What's the most popular musical in Broadway history? It's not Cats. It's not Les Miserables. It's not even the Lion King.
Who's the sexiest sewer-diving, mask-wearing music geek? It's the Phantom of the Opera, obviously. The old Andrew Lloyd Webber classic has been performed more than 10,000 times, but when it hits the Broward Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, it'll be something you've never seen before.
A whole new cast of creatives put their touch on the same songs and characters you've come to adore. We spoke with Julia Udine, who made her touring debut in this production as Christine, to learn what makes this interpretation so special, what it's like living out of two suitcases for a year, and how she plans to take over Broadway.
New Times: Where is the tour right now?
Julia Udine: We are in New Orleans right now. It's a really cool city. Then we come to Fort Lauderdale. It's so exciting.
I heard this is your touring debut?
Yes, it is. I've been on it for about a year now. Actually, Fort Lauderdale will be my last stop, and then I'll go on to make my Broadway debut in this show, so I'm superexcited.
Where had you been performing previously?
I had just been auditioning for quite a while, pounding the pavement. I was doing community theater productions in New York and New Jersey where I'm from, and then I was in an off-off-Broadway show. This is the biggest production that I've ever done before.
What challenges has this brought you? What kind of things have you learned from your year on the road?
I feel like I've grown so much in this show. Just learning how to travel and also do a show at the same time has been the biggest learning experience and the biggest challenge, also.
The stress of traveling for a year, only having two suitcases, not getting sick, and trying to be healthy. All of those things combined with the stress of the show and entering a new theater, figuring out the backstage of the new theater, and all of those things combined have been a huge challenge but also very exciting. I think that it's something that helps keep the show fresh. After doing the same show eight times a week for a year, it can sometimes feel stale. I think the traveling and going to new theaters definitely helps keep it fresh, keeps us on our toes.
This is the Broadway production of Phantom, right?
OK, so, yes, this is the Phantom that everyone knows and loves, but this show is actually reinvented. We have a brand-new director, new choreographer. Our creative team is just totally different. It's the same story, the same music, and of course, Cameron Mackintosh is still producing it, but it's completely new, and it's something audiences have never seen before. If you've seen Phantom a million times, you have not seen this production of Phantom. It looks completely different, and we've been able to approach the characters in a new way, so it's really exciting.
Phantom is one of those musicals that is just so beloved that people do see it often. I've seen it at least twice.
It's definitely a classic musical, and I think that's why it's been so successful for so long. The story is so relatable, and the music is absolutely gorgeous. It keeps pleasing audiences every year, but I think it's been really cool for our cast because we haven't had the pressure to imitate the performances that have been done before us or the production that's being done on Broadway right now. We haven't felt the pressure of trying to do the same thing. We've been able to give it fresh, new life and explore it for ourselves, bring our new looks into the characters.
Is there a scene or part of the performance you look forward to each night?
The famous song "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again." That's definitely my favorite part of the show. Every night, even if I'm having an off night, when that comes up, I'm like "OK, here's my chance to turn the show around." Or just, it kind of whisks me up a little bit. I think it's Christine's peak in the show, at least vocally. The song itself is such an emotional journey as well that's it's really easy to connect with it, no matter what kind of day I'm having.
That's an interesting perspective as well. What goes through your mind when you're on stage? At some point, does it just become muscle memory? Are you very conscious of what's happening; are you superaware of what's happening?
It's very easy to fall into the trap of it becoming only muscle memory and not really being conscious, just going through the motions. But I think it's our job as the actors in the show, and as the storytellers, to stay very present and to stay conscious.
I try my hardest every night to be present onstage and still connect with my fellow actors, to stay completely conscious with what's happening onstage, because that's when things go wrong. As soon as you feel too comfortable and then you fall into that trap, things go wrong. It's definitely a good show. It's so well-written that you can, every night, be present and completely snap into the mode of the characters. The lyrics are so beautiful, and they're so complicated in a way that you find new things in them every night.
When did you first see Phantom?
I saw Phantom when I was like 13 years old, I think. I went with my whole family, and it definitely affected me. I loved the show, and I loved the music. I remember in my voice lessons when I was really young singing these songs, so it's definitely a show that I think has made a difference in my life. I never in a million years thought I would be playing Christine, but I'm superexcited to be. I definitely connected with her from a very young age, because Christine is a dancer, and I'm a dancer. I started when I was 3 years old, and I think having that same mindset helps me connect with the role.
You must be looking forward to the Broadway stop.
I am because, like I said, doing this production for a whole year, I've been able to put my stamp on the role and do my thing. Our director has been so encouraging, as far as the reinvention of this show, and I'm excited to go back to the classic and see what that has in store for me. It's not the final stop of the production tour, but it's the final stop for me. Come see me before I go!
Do you have any expectations about the area?
I have heard so many wonderful things about the Broward Center. I'm so excited to play there. I've heard it's a beautiful theater, and also I have family in West Palm Beach and Delray, so I'm excited because all of those people down there will have the chance to see me before I leave. I'm excited to spend some time with some family.
Some familiar faces.
Absolutely. It can get hard sometimes not seeing them for months at a time.
Anything else you want to say or mention?
Just come see it. We've such a talented cast, and it's such a beautiful show. I think that audiences are in for a treat.
Phantom of the Opera, times vary, November 19 to November 30, at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets start at $34.75. Visit browardcenter.org.
Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.
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