By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com
It is a pleasure to welcome back Chris Mann to Jake’s Take.
After releasing his hit debut album, Roads, and his two PBS Concert Specials: Chris Mann in Concert: A Mann of All Seasons and Home For Christmas: The Chris Mann Christmas Special, The Voice alum is currently traveling across the country playing one of the most iconic theater characters of all-time: Erik, the Phantom of the Opera!
Chris is starring in legendary theater icon Cameron Mackintosh’s latest touring production of the Broadway powerhouse that has captured audiences for over 26 years. The production received praise from The Chicago Sun-Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the United Kingdom’s Sunday Express.
In this edition of Catching Up, Chris talked about what playing the Phantom means to him, his favorite musical numbers from the show and his upcoming Kauffman Center debut with Oleta Adams and the Kansas City Symphony.
Jacob Elyachar: How have you grown as an artist since the last time we spoke?
Chris Mann: A lot has changed! I finished my Roads tour earlier this year and after that was over, I had a meeting with my team. I told them that I would love to get back on stage and that if there was ever the opportunity to be in Phantom of the Opera, which is my favorite musical of all-time…I really wanted to pursue that.
Shortly after I said that out loud, The Phantom of The Opera Production Company announced two weeks later that they were holding auditions for their latest Broadway tour. Long story short, I ended up booking Phantom! It happened really fast and I moved to New York immediately to start rehearsing.
I have grown a ton as an artist, because I am using different muscles as a performer and I really love it. I have been playing myself for about 12 years, but to play and get to dig into a character that is as complex as the Phantom is both emotionally rewarding and a draining process. At the same time, I am getting to use my voice in the biggest way I used it in a long time.
JE: Many different actors including Michael Crawford, Howard McGillin, Ramin Karimloo and Norm Lewis have given their interpretations of Erik. Did you look at any of their performances to prepare for the tour?
CM: I am a huge fan of Ramin, he is such an aggressive performer and I am very inspired by him. I was also lucky enough to work with, and become friends with, Hugh Panaro and his replacement, Norm Lewis. I felt very lucky to chat with them about the role and certain behind the scenes activity.
What is interesting is Ramin, Hugh and Norm’s interpretations are all based for Broadway! I am doing Cameron Mackintosh’s new spectacular production of the Phantom tour. It is an edgier interpretation of the character from a directing standpoint, but it is fun to compare what I am doing with the other Phantom actors.
The Erik I am playing is a real guy. He is looking for love, acceptance and the struggles that come with it. While the Phantom on Broadway is more magical, we wanted to make him as human as possible.
JE: A lot of my readers follow you on social media. I remember seeing a post with you and legendary producer Cameron Mackintosh at rehearsal. How did he help you understand the Phantom’s role in the show?
CM: All of us as a cast were very nervous and excited to have Cameron with us for two rehearsals. He collaborated with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber on the original production, so we were very nervous. However, he was so excited with what we were doing. It did boost the cast’s confidence that we were on the right track. The biggest complement that we received from him was that what we were doing was re-inventing the show. To hear that from him, the original producer was a great complement in itself.
JE: What are some of the challenges that you face with the show? How did you overcome them?
CM: I have not acted in 10 years! I really had to do a lot of work to open up my acting side. It was tough to emotionally open up and work against the other actors, to really allow this character to really come through. Erik has quite the character arc from beginning to end. When audiences see the show, they see how he deteriorates and I have done a lot of work to understand what he is going through and to allow that experience to happen to myself. That was my biggest challenge. Now that I finished my first eight shows, it is all there and I am very proud of what I have put together.
JE: What are some of your favorite musical numbers to perform? What makes those numbers so memorable?
CM: One of my favorite scenes that I do as the Phantom is the Final Lair, where everything comes to a head. My character is completely unraveling right before everyone’s eyes and I love performing that scene every night. Of course, everyone is excited to hear “The Music of the Night” in Act One and I am very proud to sing that iconic song.
As a cast member, I love seeing them perform “Masquerade” and it is so much fun to see that number every night. I also love seeing Carlotta command the stage in “Prima Donna.” Of course, our Christine (Katie Travis)’s big moment in Act II, singing “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” she sings that song so well! I love getting to hear her sing that song.
JE: On December 12, you will make your Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts debut with the Kansas City Symphony & Oleta Adams. How did that collaboration come about?
CM: The Kauffman Center for Performing Arts approached me to sing a year ago! I heard so many good things about the venue. It is one of the most amazing venues in the Midwest, and of course, I was excited to sing with the Kansas City Symphony and it is an honor to share the bill with Oleta Adams, who is such an iconic singer and is a staple in Kansas City. The event is going to be so much fun, because it is a holiday concert and I will be performing a lot of holiday music. I am very excited about singing a duet with Oleta. It will be a very quick trip for me. I will be performing in Phantom on Thursday night and then travel to Kansas City on Friday. I will do my rehearsals and do the concert on Friday and return to the tour on Saturday!
JE: “The Voice” will be celebrating their fifth anniversary in 2016. Hypothetically, if the show decides to do an “All-Stars” season like “Survivor” or “Dancing with the Stars,” would you return to the show if they asked you? Why or why not?
CM: I am very thankful for what The Voice has done for my career. I am always happy to give back to the show and it always fun to visit, but I am in a new chapter in my career and the last two years have been so amazing with the tour, the albums and the PBS specials. I would like to return, but I am also very happy where things are going in my career. Currently, I love being on stage and I am working on a new album that is going to come out next year…so I have a very busy schedule.
JE: If you had the chance to meet with an artist who is trying to write a new chapter (ex: perform in a Broadway production) in their career, what advice would you share with them?
CM: I would definitely share my experience with them. I always loved Phantom of the Opera and I knew that my voice would be a good fit for that show. Any singer has to identify a part that they feel that they can play. Then, they have to take every step to be visible to the casting directors. When I wanted to play the Phantom, I told my agent…”Whenever the audition happens, you have to get me into the audition!” Two weeks later, I auditioned and had the part! So, you have to put out there in the universe…who you are as a performer and what kind of part you fit into and just chase it!
Click here learn more about “The Phantom of the Opera” North America tour!
To purchase tickets to Chris’s concert with Oleta Adams & the Kansas City Symphony, click on this link: https://tickets.kcsymphony.org/single/EventDetail.aspx?p=7849