Istana Budaya is set to transform into the Palais Garnier this June 15 till July 7, as it sets the scene for the dark and mystifying Phantom of the Opera, which opens in Malaysia for the very first time. Based on the novel of Gaston Leroux, Andrew Lloyd Webber's most famous musical tells the tale of an almost mythical character that terrorises the Parisian opera house. Drama unfolds as the Phantom becomes enraptured (and obsessed) by the upcoming talent, Christine Daaé, who also happens to be in love with a nobleman and her childhood friend, Raoul de Chagny.
We spoke to Jonathan Roxmouth, Meghan Picerno and Matt Leisy who respectively portray the Phantom, Christine and Raoul to find out what they have to say about their characters.
The Phantom (Isn't A) Menace
This isn't the first time that Jonathan Roxmouth plays the titular character – he reprises the role after first playing it in 2012 in South Africa. "It's one of the most challenging and heartbreaking yet rewarding role. There's a lot of pressure perfoming such an iconic character; the audience often have a mindset on how the Phantom should be portrayed, so there's a smaller margin for error," shares Jonathan. Plus, on top of that, the Phantom challenges (toxic) masculinity, as he is all about showing emotion. "Men don't usually cry, yet there's this strong character who sobs and isn't ashamed of it," he adds.
And while the Phantom does cross the line of love, "he is essentially a product of a society that is fundamentally broken; he does some bad things, but is not inherently evil," says Jonathan, who gets defensive whenever people ask him 'what's it like to play the villain in the show?' "The Phantom has so much to offer, as an artist, and yet the people around only view him as a monster." Jonathan then relates this behaviour to the modern day, saying that bullying (like that via social media) can affect one's character too, as it's much easier for "poison to reach you than praise."
Demure, Daring Daaé
Soprano Meghan Picerno first played Christine Daaé in the Phantom sequel Love Never Dies. She shares a number of similar traits with her character – the main one being that they both live for music. And despite hailing from the world of opera, she transitioned well into the realm of musical theatre. "There's also a shift in Christine, throughout the show; she grows from being a girl to a woman. At first she willingly gives her power away to (both) men, but makes a choice in the end," shares Meghan who tries her best to empower other women.
Meghan, who is looking forward to presenting the beautiful piece that is so iconic and universal to Malaysians, takes her role very seriously, not only because of the legacy and tradition that is tied to it, but also because she views it as a platform to be a role model. "You communicate with young fans and you never know who you may inspire," says the lady who still recalls seeing her first musical, Les Misérables. When asked what she learnt from Christine, Meghan replied, "It is to love; if we made decisions based on love instead of fear, we would live in a very different world."