“Do you remember your first time?” reads one of the famous taglines from Broadway’s longest running musical: The Phantom of The Opera. Just a few short weeks ago the record-setting show turned the ripe age of 26 years old clocking in more than 11,000 performances at the Majestic Theater. The theater has been home to many notable productions since it’s original opening night in 1927: Carousel, South Pacific, Camelot, The Music Man and The Wiz. Beyond all of these iconic productions I think it’s safe to say that the theater will always be most well known as the home of The Phantom of The Opera.
Since the musical launched on London’s West End in 1986 it has spawned productions in over 30 countries and has been translated into over 13 different languages. One of the long-running sit down productions was at the Pantages Theater in Toronto, Canada for over a decade. It was here that I, to use the tagline, had “my first time”.
In sixth grade we took a school field trip to nearby Toronto, Canada to take in the landmarks and sights of the city. At the precious age of eleven years old I hadn’t yet been exposed to enough theatre to devote my life to it. I certainly had an interest in it but it wouldn’t take over my life until a few years later when I entered high school. On our itinerary was a trip to the Pantages to see the “new” production of Phantom with a talk-back after the show. Sitting here in front of my computer I can still feel the flames from the graveyard scene in ACT II of the performance. I can still remember seeing all of those candles rise through the floor for the first time. I can still recall the wardrobe woman describing how many loads of laundry she would have to do before each show! It blew my mind to hear all of the impressive facts of how the show “worked” each day. It was definitely a theatrical experience that stuck with me for many years.
I remember taking a photo in front of the marquee just prior to the show. It took me a while to rummage through a slew of old photos, but I finally found it! I can tell you that I remember almost every detail from that “first time” seeing Phantom but what I don’t remember is why turtlenecks ever seemed like a great idea. Between my turtleneck, my parted hair and the oversized old man’s sweater… I was a sight for sore eyes!
One of the many productions of The Phantom of The Opera currently playing worldwide is the “Spectacular and New” national tour here in the U.S. This production features updated special effects, new costumes and set design and a phenomenal cast. A friend of BUC, Nick Cartell, has been touring with this new production since it’s inception. To celebrate the 26th anniversary of the Broadway production I thought it would be fun to get “up close” with Nick about his time spent with the show. That interview follows below.
Happy 26th Birthday Phantom!
See you on the sidewalks!
PHANTOM UP CLOSE
WITH NICK CARTELL
BUC: What is your theatre background? What school did you attend? How long have you been in NYC?
NC: My theatre background started early. I grew up in Arizona and on a school field trip saw a production of Cinderella and was bitten by the bug. I really wanted to be doing what the actors on stage were doing. From there I started doing community theatre with companies like Valley Youth Theatre and Greasepaint Youth Theatre and transitioned into professional theatre. I graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Theatre Performance. After graduation I performed in Arizona a lot with Phoenix Theatre, where I got my Equity card, before having the amazing opportunity to perform at Tokyo Disney in Japan. After three years I realized if I could make it in Japan, I needed to try to make it in NYC. This coming May will be nine years in NYC and I have loved every second of it.
BUC: What was your previous exposure to Phantom? Had you seen it previously?
NC: The Phantom of The Opera was one of my favorite shows growing up and still is to this day. I had seen the production a total of seven times on tour and on Broadway and was absolutely obsessed with it before actually joining the show. Now it is a dream come true to perform it eight times a week!
BUC: What is your official role in Phantom? How long have you been with the show?
NC: My official role with Phantom is as an ensemble member with a feature as the “Police Officer in the Pit” which is fun because I get to fire a gun every night. As a member of the ensemble I play many different characters: a soldier, stagehand, lamplighter, police officer and others. I'm also the fight captain on the production so I have to make sure that everyone is performing the fights safely each night, and if there are any problems, that we address them.
In addition, I'm also the Raoul understudy on the production, which is always exciting as I love going on in that role. At this point I’ve been with the show close to a year and a half. We started rehearsals at the beginning of October 2013 and I have been with the show since then.
BUC: What was the audition process like?
