Las Vegas is a city in the middle of the desert. What implications does this have for your voice?
I’ve worked in New York, London, Toronto, LA, Florida, Calgary, Chicago… all of them have different difficult weather patterns, but nothing compares to this. It’s part of the old ‘legend of the Vegas throat,’ or desert throat – which is indeed a reality. You’re coping with a combination of extreme heat, extreme cold, dust, wind and pollen – so you’re fighting constantly.
I have an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist) that is on call and if I have any kind of a problem, I’m able to call him. I take a series of medications to combat the allergies that I have. It’s a challenge – you just try and take care of yourself as best you can. There’s a small humidifier in my dressing room and three at home – and you have to learn to hydrate (drink water) constantly.
How does Las Vegas compare with the other cities and continents you have played in?
It is like no other city. It’s just a constant turnover of different people, and it makes for this sort of crazy profile.
I also work as a writer and I was compiling some statistics as to who was in town at a moment in time as far as entertainment goes and who you could potentially access on short notice. I drew up a list during the months of November and December – and that list was astonishing. Vegas draws a myriad of people and celebrities from all different walks of life that have had a good amount of media exposure. For example right now we have the Miss America contest, so there are all these young hopefuls in town who came to see the show last night.
So you can have Miss America now, and at other times you have rappers and musical artists … and at the beginning of January we had the AVN convention, which is the one time of year that the pornography industry gathers here! Other times we have all kinds of electronics conventions that will come into town…you have celebrities, you have athletes … I mean it is a variance of all these, and different nationalities as well. You have the rodeo in town to, the cowboys and their wives will descend on the city en mass.
Do the Las Vegas audience react differently to the show compared with other cities you have played in?
Yes, to a certain degree. Shows that don’t have words here, like the Cirque du Soleil shows or the Blue Man Group, tend to have longer extended runs. But with a show like Phantom there’s a universality to it that crosses language borders. Obviously there’s opera in the content. It’s like listening to Puccini or Wagner. A multi-national audience is not concerned with understanding the words as much as they are enjoying the story-line, the melodic content, listening to the singers and their technique. And specifically with this production as well, the spectacle that is involved. You have Andrew Lloyd Webber and Harold Prince allowed to, if you will, ‘run wild’ with a ‘fantasy production’ and a much larger budget, thus producing something you would never see, for a myriad of reasons, in New York or London or on the road.
Is that because here it was possible to build a venue specifically for this production?
Exactly. For instance, with all other productions of Phantom the opera boxes were never part of the permanent structure – but here in Las Vegas they are. There are pyrotechnic effects that you could never get away with in another city because specific fire laws outside of Vegas would not allow it. The chandelier, which was originally 6 feet tall in London and on Broadway and weighing I imagine a couple of hundred pounds at the very most – here we have a chandelier that is 2 stories tall, assembles before your eyes, operated by 32 winches. And when it descends you feel a breeze in the theatre because it’s travelling at 35 mph inside the building – THAT’S what modern technology can do!
Going back to the point of not seeing this on the road or in London or New York – in order just to achieve the chandelier affect you have to have gear mechanisms and winches that are built into the bedrock of the building. There are beautiful theatres in London and New York, but will those old structures support a 2100 pound chandelier? Most likely not, and i imagine nobody’s going to take a chance to find out. Even with road companies, they might play brand new theatre, but they’re going in as a temporary production. So the Phantom Theatre here is the only place where you will see this type of production and spectacle – that’s part of what makes it so wonderful.
How did you start out in your acting career?
Well, I’ll begin this story with my association with Hal Prince. That was critical to my career. I had started in Chicago with a road company of Evita. as “Che.” I was plucked out of that company by Hal Prince and brought to Broadway to star in Evita there. About 10 years later Hal [Prince] was casting a new show entitled Kiss of the Spiderwoman and at the time it was suggested to him to have me play Valentin. A workshop production was previously done and it had less than stellar results with not much hope to proceed. At the time Garth Drabinsky saw that workshop, and he was the one who seized the opportunity and said, “I think there’s potential here.” He got on board and they recast the leads. Eventually we opened in Toronto, and then opened in the West End at the Shaftesbury Theatre, and then on to Broadway. We won Seven Tony Awards, I was fortunate enough to receive one of them. And that was all a direct result of working with Hal Prince.
Subsequently I had decided I was going to leave the Broadway production of Kiss, and at that point Hal had said to me, “you know Tony, at some point we have to get you playing “the Phantom.” And I said, “Hal, I think that sounds a great idea and I would love to have the opportunity.” Then… over the next 11 years, correspondence between Hal and myself looking for the right opportunity… and 12 years later – here I am. Mr. Prince is indeed a man of his word.
I’ve worked with some wonderful, wonderful directors and had some great opportunities from Trevor Nunn, John Caird, John Rando, Graciella Danielle, Des McAnuff, Lynne Taylor Corbett, Mark Lamos, Gary Griffin, David Lee, Christopher Renshaw, Hugh Wooldridge, Arthur Allan Seidelman…and I could go on and on and on, there’s so many of them. And I’ve had wonderful opportunities… but the consistent biggest opportunities have been with Hal … and there’s no doubt with Evita as a launching pad, Kiss of the Spiderwoman and now Phantom – these are three tremendous opportunities.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
Without a doubt, Hal Prince. This is my third production with Hal, this is my second with Lord Lloyd Webber. The productions that I did with Andrew and Hal are big. The first milestone was ‘Che’ in Evita – on tour and then on Broadway. And I was fortunate enough to receive some wonderful notices, specifically from Frank Rich, the main critic from the NY Times at the time. Mr. Rich had garnered the moniker “The Butcher of Broadway.” Personally I disagree. But there was a certain amount of fear when the Broadway company of Evita was about to be re-reviewed. Initially Frank had not given the greatest of reviews to the show so there was a certain amount of fear with the replacements. But with the re-review, he felt that many aspects of the production had improved, and he was very complimentary to me and my performance. At the time he called me “the best Che to have ever stepped on a stage in New York and London.”
Of all the cities that you’ve played in, what’s your favourite?
There are many favourites for different reasons. Obviously New York City and Broadway is the ultimate experience, as was London and the West End. I have a special fondness for both of those cities because of the profile, because of the theatre communities there, because I have so many friends in both of those cities.
I cut my theatrical teeth in Chicago and I go back to Chicago repeatedly for work. It’s a great theatre town and there’s wonderful companies there and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the likes of The Goodman Theatre and the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, who have received recognition and Tony Awards. I have come within inches of working with Steppenwolf, it just hasn’t quite materialized, but somewhere along the line … who knows it may. And there are so many other wonderful theatre companies there of different sizes. But those are the 3 cities that have a special meaning to me as far as theatre goes.