Becoming ChristineBy Pam Pastor
Philippine Daily Inquirer
It’s half past eight on a Friday morning and Diamond Hotel’s Corniche is busy. The cast and crew of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” are milling about, filling their plates with breakfast treats, getting ready for yet another long day of rehearsals. We spot Cat Lane, who plays Meg Geri. We think we see Anthony Downing, the show’s Raoul.
A few minutes later, Claire Lyon is standing in front of us, wearing a pretty dress and looking fresh and sprightly.
The 25-year-old Australian actress is here to play Christine Daaé, the musical protégé that becomes the object of the Phantom’s obsession.
For Claire, who remembers watching The Phantom of the Opera at the age of five and marveling at the costumes and the chandelier, it’s a dream come true. “I remember thinking, it’s so beautiful, I want to look like Christine. And now I get to wear the costumes,” she said.
Claire discovered her love for performing early. “I was about three years old and I watched The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins over and over again. I started ballet lessons when I was three and did that for about 15 years. I loved dancing. I was always singing around the house but didn’t really have singing lessons until I was about 11-years old. My mom was a music teacher so she would play the piano with me and sing all the time. Then later I started really training.”
Claire went on to study at the Victorian College of Arts at the University of Melbourne and graduated with a Bachelor of Music Performance in 2007.
The classically trained soprano became part of the ensemble of the 2008 Australian tour of My Fair Lady and she joined Opera Australia full time in 2009. She performed in a lot of productions with that group, including Madame Butterfly, The Merry Widow, Aida, La Traviata and Die Fledermaus, which she counts as one of her favorites. “It’s a really a fun show,” she said.
This isn’t Claire’s first time to play Christine Daaé—she was the understudy for the role in the original Australian production of Love Never Dies and performed it numerous times. “I’ve been singing the songs since I was three years old and to now be able to play the role in both Phantom and the sequel Love Never Dies is just an absolute dream come true.”
Claire sat down with Super before starting another day of rehearsals to talk about Christine, the Phantom, her Filipino fans and shopping.
Is it weird that you did Love Never Dies before the original Phantom?
Yeah, it’s funny. I think I’m the first female in the world to play the sequel before the original Phantom. It is funny because I kind of have to turn back the clock and think about what she would be like when she’s younger. There’s really an innocence that I have to bring to the role and she’s more naive compared to Love Never Dies where she’s more worldly.
How did you get this role?
At the end of Love Never Dies, they were auditioning for the Asian tour and I got an audition from my agent, and Guy Simpson and Rainer Fried were on the panel. My audition tape was sent off to the UK and approved. It was quite a fast process, about two weeks, from when I auditioned to when I got the part.
How did you prepare for the role?
I read the original Gaston Leroux novel, I watched the 1925 silent film. Of course, I’d seen the show before and done the sequel, I watched the Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary DVD which was just incredible. We’re actually doing our first run this afternoon—it will be putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.
Do you see yourself in Christine?
It’s funny because she starts out as a ballet dancer. That’s what I did—I trained in ballet first and she’s a chorus girl, which is what I was in Opera Australia—although I did some roles, I was in the chorus. And then she gets the chance to be a leading lady, which is now my big break. It’s funny that it’s a very similar path.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge in playing Christine?
Just maintaining stamina throughout a long season and so many shows a week. Keeping healthy, knowing when to rest your voice. A lot of Christines don’t have the dance training, but I have, which is great so that’s not something that I’m worried about. It would just be knowing when to pull back and when to give it my all.
What’s your favorite song to sing in the show?
Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, definitely. It’s just me on the stage, by myself, pouring her emotions out about her father who has passed away and looking for guidance, really.
The notes Christine hits are insane. How do you take care of your voice?
(Laughter) If I’m feeling a little unwell, I will get complete vocal rest. Every night, before I go to bed, I have a routine. I steam my voice so I boil the kettle and inhale the steam. It relaxes my voice. I gargle salt water to keep it clear of infection. I drink tea, take vitamins, all the healthy stuff.
A lot of the cast have worked together before—how was it joining them?
A lot of people know each other already but I’m amazed to say that Jonathan Roxmouth (Phantom), Anthony Downing (Raoul) and I have clicked. We’ve just been hanging out, having dinner every night, laughing. We don’t stop laughing the whole time. We just really clicked instantaneously. It’s great. I’m amazed and I’m glad. We’re also similar ages—I’m 25, Jonathan’s 25 and Anthony’s 27 so it makes the story really believable as well, that a love triangle like that could actually happen. The ages work really well, I think.
