Thursday, 22 September 2011

Phantom of the Opera's 25th Anniversary & Interview with former Christine, AJ Callaghan

Welcome back to Access London and Thank You once again for supporting disability access and awareness in the Capital.

Access London has been running a special series of posts over the last month or so in the lead up to Phantom of the Opera's 25th Anniversary celebrations in October. Thank You to everyone for your kind comments on the posts and access information provided and also your feedback on the interviews - although these Thank You messages go to all the lovely cast members who have given their time to answering the questions. These posts will continue throughout the Anniversary month of October. To read past interviews and posts, please scroll down.

The anniversary concerts are being held at The Royal Albert Hall on the 1st and 2nd October. The majority of the tickets have now been sold but I believe there may still be a few available - although be warned, they may well be in the higher price bracket of around £250! If you are looking for accessible seating, your best bet is to call the dedicated access line at the Hall on 020 7070 4410 as there may be some accessible seats available at a more reasonable price. You can also use this number to pre-book one of the Hall's disabled parking bays to be able to park for free from up to 2 hours before a performance.

The Hall has its own Access Scheme which allows you to register your details and requirements so that the access box office can better assist you in booking seats for you and your companion/carer. For most events at the Hall (including Phantom 25), a companion/carer can go in for free with every full paying disabled visitor. Prices will differ depending on where you are sitting and which event you are going to see. For more information and to register for the Access Scheme, please contact the access box office line on 020 7070 4410. For all other ticket types, please call the main box office on 0845 401 5034. All of the restaurants and bars are accessible at the Hall for those using a wheelchair or scooter. These must be booked in advance of any event and tables can be booked from 2 hours before the performance. For wheelchair and scooter users, again please use the access box office line to book a table and make enquiries to any of the restaurants at the Hall on 020 7070 4410.

Throughout this series of posts we've been lucky enough to bring you interviews with current and former Phantom cast members and today is no different. We're delighted to share with you an interview with former Christine, AJ Callaghan. Access London would like to take this opportunity to say a huge Thank You to AJ for her support and taking the time out to answer the questions.

AL: You were involved with Phantom of the Opera between 2001 and 2004 playing cover, alternate and stand-by Christine Daae. Why did you choose to stay with the production for that amount of time?
AJ: Initially I was hired as first cover Christine for which I completed two nine month contracts. I was then asked back as the alternate for a few months in 2003. It wasn’t until 2004 that I went back as standby Christine. At the time I was actually in Les Miserables, they needed someone to standby, as both the Christine’s at the time were ill. It was brilliant going back to the show and rehearsing Christine again but unfortunately I didn’t get to actually perform.

AL: Now approaching its 25th birthday in London, why do you think that Phantom has been the worldwide success it has?
AJ: For me personally it is the marriage of characters. The love story of Christine and Raoul but also the bittersweet twist of the Phantom and what he brings to the dynamic of the relationship. On the one hand you have this wonderful relationship between Christine and Raoul, which is the typical princess finding her prince analogy and then darkly underlying this is the parallel story of the tortured soul of the Phantom. Reflecting on this from an audience perspective, the story helps the audience relate on a personal level, as it takes a journey from innocence through to broken dreams and aspirations as we watch the characters develop, change and grow. I also think it taps into the every day psych of the fact we all love an underdog and those whose story is so much more challenging than the norm. Then of course, this inter cut with the relationships, twists and turns is a great story set to the most beautiful and incredible score, although quite dark in places it is still a very romantic piece.

AL: Who played opposite you as The Phantom and Raoul?
AJ: I was very fortunate to have two very talented, incredibly supportive and very lovely Phantoms in John Owen Jones and Richard Halton, who was the standby. Equally, my Raoul’s were just as good in Matt Cammelle, who later went on to play the Phantom, and Rob Finlayson. When I returned as standby in 2004 I was lucky to rehearse with Ramin Karimloo, with whom I was later to work with in Les Miserables.

AL: When you were the alternate Christine, are you still involved with the show on the nights you aren't playing her or are you free to pursue other projects?
AJ: As alternate you perform two shows a week. However, each day you are on standby until 3pm, but the company manager will try to let you know as soon as possible if you are performing. When the main Christine is on holiday, as alternate you take over her six shows and the first cover performs your two, which is great as first cover as you are guaranteed to perform the role within the contract.

