BA: I am joined by five incredibly talented members of the cast and crew. Daniela Parkes, the Artistic Director of Footlights and the director of Phantom of the Opera, Abi Clarke the choreographer of the show and the three leads of the show, Eoin McAndrew who plays Phantom, Beth Cowley who plays Christine and Fred Wheadon who plays Raoul. So Daniela, can you give us a rundown of what the show is about?
DP: So the show is about this Paris Opera House at the beginning of the twentieth century. It focuses around Christine, a young ballet girl, who is taught how to sing by this voice who she thinks is an angel of music. Turns out he’s a creepy Phantom who is deformed and he lives under the theatre in his lair but he’s a brilliant inventor, a very talented musician. She falls in love with him and Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, who is the patron of the opera house and so she’s a bit mixed up and not quite sure what to do. And then you’ll have to come and see the show to find out the ending! But you probably all know the end because it’s such a famous musical.
BA: So on that note, it is one of the most well known musicals ever. How are you all tackling that in your approach to the show?
FW: Taking inspiration from lots of different places. Watching the film, watching the current show, watching the twenty-fifth Anniversary show that they did. Trying to pick up the best bits of those and then as we’re working through those in rehearsals, trying to find the way that we see our characters individually, which will be an original thought hopefully. Part of our characters will be part of ourselves as well.
AC: I think we’re trying to treat it as our own production. Obviously if its good, I say take it, so I do take inspiration from certain little moments from YouTube videos and things but we’re adding extra choreography to songs that don’t usually have it.
DP: to make it more lively.
AC: yeah, so we’re making it our own in our ways of interpreting it.
DP: For me the relationships between Raoul and Christine, and Phantom and Christine, are the pinnacle of the show. That’s kind of what makes everything go, that’s what the whole story is based on. So to develop those characters is a focus and a priority for me.
EM: You have to kind of start with character, find something in yourself, some kind of connection, some kind of truth and then you work on from that, such as the idea of feeling lonely and then you work on from that into your character which hopefully is individual to you, but then also outright steal other things from people. I’ve got a lot of great inspiration to work from.
BC: It’s a really scary experience to be playing a part like this! There’s a real sense of knowing how iconic the role is and wanting to do it justice. I really like the twenty-fifth Anniversary version of the show so I’ve drawn a bit of inspiration from that, but my favourite person I’ve seen play Christine is Katie Hall. She’s absolutely amazing… and I’ve definitely adopted bits and pieces from her interpretation of it. We’re really keen to put our own spin on the show, so there’s a lot of the rehearsals are about figuring out how make them our own which is really exciting.
BA: So Fred, Beth and Eoin, obviously the three of you have performed on the Northcott stage, I saw your fabulous performances in Evita, so you’re used to the acoustics, how vocally challenging is the show for you guys? How are you finding that? And Beth, of course, you have that top note at the end of The Phantom of the Opera (for any music buffs, it’s an E6).
BC: It’s a really vocally demanding show. My technique and my range are improving so much singing it. I’m a really perfectionist so I’m really enjoying the challenge, although some sections, like that end note, are still pretty difficult!
FW: Very challenging. Tom [Chard, vocal coach] is fantastic. My range through eight weeks has increased already, top and bottom of the scale. There are moments where it does go above my range or right on the breaking point and it’s just through tons of rehearsals to keep building it either way.
EM: It’s a really hard score, it’s a hard sing. Timing, rhythmically it’s a very hard show but it sounds beautiful, it really does and so, yeah, we’ll try to make it sound nice.
BA: So, Abi, what kind of choreography can we expect to see in the show?
AC: Well its mostly ballet, we’ve got seven great ballet dancers. It’s nice to show their strengths, some of them are going to be doing pointe but they’ve got to train a lot for that to be strong enough to do it. And so it’s been quite intense in the strengthening for that. Masquerade is hopefully going to be the showstopper, that’s what we’re aiming for. We’ve got cheer lifts in there to add levels. So I think everyone’s excited for that.
DP: There’s also a sexy, sultry number in Point Of No Return, which I’m really excited about.