NC: The audition process was interesting and actually pretty long. I'd been in for Raoul for the Broadway company and the brilliant original version of the tour several times. My first audition for this production was in March 2013. I was asked to submit a video because I was out of town playing Freddy in My Fair Lady. I was originally brought in for the role of Andre (one of the managers of the Opera Populaire). After the casting team and creatives saw the video, they said that I was just too young. Fast forward to June when I was asked to come in again for the role of Andre. I was a little surprised, but I did my job as an actor and went in because you never know. Right after I sang for Andre they asked me to sing for the role of Raoul which made more sense. I was then asked to come back the following Monday and do a work session with the director and then that Wednesday I received a phone call saying that I had been cast.
BUC: Any interesting understudy mishaps / stories / anecdotes from Phantom?
NC: Being out on the road there are always stories and fun moments that we as a company share onstage and off. Plus there is always a new theater to explore and figure out exactly what your path is going to be because every backstage is different. One of my favorite stories from Phantom was the first time that I went on as Raoul. If you have seen The Phantom of The Opera, or even if you haven’t, you may know there is a music box that plays at the beginning and is sold in the auction scene. Our music box is enclosed in a special case, which opens up when the music box starts playing. In my normal ensemble track I begin the show behind a box that is upstage center. From the very beginning of our tech process I was behind that box during the auction scene, so I had never actually seen the music box open up and the monkey that is encased within live and in person. The first night that I went on as Raoul, when that music box opened it was my first opportunity to see it come to life and I have to say it was a very exciting moment.
BUC: The life of an understudy can be tumultuous at times. Any memorable understudy experiences from past shows?
NC: Well this is a doozy! My craziest experience is also one of my best experiences and it also happened to be my Broadway debut. I was doing the 2012 revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, and I had been cast as a swing / understudy. Among the many roles I covered were not only Jesus, but Judas as well. It was the Saturday matinee the weekend we opened the show and our Judas, Josh Young, was ill and the other understudy, Jeremy Kushnier, was on for Judas at the matinee. He came running down the escape stairs backstage and sprained his ankle and suddenly I was the only understudy left standing. At that point they turned to me and asked if I would be able to do the show that night. I knew I was ready, however I had never had a blocking rehearsal, only one music rehearsal singing through the show. Although I'd never swung a show before, I put myself through blocking the day before this happened to make sure that I was ready just in case. That evening I went on as Judas and it went off without me missing a step or a note. It truly was one of the best moments of my life. I vividly remember walking down for curtain call and hearing not only the audience but also my fellow cast members (who had never heard me sing any of the principal music) acknowledging that I had just done this role, to a sold-out audience, on a Saturday night on Broadway. It still gives me goose bumps when I think about it.
BUC: What preparation, warm-ups or rituals do you perform before each performance?
NC: I will always do a vocal warm-up before every performance and this company is great because we have a group warm up for those that want to have one. I will usually always have at least one cup of coffee, sometimes two, depending on the day.
BUC: Have you toured before? Do you like it? Any ups and downs to share?
NC: I have never toured before this show and I have enjoyed myself immensely. I would say the hardest part is being away from the people that you love, like my wife back in New York. We’re very lucky on this tour that we get two days off between cities. That means we travel on Monday and we usually always have our Tuesday between cities off. So, there is time to go back to New York, but not a lot. My wife and I have done long distance before (plus she's an actress, so she gets it) so we're actually pretty good at it and with Skype and Facetime, we’re able to keep in close touch. It has been difficult but I will say that I like touring and you realize really quickly how much you have that you DON’T need after you have to live out of a suitcase for a year!
BUC: Any cool “Phantom Phun Phacts”? (see what I did there…?!)
NC: There's a lot that is really cool about our show! In particular I can tell you that are set weighs ten tons and the chandelier weighs one ton. We travel with close to 400 costumes and with 150 wigs that fill 22 semi trucks! Overall, I’d say that you just need to see it. If we are coming to a theater near you, don’t wait to buy tickets. If you are a “Phan” of the show or haven’t even seen it before, you will love the Spectacular New version!
BUC: Any other interesting tidbits from your journey with the show?
NC: I think that something kind of cool and interesting is that this May, I will be traveling with the show to Arizona. While there, we will play Gammage Auditorium, which is located on Arizona State University campus, which is not only my alma mater but also the first place that I saw The Phantom of The Opera. I am so excited to play in my hometown and fingers crossed I get the opportunity to perform as Raoul!