With the season of ghosts and ghouls upon us, it’s only fitting that a phantom is on its way to haunt the halls of the Hippodrome Theater at France-Merrick Performing Arts Center.
Beginning Oct. 9, the Hippodrome will play host to the national tour of Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, featuring the much-lauded Derrick Davis as the title man in the mask. Davis has the distinction of being the first actor of color to take up the mantle of the Phantom on tour, and just the third to play the character in any production. After three years of portraying the iconic anti-hero, he’ll finally bring his rendition to a Baltimore stage for the first time.
We caught up with Davis ahead of the tour’s stop at the Hippodrome to talk taking on the mask, what’s new with the show, and the experiences he hopes to share with audiences both new and returning.
Tell me a bit about the tour so far. Obviously Phantom is a huge draw for theater crowds anywhere.
Yeah, it’s been absolutely amazing. I’ve had such a good time. First of all, the cast that I’m working with is really second to none, in my opinion. It’s such a close-knit family, and it definitely shows on the state. But being part of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece has just been a game changer, not just because I can say I played The Phantom, but because being a part of something that is so strong in content just really changed my life completely.
What has it been like for you taking on the role of such an iconic character?
It was daunting at first, I’m not gonna lie. I mean, there’s only a certain amount of men who have gotten the privilege to don the mask. But once I met the creative team and got past the audition process, getting into an understanding of the character has been such a joy. The murdering and the seemingly womanizing behavior aside, he is so human that it’s frightening sometimes when I’m playing him. But it’s my pleasure to be able to give the audience a glimpse into themselves while looking at this creature of an individual. It’s been a roller coaster ride.
The Phantom is sort of what someone could become after a series of worst case scenarios. It must be an interesting headspace to get into.
That’s the fun part about it really, because if you just dial it down and dig deep enough to find the base level of who he is as a a human being, he’s not far different from any of us. He’s just experienced a lot of rejection, a lot of unrequited love, a passion for his craft—things like that everybody can relate to. But you couple that with a lifetime of people shunning him, ostracizing him, mocking him, jeering at him, and everything like that, then it pushes humanity to a place that really is just not human.
Why do you think this particular show persists and connects with people so much?
First it’s the brilliant music. The melodies are so simple and they’re almost like a lullaby in some places. But then the orchestration of the music is so lush and emotion-packed that it’s something that you would go back to over and over. But beyond that, the spectacle is unmatched. The beauty of the costumes by Maria Björnson and just the staging design and the lighting are so incredibly captivating that it just brings the audience back over and over and over. And, of course, who doesn’t love a good love triangle?
The Hippodrome Foundation brings Baltimore-area students in for matinees, and for many of them your production of Phantom will be their first Broadway show. What do you hope to bring to those audiences?
I would love for them to have the same experience with this production that I had with this production. This is the first show that my parents took me to see as a kid, and it locked in my love for musical theater. So I hope when they walk away, they are so dumbfounded that they can’t speak for a moment, and that they take the time to digest it. Much like all the great stories of our world, people come back to it again and again. You see it as a child and it’s one thing, you see it as a teenager and it’s another thing. So I hope that they take away a fresh perspective, but a perspective that will bring them back to see it again.
What can people expect from this particular version of the performance?
Technology has made incredible advances in the 30-plus years that the show has been around, so I want them to know that, while this is an older story, the technology is certainly advanced. We’ve advanced the lighting design and the sound design. We bring our own surround sound systems to every theater that we go to, and it takes a huge crew of men and women to set that up. And then this is a newer set design, so we’re taking a darker, more gritty approach to the show. It’s an action-adventure, it’s a love story. There’s literally something for everybody. So if anybody’s on the fence about coming to see it, I would say come see it for sure. And everybody who’s excited to come to see it, you prepare to be completely blown away.