AL: What was your favourite song/scene to perform in the show and why?
AJ: Christine was my ideal role and part of what helped me decide to choose a career in musical theatre. ‘Think of me’ is a beautiful song to perform as it’s the first time the audience hears Christine sing, starting from a shy nervous ballet girl to a blossoming future opera star by the end of the song. There are many individual lines in the show I particularly enjoyed, ‘and through music my soul began to soar’ on the roof top to where Christine grows in confidence as she questions Carlotta with ‘how dare you’ in the build up to ‘the point of no return’. Christine is confused as she questions her love for Raoul and begins to understand the deeper thoughts of the Phantom with ‘twisted everyway.' I particularly like this as it’s the point in the show we see Christine take a shift from the innocent ingĂ©nue to a more mature persona. Ultimately, I loved the final scene, for me, this is the most emotive, passionate and intelligent we see Christine. Her journey has finished and no longer is she scared or naive. I would say she is actually, by the end of the show, the strongest character and shows the audience she has lost all fear of the Phantom and his hold over her and realised her love for him was a confused manifestation of love for her father who she deeply misses. She is now free to love Raoul as she understands he is the one she truly loves, this is highlighted as she finally, and freely, kisses the Phantom goodbye. It really is such an incredibly powerful and poignant scene.

AL: The song 'Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again' is an iconic moment in the show for Christine. What do you believe she is feeling and thinking at this time?
AJ: During this scene Christine takes a very compelling internalised, personal journey. At first she is facing her demons of the Phantom, questioning who he is and why he is there, this soon becomes more significant as she realises she is talking to her father. She has spent so long wanting to see and hear him she has convinced herself the Phantom is an angel sent in a metaphysical manifestation of him. Upon realising this by the end of the song she has freed herself from the Phantom’s clutches by acknowledging finally her father is dead and that she has to go on with out him, thereby engaging finally in her internal strength to face the Phantom and become the force in the situation.

AL: Phantom has many special effects and technical elements in it. Do you have a tale to tell of a mishap or something funny happening during a show?
AJ: One time, the trap doors were open due to a malfunction during the second managers scene. Whilst reading the score walking in circles and singing, I could hear someone in the wing calling out to me, I saw stage management telling me don’t walk straight downstage as the trap door was open. I had to take a strange convoluted route around the stage in order to confront Carlotta which lead to many smirks and hidden laughter by the other cast members and probably confused the audience as to what exactly I was doing.

AL: If you could choose any other female character to play in Phantom, apart from Christine, who would it be and why?
AJ: Definitely Carlotta, she has a fiery and passionate personality which is a great contrast to Christine, they are like Ying and Yang. Christine the calm and intelligent thoughtful one and Carlotta the wild and passionate one, its almost the other side of the same character and would be very interesting to visit the role with this in mind having played Christine. She has some great numbers in the show and her costumes are truly outstanding. Nan Christie was my Carlotta and at the same height as me, 5ft, proved in her fantastic portrayal that Carlotta can be larger than life and a noticeable character regardless of height through portraying the passion and understanding deserved of the role.

AL: Phantom has had many successful productions staged worldwide. If you could choose to perform as Christine anywhere in the world outside of London, where would it be and why?
AJ: Obviously being Welsh my first place would be Cardiff; I would like to bring the character home for the Welsh audiences. Other than Wales, the Netherlands, I love the country and spend a lot of time there. As I am also learning Dutch I would love to sing the role in another language, which would probably bring a whole new dimension to my character analysis and portrayal and could prove a very interesting challenge. Having worked in Sweden and other countries, I know audience reaction changes from country to country so it would also be interesting to see how the reactions to the show form a different perspective to the characterisation.

AL: Do you have a Birthday Message for Phantom and its fans?
AJ: Well obviously to say happy 25th birthday and hope it will live for many more. I also would like to add how wonderful it is that the amateur rights have been released for schools and amateur groups taking the show to a whole new audience for future generations. May it live on for a very long time with new and renewed energy and interpretations! See you at the 50th!

Again, a huge Thank You to AJ for answering the questions, I hope you enjoyed reading them. AJ will be performing in the 25th Anniversary Concerts next weekend. She is also in the current London cast of Les Miserables at The Queens Theatre in ensemble and cover for Fantine until 16th June 2012, so make sure you go and see her perform there also. The cast of Les Mis are also performing a charity concert on Thursday 8th December called Les Mis Gives at Christmas in the Delfont Room at the Prince of Wales Theatre, tickets will go on sale soon.

Remember that the Phantom 25th Concert on 2nd October will be broadcast across cinemas in the UK and worldwide so check with your local cinema to see if it is being shown there. There will also be a DVD and CD release in November. Plus, you can always book tickets to see it at Her Majestys. Please note: There will be no performances at Her Majestys on Friday 30th September and Saturday 1st October because of the anniversary celebrations. Also, as of the beginning of November, the mid-week matinee performance will be on Thursday and not Tuesday!

COMING SOON: The Globe Tour and Exhibition, Priscilla, Les Mis, Billy Elliot, more from Phantom 25 with interviews....

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