As The Phantom of the Opera approaches, Rowan has a chance to catch up with the director and cast from Exeter University’s Musical Theatre Society ‘Footlights’, about weird warm up routines, cast divas and challenges they have had to face so far…
A chat with Daniela Goldaracena Parkes (Director)
What made you decide to take on Phantom?
I wasn’t too keen on Phantom of the Opera prior so seeing it on the West End. However, after I saw it live in the summer I fell in love with the complex love triangle between Phantom, Christine and Raoul. I realised that Phantom is a wonderful show that both showcases brilliant vocal talent as well as an actors ability to develop and create incredibly distinct characters. It is also such a spectacle and what better show to do to mark Footlights’ 30th anniversary.
Are you sticking to the traditional Phantom or are you putting your own twist on it?
Musicals tend to not vary a great deal however it is of course not a replica of the original stage production. Our budget is slightly different from the original West End productions which influences a great deal what the set will look like and consequently makes us quite different from the traditional show. I’m very excited to see what our final set will look like- so far the drawings of it look wonderful!
Do you feel pressure taking on such a classic musical?
There is quite a lot of pressure, I suppose, but I’m working with such an incredible creative team. I could never have agreed to put on such a tough show without them at my sides. We also have managed to find such a wonderful cast which definitely helps as I have total faith that they will be able to do the show justice!
What’s your biggest challenge as a director?
So far my biggest challenge has been rehearsal schedules! It is incredibly difficult to organise times where we can get 30 actors to all be free!
Is this your first time directing a musical?
It is indeed my first time directing a musical. I’ve always been more of a performer but I am absolutely loving it!
Other than this one, what is your dream musical to direct?
I would love to direct Sweeney Todd, or In the Heights! Two very different but equally stunning shows. I enjoy more of the modern musicals as I feel that the characters and the plots tend to be meatier.
A chat with Beth Cowley (plays Christine) and Fred Wheadon (plays Raoul)
Why did you decide to get involved with Phantom?
Beth: Phantom has been one of my favourite musicals since I can remember and Christine is the one role in musical theatre that I would pick above the rest. It was amazing to get the chance to audition.
Fred: Before I even started at Exeter I wanted to perform for the Footlights company. I’ve performed in 3 Footlights shows before and love being part of it.
What can we expect from the musical?
Beth: I think audiences will get really swept up in the show. The whole feel of it is really grand and romantic. The cast and the orchestra sound beautiful and some of the big dance numbers will look stunning too. Hopefully it will be one to remember.
What do you enjoy most about being in Phantom?
Beth: The whole thing still feels surreal to me, it’s an incredible experience. I love the music and the singing, it’s such a beautiful score. The atmosphere of the cast in general is really lovely too, and working with Eoin and Fred is great.
Fred: It’s a great group, very talented. Following the Hop at the weekend, everyone is very excited about rehearsing and performing in a couple of months.
What do you find most challenging about being in Phantom?
Beth: The dancing. Christine starts out as a ballet girl, which I am very much not, so learning to pass myself off as a ballet dancer, even though it’s only for a small bit of the show, is a huge challenge. Vocally it’s a really demanding part, in particular the title song, so that’s also pretty scary.
Fred: For me, definitely the singing. The part of Raoul is almost all sung on the edge of my vocal range, however Tom Chard has been an incredible vocal coach and has improved my range to no end already, and I feel much more confident with the singing.
Is this your first musical?
Fred: I’ve performed in musicals since I could first speak! My mother got me into it, she is an avid fan of musicals and loves going to see them as often as she can! I guess I picked it up from her.
Beth: I’ve done quite a lot of musicals before, but this is my first lead role.
What’s your favourite thing about your character?
Beth: Christine’s a beautiful part. She’s very compassionate and has a lovely vulnerability but she also gets some great moments of being much more strong towards the end of the show which is nice.
Fred: Raoul’s quite innocent and naive and loves Christine unconditionally, he would do anything for her no matter what might happen to him. I respect that in him.
Who’s the biggest diva on the cast?
Beth: Not technically cast but Tom Chard our vocal coach for his riffs and his sass.
Fred: Well David Ballard wins by a hair to Jacob Smith. But in the whole company, Tom Chard (or Tom Chardé as he prefers to be known) wins the completion by a country mile!
Who has the weirdest warm up habits?
Fred: Tom Chard again- weird but effective. Always feel warmed up after tom’s warm up.
Beth: We have a cast warm up game which we all do together which must look really strange from outside. It gets quite competitive.
If you could play any other character in the show, who would it be?
Fred: Bouquet, there’s a huge depth in that character, very interesting person I think.
Beth: I’d say definitely the Phantom. It’s such a good role, and he gets to sing ‘Music of the Night’.
Who is the cast clown?
Beth: Ben Philipp.
Fred: Joey Saunders – he’s always getting in trouble with the committee for messing around in rehearsals. He’s always so disruptive.
What show would you like to see footlights do next?
Fred: Good question, I reckon a classic would be good, I’d love to see Footlights do Guys and Dolls.
Beth: I’d really like them to do Sweeny Todd, because I love the show. But doing something more contemporary and upbeat would be great for Footlights.
What’s the last thing you do before going on stage?
Beth: I get really quiet when I’m nervous so I’ll probably find somewhere where I can just sit and focus and not talk to anyone for a bit.
Fred: For shows when I am a lead and am on stage a lot I tend to stay in character from the beginning throughout, taking a break from character at the interval. So I suppose it depends what part I am playing. I’m not sure what it will be for Raoul yet.
Don’t miss Phantom of the Opera on the 27th-30th of January at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter. It’s going to be an amazing show.