What do you love about playing Christine?
I love the fact that I get to do everything from pointe work to singing top notes. I love being in masquerade and dancing with the cast.
I love “Masquerade.”
We were rehearsing that part yesterday and everyone was coming together going (sings) “Masquerade.” It’s all coming together. Just to dance with everyone. And she’s such an emotional character as well—there’s so much passion and devastation and heartache that you get to see so many different sides of her character. It’s wonderful.
Why do you think Phantom’s been so successful? What do you think it is about the show that people love so much?
I think it’s the fact that it’s a love story which everyone can relate to. It’s a difficult love story because she has to choose between these two men, she’s torn and I think a lot of people can relate to that, to the Phantom. I think people also love that the music is so catchy and you have these big ballads that are so famous now. Even if you haven’t seen the show, people know, “Oh that’s from The Phantom of the Opera.” And the costumes and the sets are just incredible. I think I have nine costume changes throughout the whole show.
People have seen Phantom in one form or another and they’ve seen different Christines perform. Do you feel the pressure?
Yeah. I think I just have to be as genuine as I can be to the character. You can’t really copy anyone’s performance. You can take aspects and say, oh, I like what they did with that scene. But if you copy someone’s performance down to a tee, it’s not going to be genuine. If someone’s been listening to a CD of Sarah Brightman or Emmy Rossum or Sierra Boggess, you become familiar with that and when you hear another person singing, you’ll think, oh, that’s different. I don’t so much feel pressured. I’m just going to try and stay true to how I sing the role and how I act and dance and hope that people enjoy my performance.
Do you enjoy going on tour?
I’m loving it so far. Everyone here at the Diamond Hotel has made it so comfortable for us. You’re kind of living out of a suitcase, which is a little hard for me because I have so many clothes to lug around, but it’s been made so easy. Everyone’s getting along so well, the hotel is so beautiful, the people in Manila are so welcoming. It’s great. Everyone’s so enthusiastic.
You’ve been in Manila for a couple of weeks now—how have you been adjusting?
I’m really liking the humidity. I thought it was going to be sticky and hot but it’s the wet season.
Were you here during the floods?
Yes, I felt so bad that I was in this beautiful hotel while there were people outside struggling.
Did you skip rehearsals during those days?
No, we actually managed to get to the rehearsal venue; we had a bus and we were driving through flood water. To be honest, I haven’t seen much of Manila because we’ve been rehearsing. Yesterday, I got on the bus at 9:30 in the morning and I was back here at about 8 o’clock at night. I think tonight I’m going to get a massage.
What else do you intend to do in the Philippines? Will you have the chance to have fun?
I think so, once the show opens. I would love to do a cultural tour of the city and Intramuros, do some day trips. I’ve seen Greenbelt 5, which is amazing.
Have you gone shopping?
I went but I forgot my wallet. (Laughter) I’ll be going back, definitely. And I want to check Mall of Asia. So many malls.
What else are you passionate about?
Definitely, fashion. I brought some patterns with me so I can get some beautiful clothes made here with so many wonderful tailors. And they’re vintage 1950s patterns, frocks. I love that.
What do you do for fun?
Shopping, going to the movies, going out for dinner and eating in beautiful restaurants. In Australia, going to the beach in Sydney and Melbourne. I love traveling, just experiencing new places and traveling and experiencing their cuisine and culture.
I’ve noticed that a lot of Filipino fans have started tweeting you and the show hasn’t even started yet. Was that a surprise?
I have been surprised. We haven’t even opened the show yet. Everyone’s so enthusiastic, which is fantastic. Just this morning, I had some photographs taken while I was having my breakfast. It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful to have such an enthusiastic community. I’m on Twitter and Facebook a lot. I have an official Facebook page. It’s great. I post things. It’s nice to connect with fans and to respond to the well wishes fans give you because without fans, we don’t have a show.
How does your family feel about you being onstage?
They’re all so excited. They’re flying over for opening night. They’re just as happy as I am to know that I’m achieving my dreams.
The Phantom of the Opera opens Saturday at the CCP Main Theater. The season has been extended until Sept. 30. The show is brought to you by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins Enterprises, Hi-Definition Radio Inc. and Concertus in association with The Really Useful Group. For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph