A New, One-Of-A-Kind 'Phantom' Swoops Into Palace

"The Phannnnntom of the opera is therrrrree…"

Oh, and over here as well.

It's important to know that the tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" coming to the Palace in Waterbury for 16 performances Nov. 15 to 26 is a completely different production that's been running on Broadway for the past 28 years. The touring show has a different director, a different design and even a different acting style.

Yes, that stirring, spooky score is the same, as is the story (based on the 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux). If you've already made the obligatory trip to New York to see the chandelier fall, you should still think about checking out the "Phantom" while it's in Connecticut.

Seth Sklar-Heyn, the associate director of this new tour and also the production supervisor for the long-running Broadway production of "The Phantom of the Opera,"says that the "Phantom" you'll see in Waterbury is unlike what you may recall from the Broadway production.

"The physical world we inhabit is different. The pulse is different," he suggests. "I make it my mission to hire people who haven't done this show before. This is absolutely a different production than you would see in New York. It's the only one of its kind in the world."

Sklar-Heyn, a native of West Hartford who attended Hall High School and served as an usher at The Bushnell, saw the tour as "an opportunity to take the source material and put it through a new lens. We were able to ask the question 'What if we were able to look at the Phantom as a real man? In Hal Prince's [Broadway] production, he exists in a heightened, stylized way. With this new production, he's grounded in naturalism."

The tour is directed by Laurence Connor, who directed the tours of "Les Miserables" and "School of Rock" that just visited The Bushnell. Sklar-Heyn says that Connor is "brave enough, in these huge environments, to take on one or two people and play a scene with sensitivity and immediacy."

"I had to learn a whole new show," says Kristie Dale Sanders, in a phone interview from a "Phantom" tour stop in Philadelphia.

Sanders plays Madame Giry, the ballet choreographer who seems to have a mysterious connection to the lurking Phantom. Sanders played the same role on Broadway. She's one of very few performers to have done both Harold Prince's Broadway production and the newer Connor version.

"It headtripped me for a couple of days there," she says, laughing. "They've even changed some of the lyrics."

"My history with 'Phantom' goes back about 10 years," Sanders says. "I was in it on Broadway for three and a half years on and off, as a swing" — the member of the ensemble who's able to cover numerous roles if one of the other performers has to take time off. Sanders later played the role of Madame Giry exclusively.

"Four years ago," she says, "I saw they were doing a brand new production, so I auditioned but I didn't get it. They told me it was because they didn't want people who'd done the show before, but maybe they were just saying that to be nice. Then I auditioned again, and here I am."

She joined the tour in July, around the same time as Eva Tavares, who currently plays the heroine Christine. The Phantom is played by Derrick Davis. There are 38 actors and 14 musicians on the tour.

"They made it very clear that they didn't want me to do Madame Giry the way I had done it before. Seth [Sklar-Heyn] sat me down and told me what he wanted me to let go of it. I never smiled as Madame Giry on Broadway. I actually smile in this one."

Don't get the wrong idea from that remark; Sanders says "this one is a little bit grittier than the Broadway one. It's a brand new interpretation of a show that's been around for 30 years. As an actor, you don't want to always be doing the same thing. I enjoy the challenge. This time, it really feels like my character. I got to decide a lot of it."

There may be a new sense of intimacy and personal interaction, but the touring "Phantom of the Opera" also has all the spectacle audiences expect.

"The set is amazing," Sanders says. "When I first saw it, I was like, Wow!"

"Absolutely there's a chandelier, and it does more now than it's ever done before on the road," Sklar-Heyn says. "We take advantage of technology that didn't exist 30 years ago. One of the reasons behind this tour was to meet expectations, and maintain the scale of the show, but get in and out of theaters faster."

To justify the expense and effort, previous tours have had to settle into theaters for weeks at a time. When a tour of the Harold Prince production played The Bushnell in 2009, it ran for three weeks. This new tour will be in Waterbury for 11 days.

"This tour can't play The Bushnell," Sklar-Heyn says. "It can't fit there. Waterbury is the only way to play this region. We also need to bring this production to new audiences. It's thrilling to be able to have it in a venue such as the Palace. It's a gorgeous theater."

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is at the Palace Theater, 100 East Main St., Waterbury, Nov. 15 to 26. Performances are Monday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 p.m.; with added matinees Nov. 16 at 1 p.m., Nov. 24 and 25 at 2 p.m. and a Sunday evening performance at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 19. Tickets are $58 to $136. 203-346-2000 and palacetheaterct.org.

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