Monday, July 2, 2012

Interview with Phantom Phan Jen Lau

I've conducted another phan interview. This interview is with Phantom Phan Jen Lau. Jen recently started her own theatre blog, she's been a phan since she was a child and lives in NY. Her interview along with some photos are in this entry after this introductory paragraph. If you'd like me to conduct a phan interview with you please reach out to me, I'll do the interview anyway that's good for you. I can conduct it through IM when we are both available, through e-mails, by phone, or in person if we live in a relatively close distance from each other.

*Note: My questions are in regular format, Jen's answers are in italics.

Interview with Jen Lau

Jen with the man, the myth, the legend...well at least according to phantom phans 

How long have you been a phan for?

I’ve been a fan as long as I can remember, starting when I first read the original
Gaston Leroux novel when I was 9 years old.

How many times have you seen the show? How often do you go?

To date, I’ve seen Phantom of the Opera 35 times over the past 17 years. I used to
go more often in the past, but lately, except for special events, I see the show at least
twice in the fall (usually in October), when I (usually) win a complementary pair of
tickets via the TDF Ticket Raffle Table at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/
EFA) Flea Market & Auction. Interestingly enough, lately the tickets I win have always
been in the same two rows (row T or Row U in the Orchestra, left side).

Jen with Ted Keegan

Who's your favorite Phantom? Have you met them? What was the moment like for you?

Well of course, Michael Crawford is my favorite Phantom, but I never had the
opportunity to see him in the role, though I do remember seeing his performance
on the Tony Awards. Of the actors I have seen on stage as the Phantom, among my
favorites are Davis Gaines (my first Phantom), Ted Keegan and Hugh Panaro.

I have been extraordinarily lucky to have met them all, either at the stage door or at
another venue. I had first (briefly) met Michael Crawford at the stage door of Dance
of the Vampires in 2002, then again at the Phantom Gala event in 2006 (more about
that in the next question). I first (briefly) met Davis Gaines at the BC/EFA Flea Market
& Auction in 1996 (my first time going to that event) and had asked him to sign the
Phantom poster I had bought (for $5 if I recall correctly), then again in 2009 when he
was performing a solo cabaret show at Feinstein’s. Funny story, so I waited around
after his show to meet him (there were a few others who did the same), I didn’t have
anything for him to sign, but I did ask for a photo with him, and told him that he was
my first Phantom, to which he responded, gesturing his hand to hip level, “when
you were this high?”, (since I clearly do not look my age). I met Ted Keegan at the
stage door of the Wang Theatre in Boston in 2001 (I had seen him in New York as well
previously), and some of my girlfriends with whom I went to see the show tried to
invite him for drinks after the show (sadly, he didn’t accept). And last (but not least) I
met Hugh Panaro several times at the stage door to the Majestic Theatre in 2010. They
were all lovely gentlemen who posed for photos (in Panaro’s case several times, since
at the time I had met him at the stage door it was quite chilly, and the initial photo
came out blurry).

 Have you gone to any special Phantom of the Opera events, or special performances?

I’ve been to the 6,138th performance, when Phantom passed A Chorus Line, to the
6,681st performance, when Phantom passed Les Miserables and 7,486th performance,
when Phantom passed Cats and became the longest running show on Broadway, which
coincidentally happened on the 18th anniversary of the show’s first preview, which was
full disclosure, also on my birthday – January 9th). I had written a blog about it at the
time, and I have reposted on my new theatre blog:

Jen's blog entry about Phantom's gala performance when the show became the longest running on Broadway

I had also been to the 20th Anniversary performance, as well as the 10,000th
performance, the latter being a special performance that benefitted the Actor’s Fund.
I do hope to be able to attend the 25th Anniversary next year.

Davis Gaine's signature, part of Jen's collection

Have you seen any of the Phantom of the opera movies? If so which one did you like best, or
did you dislike them?

I’ve seen the original 1925 Lon Chaney silent film, the 1989 Robert Englund film,
the 1990 TV movie with Charles Dance and (unfortunately) the 2004 movie adaptation
of the musical. While I’ve seen these films, I’m not much a fan of any of them, though
I will say the score for the 1989 Robert Englund film was fantastic.

To say that I disliked the 2004 musical movie adaptation is a gross understatement,
but I will say had that film been cast with a more competent cast who could actually
sing (without auto-tune) I might have liked it. It reminded me a lot of Moulin Rouge
(which I enjoyed), with its lavish sets, visual effects and costumes. The orchestrations
(especially the overture) was great, but had too much cheesy organ playing at some
points, which ruined the overture. The overture scene looked and sounded great
(going from black and white to color), just how I had imagined it would look. 

