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By Andy Argyrakis
Nearly twenty years on tour and "Phantom" still breaks
box office records
Livewire's "One on One"
Dec. 26, 2007
Movies such as "E.T.," "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings" are amongst the world's most treasured and profitable tales, but even those box office smashes can't top the $3 billion in ticket sales for "The Phantom of the Opera." Though a movie version was eventually made in 2004, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is also loaded with cinematic qualities, impressive production and a score that helped the production rake in seven 1988 Tony Awards (including "Best Musical"). From then until now, the show became the longest running musical in Broadway history, surpassing an astounding 7,485 run by "Cats" early last year. Even with the widespread attendance, attention remains at an all time high in Chicago (which first hosted the show in 1990), opening on Halloween and running straight through the first week of 2008. Current Windy City star Sara Jean Ford (who plays Christine) took a break from the current Broadway In Chicago run to talk about the storyline filled with horror and redemption, its enduring legacy, plus her upstart as an original member of the "Wicked" cast.
Livewire: How did you get hooked up with such a highly coveted role?
Ford: I was doing "The Fantasticks" off Broadway in New York and I auditioned with the New York company of "Phantom." I learned the Christine role and took the ensemble track like I did with "Wicked." From there the exact same understudy role opened on tour, so I did it for a month and got to go on once. At the end of that week, they offered me the role and it all took off from there!
Livewire: How is the musical's message able to endure after so many years on Broadway?
Ford: Well it's a timeless story about honesty and forgiveness I suppose. I think the Phantom character is so complex in the way he's almost mentally stagnant- still kind of like a child, but also a musical genius at the same time. People love the fact that Christine sees past his mask and ugly face to see the human soul who just needs to be loved.
Livewire: What factor does the production play in getting audiences to come back for more?
Ford: People also like the spectacle surrounding the show and all the amazing special effects. It was the first musical in the 80s to have the kind of production where the chandelier comes down and fire comes out of the floor.
Livewire: What are your reflections on "Phantom" in light of the upcoming twentieth anniversary?
Ford: In January, the Broadway show hits twenty years. I first saw this show when I was ten years old and there's something to be said about multiple generations experiencing this together. It effects my grandparents just as much as me, plus now my little brother is listening to the soundtrack in the car all the time, which proves the bond of "Phantom" being able to bring a whole group of generations together.
Livewire: Were you a fan of the recent movie version with Minnie Driver?
Ford: My mom and I were very excited and went out to see the [2004 edition] of the movie opening weekend. I remember the film was entertaining, but not being able to truly feel the opera house of have it be as vast and real as seeing it on stage.
Livewire: How does the Broadway tour try to bring the scenes to greater life?
Ford: On the tour, we actually bring in gold statues of Apollo to place them on the sides of the proscenium, which really throws you into the opera house being all around you. The chandelier is above you and the Phantom's voice can be heard from the front and then the back in different scenes when he's talking. When you walk into the theatre, you're experiencing "The Phantom of the Opera" all around you. When you're in front of a new audience every night, that's really when you can feel the energy and we can feed off each other.
Livewire: What was it like coming into the Chicago company of "Wicked," which like "Phantom," seems well on its way to longevity?
Ford: I walked in my college graduation and literally the very next day began rehearsals in New York City. We rehearsed a month, then went straight to Chicago, so I had to pack up all my stuff in a truck. It was a sixteen hour drive and I side swiped a telephone poll along the way, so it was a pretty intense move. But it was all worth it as the show proved to be gigantic! I knew it would be big, but didn't realize it would grow until that degree until I saw it first hand. I was a member of the original ensemble and understudied Glinda and Nessarose. I got to go on a couple times in those roles and it was a really great experience right outside of college.
Livewire: Can starring in "Phantom" add up to that experience?
Ford: I remember as a little girl acting out scenes from "Phantom" with my cousin in my living room. One of our favorites was setting up the boat scene with pillows and lip syncing to the music. It was childhood play time back then that's now a reality and I truly wake up every morning excited about being in the show. Then after the night's over, I get excited all over again knowing I'll be doing it all over again the next day!
"The Phantom of the Opera" runs through January 5 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago. For additional information, log onto www.broadwayinchicago.com.