By Donna Fischer
In the world of musical theater there are popular shows, and then there are those powerhouse shows that bring audiences back again and again for years and even decades. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera fits easily into the latter category and has even set the record as the longest running show in Broadway history. With it’s many emotionally–charged songs in a romantic Parisian setting, the show quickly became a sensation in the late 1980s and into the ’90s.
Given the timeless appeal of a story featuring a tragic figure with lovesick, though at times dangerous motives, it is no wonder that musical theater lovers applaud the return of The Phantom of the Opera all these years after its premiere. Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of the show will grace the stage at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for 12 days in June.
Andrew Lloyd Weber’s memorable score remains the same, including songs like, “Masquerade,” and “All I Ask of You,” but the look of the look of the production has been upgraded for a modern audience. Think of it as the Phantom in HD.
Ben Jacoby plays Raoul (Christine’s love interest) in The Phantom of the Opera and insists that everything about the show is grander this time around. “The original production opened in the late eighties on Broadway and there’s so much technologically that has happened since then,” says Jacoby. “Everything sort of feels updated in a way. In my mind the chandelier is bigger and better than before because we have the opportunity to bring in all the bells and whistles that have been created for this production. The set has been totally redesigned. It takes 20 trucks to transport it from city to city. We have these massive wall units and set pieces that really give you the backstage feel of what the Paris opera house would be like. It really is a massive, massive show.”
Jacoby explains that the show’s director, Laurence Connor, encourages him to approaches his character with an interest in understanding him as if he was a real person experiencing a real series of event. “Overall, it’s been a wonderful experience.”
When asked about the tragic nature of the story, Jacoby admits that it works so well because complicated love stories are essentially very relatable.
“In a lot of ways the tragedy is based on the idea of unrequited love. The theme of the show is wanting to be loved and yet feeling maybe that we’re not good enough to be loved, and I think that’s very relatable to audiences. Maybe the tragedy is more appealing because of that. I think that the magic and the mystery is an element too, not just the tragedy. The ambiguity of that relationship between the Phantom and Christine really draws audiences in and brings them back over and over.”
Jacoby wasn’t introduced to this popular musical in a traditional manner. His earliest memories of the show came when he went to see his father at work.
“In the early nineties my father played the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway,” explains Jacoby. “I was just a little kid. He played the Phantom for many years so that’s how I got interested in the show years ago. I remember going into my dad’s dressing room. I wanted to show him my new haircut or something, and he swiveled around in the makeup chair and he had the whole terrifying makeup on, and out of this monstrous face here’s my dad’s voice. You know, it was off-putting,” he says, laughing.
Though The Phantom of the Opera consumes Jacoby’s attention at the moment, he says he’ll head to New York City after his contract is up to pursue new roles. With an MFA in Acting from UC Irvine, Jacoby has set his sights on an acting career that includes more than just musical theater.
“When I graduated from college (Denison University) I thought if I’m going to pursue acting I’d better get some serious acting training. I wanted to get some text training and learn how to speak Shakespeare. I think being versatile is important. I don’t want to always do musical theater, I want to do non–musical theater, so that’s why I went.”
Watch Ben Jacoby as Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, June 11–22. For tickets go to foxcitiespac.com/events.