It’s when the cast starts to “sing” is where I found much to dislike: What was the
point of casting Minnie Driver if her singing was dubbed in? Gerard Butler should never
be allowed to sing again – he looked to young to play the role and was too “sexed
up” – even the deformity looked like a bad allergic reaction than the horrific
disfigurement in previous versions (side tangent – had the make-up for the unmasked
Phantom been like Harvey Dent/Two Face in The Dark Knight then I might have
been happier. Maybe.) Then there were the nonsensical things – why replace the
graveyard confrontation between Raoul and the Phantom to a swordfight that the
Phantom *loses*? Also, considering this scene is *before* the scene where Raoul and
the managers plot to stop the Phantom, umm, Raoul, you could have stopped him
during that stupid swordfight… But I digress. What were those background dancers
doing during “The Point of No Return”? Why did the Phantom’s Lair look more like the
Batcave? Why did Raoul have a mullet? Why did Christine look like she’s been drugged?
All in all, I was highly disappointed with this movie, given I had such high expectations
for the film.

Have you read any Phantom of the Opera phan fiction, or the original novel? If so what did
you think?

Well, as I briefly mentioned before, I have read the original Gaston Leroux novel,
and I’ve also read Susan Kay’s Phantom, which I thought was brilliantly written. Then
there’s Frederick Forsyth’s The Phantom of Manhattan, which I thought was a utter
waste of ink, paper and my time. Otherwise, I don’t really read fan fiction, either in
published form or via, as the plot summaries don’t really interest me
that much.

Jen with Davis Gaines
How did you first discover Phantom of the Opera? Was anyone responsible for getting you
into it?

My discovery of the story of the Phantom of the Opera came via borrowing the
original novel from the library. My discovery of the Lloyd Webber musical came via
elementary school, as the senior glee club (the 5th and 6th graders) sang a medley
of songs from Phantom for the school’s variety show (and even had strobe lights to
simulate the illusion of a falling [cardboard] chandelier). I remember having some
difficulty remembering the verse order and lyrics for “Masquerade” (keep in mind
that at the time, the show was relatively new, and I was 11 years old). I do credit my
6th grade teacher, who had also led the glee club, for not only instilling my interest
and love for Phantom but my interest and love for musical theatre in general. In
addition to singing show tunes in the glee club, every spring, the 5th and 6th grade
honor classes would put on a full Broadway production (costumes, sets, props, lighting,
choreography, etc.), so I learned how to build set and prop pieces, how to work a
spotlight, and how the soundboard operated, along with all the other elements of how
a full production worked.

What do you think of Love Never Dies?

I’ve seen the filmed Australian production of Love Never Dies on PBS (not wanting
to pay to see it in theaters) and I must say (same as the 2004 movie) the production
looks good – the set design, visual effects and costumes were lavish, but in this case,
it’s the story that is the weakest link. I can’t fault the actors (either in the London or
Australian production) – they sang and acted well, or at least as well as they could,
given the nonsensical script with which they had to work. The score had the obligatory
references to songs from Phantom, but I also picked up plenty of musical phrases and
even an entire song plucked from Lloyd Webber’s lesser known (and less commercially
successful) musicals: much of the melody of “Dear Old Friend” is nearly the same
as “I Hope You’ll Like It Here” from The Woman in White and the entire melody
for “Love Never Dies” is exactly the same as “Our Kind of Love” from The Beautiful
Game (which, of course had its origins as “The Heart is Slow to Learn” which had been
intended for the [then] proposed Phantom sequel).

Love Never Dies is really bad, Mary Sue (or rather Gary Stu) fan fiction, and the fact
that it’s loosely based on The Phantom of Manhattan explains the (bad) quality of the
plotline. The changes in the characterization of the Phantom, Christine, Raoul and
especially the Girys are extremely contrary to that from the original stage production;
while it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility that the characters would turn out
like they do, I don’t like how Love Never Dies is presented as the official sequel to
Phantom. In my opinion, Phantom did not, does not and will never need a sequel (or if
there needed to be one, the last section from Susan Kay’s Phantom is a better source
material). Probably the only way I might have enjoyed it was if they added an epilogue
to Love Never Dies that showed that the entire plot of the show was all a strange
hallucination from the Phantom’s opium-laden mind – then it would make sense.

Jen with hottie Hugh Panaro