by Kevin Shaw | photos by Joan Marcus
After more than 30 years, The Phantom of the Opera is still playing to sold-out houses on Broadway. It is easily the longest running show in the history of Broadway with no signs of slowing down anytime soon (if ever)! For those fans who just can’t get enough of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lush and tragic opera, a sequel has been created by Mr. Lloyd Webber that takes place 10 years after the first in which the Phantom has escaped from Paris to Coney Island as he hides out with the “freaks” at the fair while still longing for the love of his protégé, Christine Daae. Coming to the Orpheum September 4th through September 9th is Love Never Dies starring Bronson Norris Murphy as the Phantom in this North American premier tour. Mr. Murphy has played nine (9) different roles in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and was willing to talk to Focus Magazine by phone during his run of the tour in Kansas City.
Focus: How long have you been on the road with this production?
Murphy: We started rehearsing this show exactly one year ago, yesterday.
Focus: Have you been playing the Phantom this entire tour?
Murphy: No, actually I started out in the ensemble while alternating as the Phantom twice a week. Then moved into the principal position 2-3 months ago.
Focus: How does it feel to be doing it full-time now?
Murphy: It’s great! I have a nice history with this show.
Focus: This show had a successful run in the West End in London.
Murphy: Well, this exact production did not. The original production of Lover Never Dies was very different than the production we now have on tour. That production was sort of “left alone” after it closed on the West End and Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted another production for its debut in Australia, which is the version we have on tour now. This production was born in Australia, then went on to play in Japan and in Germany before making its U.S. premier here.
Focus: Any idea why producers of this show decided to send it out on a national tour before opening it in New York on Broadway?
Murphy: Perhaps because audiences weren’t too aware of the fact that there’s a sequel. We are kind of doing things backwards in that we’re trying to build a fan base across the country and then hopefully open it on Broadway. Of course, that’s not been determined or guaranteed yet. I think Lloyd Webber just wanted to get this work to the United States and wanted to take it to everyone’s backyard rather than making everyone go to New York to see it.
Focus: You’ve been a part of the original The Phantom of the Opera for a long time.
Murphy: Yes. I was in the Broadway production for three years and then was offered a role in this tour. So, I was doing the Broadway show at night while rehearsing the tour during the day.
Focus: Do you have formal training in opera?
Murphy: My background is actually in music education. I was studying to be a music teacher at Western Kentucky University. I’m from Bowling Green. I wanted to get my Master’s Degree and get my certification so I want to New York University because I always loved Broadway musical theatre. I studied voice and got a Master’s Degree in music and then started auditioning. I luckily fell into the Andrew Lloyd Webber family by going out on the national tour of Cats before getting into The Phantom of the Opera.
Focus: Have you gotten a chance to meet Mr. Lloyd Webber?
Murphy: Oh yes! He was a large part of our tech process for this tour and he was at our opening night show. I was playing the role of the Phantom on opening night because the original actor was ill, so I stepped in and opened the show for a while before he came back.
Focus: How was it to play the Phantom in front of him?
Murphy: To say it was nerve-wracking would be an understatement. But, I knew he had faith in me and the team that put me in the role had faith in me, so I just kind of rode their train of faith. He seemed to enjoy it. One of the biggest treats was that he released his biography soon after we opened and he said one of his favorite nights in the theatre was our opening night of Love Never Dies. I take that with great respect that he would say something like that!
Focus: How long will this production be out on tour?
Murphy: We run through December 2nd of this year. There are still hopes that this show will go to Broadway, but if that doesn’t pan out, the show is selling really well so we all hope there’s a further life for it.
Focus: The audiences are coming out?
Murphy: Oh yeah! We have enormous fan base just based on the original production of the show. All those people want to see what happens to the Phantom 10 years later. So they all show up in droves. Our fan base is huge!
Focus: I guess it’s a “given” that people are going to compare this sequel with the original. How does it compare?
Murphy: I always tell people if you know The Phantom of the Opera, you’re going to feel at home, but even if you’ve never seen it, that shouldn’t stop you from coming because, from start to finish, we are a whole story that doesn’t rely on any knowledge of the previous incarnation. Everything you need to know is told to you within the confines of our show. As for comparing it, it’s really “apples and oranges.” I don’t know that there’s really a comparison.
Focus: Are there any songs in this production that were heard in the original?
Murphy: There are some melodies that carry over. We call them little “ear worms.” There are little touches from the original score, but not full songs. It’s in the underscoring or new lyrics. Lots of hidden “Easter eggs.”
Focus: Is this a darker story than the first?
Murphy: You know I’ve never been asked that. As you know, the original takes place at the Paris Opera House so that kind of lends itself to a darker tone than our story which takes place on Coney Island. But then again, we’re in a freak show, so you have all these oddities which may make it equally as dark. Our show is a lot more “sparkly” in that we have thousands of lights in the set and on a rotating stage. It’s a grand design. It’s a whole new world under the guise of a freak show at the Coney Island fair. I don’t know that I would call it darker.
Focus: How do you keep your voice in shape night after night?
Murphy: I rest all day—watching tv and answering fan mail, etc. It’s vocally a very demanding show. The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera is onstage a total of only about 20-23 minutes, while I tease that I am lucky to have 23 minutes offstage.
Focus: Do you like touring?
Murphy: I love it! I love hotels and not having to endure the New York subway! I love driving places and all the little things you can’t do in New York City. New York is convenient, but also a hassle. On the road, you can live a bit more of a normal life.
Focus: Anything else you want to make sure fans know about Love Never Dies?
Murphy: Come on and see the show whether you know The Phantom of the Opera or not because it’s really a cool, beautiful story about seeing beauty (what’s on the inside versus what’s on the outside) and that’s a timeless tale. We tell this story in a unique way and it’s a story that everyone needs to hear.