With the upcoming work amateur theatre premier of Phantom of The Opera taking place next week, we thought we'd catch up with CLOC's leading man to get the gossip on this stunning production.
TP: When was the first time you saw Phantom?
Toby: The first time I listened to Phantom of the Opera had more of an impact on me than the first time I saw it to be honest. My mother and father bought the original cast recording (on tape back in those days!). Being someone who was easily entertained by “Some Mothers Do ‘ave‘em”, I remember being fascinated that Michael Crawford was singing this role. It was probably my first real connection to musical theatre and certainly the first ever musical soundtrack I had ever listened to. I realise now that I must not have listened much to the second tape as, even now, Act Two of the show doesn’t feel as familiar! I first saw the show when Anthony Warlow made his return to the stage in the role in 2007. Having held Mr Warlow on a musical theatre pedestal for a number of years, I was very excited to see him in the show and in this role. His vocal control was, and continues to be, quite phenomenal which is particularly important in the show given the many changes of tone and range of emotion the Phantom experiences.
TP: What made you want to audition for Phantom?
Toby: There are very few shows that are left on the “must do” list I have had in my head for a number years. Phantom of the Opera, and the role of the Phantom, is undoubtedly high on this list. Having worked with CLOC on many shows previously, appreciating the calibre of the creative team assembled for the show, and the reputation the company has for bringing together the best performing talent across Melbourne, I had absolute confidence that this was a show I wanted to be a part of. The timing was interesting though – my wife, Bree, and I are expecting our second child in the weeks after the show closes. Needless to say I had to get Bree’s blessing before putting my name down to audition! Thankfully she was very supportive and I was lucky enough to be cast.
TP: What will audiences take away from this production?
Toby: Regular CLOC patrons will already know the calibre that they can expect when they go to see any CLOC show, so they will no doubts come with to Phantom with high expectations – and I am confident they will not be disappointed. However, with the popularity of Phantom as a show, and in particular, this production being a premiere, many new people will also be seeing a CLOC show (and possibly an amateur show) for the first time. For them, this will be an extra special discovery, as they will realize not only that amateur theatre in Melbourne is of such high quality but also that CLOC shows are comparable to seeing professional theatre at a fraction of the cost.
TP: How does the CLOC version differ from previous professional productions?
Toby: This is director Chris Bradtke’s 13th show as director for CLOC, and he has been at the helm of many of their big blockbuster premieres (Les Mis, Miss Saigon, The Boy from Oz, Sunset Boulevard to name a few). Chris seems to bring the best out of these shows, as he knows how to surround himself with a first class production team who can translate his vision into an onstage reality and he also knows how to walk a fine line between meeting people’s expectations when they come to see a well loved classic of musical theatre, while still putting his own stamp on a reimagining of the original. I think he has succeeded doing this brilliantly with this production.
TP: What's your favourite moment in the show?
My favourite moment in the show is in the Manager’s Office which leads into “Prima Donna”. In my opinion, this is Andrew LloydWebber at his best. The scene is highly entertaining – comical, musically exhilarating, tight harmonies and some performances from our cast that steal the show! On a personal note, I dearly love the final scenes and the emotional journey the Phantom experiences in that time. I am so fortunate to being playing opposite such a talented Christine (Laura Slavin) who has been so patient with me as we’ve workshopped those scenes together.
TP: What have you found most challenging about playing the Phantom?
Toby: It is hard to articulate what has been the most challenging aspect of playing the Phantom as it has been challenging in so many ways. Musically it takes me to either end of my vocal range (ALW certainly doesn’t make it easy for the singers in this show!), the vocal characterisations are very important given the Phantom is often heard but not seen, and of course the dynamic range the Phantom has to portray throughout the show ensuring the audience is both horrified by his actions, yet sympathetic to him and his cause. A likeable homicidal maniac?
TP: How have you prepared for this iconic role?
Toby: Despite both the show and the role of the Phantom being very well known, I have resisted the urge to watch the multiple performances of the Andrew Lloyd Webber show available. I very much wanted to discover all the moments in the show myself and bring my own choices (under the guidance of the Director, Chris Bradtke, and the Musical Director, Andy McCalman) to the role rather than just falling back on what has “been done before”. The role is demanding vocally so I have had to be more careful than usual in my preparation in that regard. Fortunately, 2 of our cast are also highly sought after Speech Therapists (Samantha Du Rennes & Nicole Free) and have been on hand to give me some excellent advice – who knew you should warm down vocally after rehearsal?! Our amazing costume department (led by Nerissa Saville) and make-up team (led by Louise Jenkins) have ensured that I have had the important elements of my costume available to me, including the iconic mask, which has also really helped.
Phantom of the opera opens on the 10th of May