front of house bar where we all met. I don’t think I ever experienced such a positive vibe from a meet and greet. I think this company is going to gel really quickly. There were a lot more new faces than I thought there’d be. Our Director, Laurence Connor, set the level by ribbing me the moment I walked through the door. (I won’t write what he actually said). That’s always a good way to start – break down your Phantom before he even starts. Brilliant. Luckily we have quite a history together as he has directed me before as Raoul and Chris (Miss Saigon) so I didn’t mind. He is a fantastic Director. Those supporters of the show who visit Phantom regularly know that within the last five years the show has been raised to another level. We had our new Resident Director there, Jean Pierre Van Der Spuy. I was pretty excited about that as he was my resident on Miss Saigon. Dan Bowling was there who is our Musical Supervisor. I have quite the history with Dan as well, starting back to Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and now Phantom. At first sight it was like a Miss Saigon reunion. The show has had a new Musical Director step in by the name of Bjorn Dobbelaere who was also in attendence. Again, I have had the great fortune of working with Bjorn before in Les Miserables. He is a very passionate conductor and we are very lucky to have him as our MD. Also attending the meet and greet was the wonderful Lynne Jezzard who is the Resident Choregrapher and who I think has been with the show since day one. If anybody knows anything about the show, it’s Lynne. Thomas Schonberg was there as well, as the Administrator on the show. Satya Olgilvy who is our Company Manager was there. Stuart Arnott, our Stage Manager, was there to run all the new cast members through all the fun stuff that Phantom has to offer, like the pyroes. I wanted to make a point to show who was there because it’s great to see management, creative and stage management there on our meet and greet to show how passionate they are about the show and the care that still goes into it. I think that is why Phantom is becoming 21. The standard of excellence has not dropped. 21 years on and it’s fresher than ever. It’s going to be a rockin’ year.
We all did a silly game to get to know each other by name as well as what we had for breakfast. Umm, hello? That’s right, we had to go around the circle and memorise the names of people and their choice of food for breakfast of the the five people standing to your left. Sounds easy, but if you have an attention span of a 10-year-old like me it’s not that simple. Also when Sam Hiller (Andre) is standing across from you and is one of the funniest people I know, my attention was not fully engaged on the task at hand. But I did remember the five cast members to my left and saved face. It was actually a lot of fun and afterwards we all had a bit more time to mingle and get to know each other before work begins.
At this point all the new cast members went with Stuart for their safety orientation. This is where rehearsals get a little weird for me. Since I’ve been playing the Standby for a year now there is a new Standby (Nic Greenshields) to rehearse and get ready. So, I am not needed for the rest of the week, sadly. I am very big on a company being a company. It’s not a one person show. That’s why I love rehearsals because you get to know people as well. I will be losing out a bit on that this time round. That’s understandable though as they do have to get Nic up and running. I have to be self disciplined and sing through the show at home as much as I can. Although with an acoustic guitar it does take it to another place. LOL! I also have my character notes and my research notes to keep me in the zone. Don’t worry, there won’t be a rusty Phantom when I start. It’s all good. Although, by doing this blog for ya’ll it gives me a reason to go in a take a few photos of the cast while they create their magic.
The cast seem like a great bunch of people. Like I said there seemed to be a quick gel between everyone. It’s quite a young cast too. There’s a lot of talent in this cast and a lot of depth. It’s great to see Sam, James and Philip staying on. Philip Griffiths is an inspiring cast member. It’s great to have someone like him as part of your company. He’s been with the show for many years now in various capacities, but I’ll tell you this, the energy he brings through the stage door nightly is second to none. He (from what I’ve seen) has always brought a fresh, upbeat and very positive energy to each day. He’s been a huge support to me along the way as well so I am glad to be wearing the mask with him in the cast. I am also quite excited knowing that Jimmy Johnson is joining the cast. What a talented actor.
Then we have our two gorgeous Christines; exotic Lelia Benn Harris and beautiful Robyn North. As you all know by now, the London production has done a first. The Christine role is being shared with four performances as week by each actress. This is great for me as the Phantom because you couldn’t have two more different Christines but yet two very right ones too. So no two shows are ever the same. I love working like that. They both are a joy to work with and a lot of fun. It is sad to see my buddy Michael leave as Raoul but in comes Alex Rathgeber. He is an Aussie import who is based here now. He is a real nice guy and I am really looking forward to working with him. Ah man, that does it. I’m no longer the juvenile lead. Am I getting old? Surely not.
Ok, it is time for me to get some Phantom work done myself. This is going to be a great year.
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