AC: Yes, I’m excited for that too. We’ve also got a few little bits, maybe something a little more contemporary in Angel of Music when Phantom’s singing. So adding stuff like that, making it a bit different, making it our own. Because we’ve got great dancers, not all of them specialise in ballet, so we’ll have that as well.
BA: Daniela, how have you used your experience, this is now your fourth Footlights show, with Footlights and musical theatre to help you with your directing?
DP: I’ve picked bits and bobs of styles of directing that I’ve enjoyed working with because I didn’t really have that much experience. All I could go by is what I enjoyed doing and so far I think its worked really nicely. With musical theatre, there’s not as much creativity as you would think in comparison to a play. If you were to direct the EUTCo Northcott show, you’ve got scope to do so much. With musical theatre, the rights kind of limit you, there’s not much you can change. So what I’m really enjoying as a director is building connections and working with the cast, making sure they’re happy and comfortable.
AC: You’ve focused a lot on everyone having their own story. Ensemble members have their own mini characters that have been created and looking at their feelings towards certain characters.
DP: I’m very adamant that musical theatre is often played off as the easy side of theatre, that you don’t often see real performances, that its just showy and fun which I totally disagree with. So my aim is to have a beautiful piece of performance as well as singing and dancing.
BA: Fred and Eoin, obviously you’re both working very closely in several different scenes with Beth, they’re very different relationships, how are you finding that?
FW: That’s what’s very key to it. We actually haven’t had a rehearsal together, which I think is really good because it will naturally build a rivalry. Weirdly in the run through was the first time I’ve ever seen any of his acting with Beth and sort of in character, I was really jealous.
DP: Yay, see that’s good!
FW: I don’t see any of his rehearsals and he won’t see any of mine properly until Footlights Week [a week of intense rehearsals that takes place during the Christmas holidays].
EM: It feels really weird because we’re both building up a relationship with Beth but very differently.
DP: In rehearsals they do beautiful things but so different. Even in the workshops, there’s incredible connections between Beth, Eoin and Fred but they are so different.
BA: And Beth, how are you finding working with them and the differing relationships between Christine and Phantom and Raoul?
BC: Working with Fred and Eoin is great. They’re both amazingly talented and also really lovely to work with which makes a world of difference, especially with such a challenging show. The dynamic between the three characters is really interesting. With the Phantom it’s very intense and passionate, it’s quite a dark connection. With Raoul it’s much more innocent. There’s a real sense of them being very right for each other. Establishing that contrast and the conflict that Christine feels is really important to the show, and it’s been a big focus for me in rehearsals so far.
BA: So what events should we be looking out for over the next few weeks?
DP: Well the biggest event is our Masquerade, ‘The Hop’, on Sunday at the Lemmy, which will be a taster of what we’ve rehearsed so far. We have some solo numbers, one group number and performances from lots of other societies. So we’ve got the Bluebells, the National Acrobats, Big Band, Tom Chard and I are both singing and so is Spotlights. We’ll be performing in Princesshay on 6th December and Tuesday 24th we have a guilt-free bake sale in the Forum. And obviously the show, which is 27th to 30th January with a matinee on the Saturday afternoon. So don’t miss an opportunity to see these wonderful people.
BA: Why should we come and see the show?
DP: Because there’s something for everyone. It’s fun, its sexy, scary. It’s got wonderful actors, incredible singers and the set so far is beautiful.
AC: It’s very visually engaging.
BC: We have a really amazing cast and production team which I feel really lucky to be part of, and the level of talent and commitment that everyone has will definitely show through in the final production.
BA: Do you have any parting comments?
AC: You should come and see it, its looking fabulous!
DP: It’s also Footlights’ thirtieth Anniversary this year so what better way to celebrate it than coming to see Phantom of the Opera.
BA: Well thank you so much for taking your time to interview. Good luck with the show!
Don’t miss out on Footlights’s upcoming events:-
Performance, Princesshay Shopping Centre- 6th December
Guilt Free Bake Sale Stall, The Forum- 6th December and Tuesday 24th The
Phantom of the Opera, Northcott Theatre- 27th to 30th January with a matinee on the Saturday afternoon.
All tickets can be purchased on the Northcott Theatre or Guild website.