You can call them “Phantom of the Opera” veterans.
Associate director Arthur Masella, musical supervisor Guy Simpson and producer Tim McFarlane, managing director of The Really Useful Company Asia Pacific, have devoted about two decades of their lives to bringing the longest-running show on Broadway to audiences around the world.
They are in the country for the show’s Manila run at the CCP, which opened last week and runs until Oct. 14.
We sat down with them at the show’s press preview to talk about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music; the incredible show; and why they’re still in love with “Phantom” after all these years.
How long have you been working on “Phantom”?
Masella: I’ve been working on it for 20 years now.
Simpson: Twenty-two years on and off. Not full-time. It’s not a full-time job. Generally speaking, we do one a year. It involves a few weeks of the year. The producers call you about a year ahead to ask if I’m available. The thing is, with “Phantom,” I usually make myself available because it’s an ongoing job and I really enjoy it.
McFarlane: I’ve worked for Andrew Lloyd Webber for 18 years, so it’s been “Phantom” on and off for most of 18 years.
Tim, you’ve worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber for a while. Was he surprised by how much love “Phantom” has gotten from people?
McFarlane: Andrew Lloyd Webber does get asked the question often, as to why he thinks “Phantom” is so popular. And he says he honestly doesn’t know. But he does pose one thought and maybe this has something to do with it. He feels that everyone of us would like to change something about ourselves. I’ve heard him say that, and I think that’s an interesting take on “Phantom.”
What do you love about the show? What’s kept you working on it?
Masella: A few reasons. I still find it very, very challenging. It’s a very, very complicated show to get done. Each time we do it, we’re faced with new challenges, so it never feels boring to me. I love the effect this show has on audiences, and I always find it gratifying when you work so hard and you bring a production to a new country and they embrace it the way they do. That’s very fulfilling.
Simpson: The team I work with. We’re really close and we’re really obsessed with the detail and the quality. And I like it, I’m a bit of a crazy obsessive person in every way. I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist. You have to be.
What do you think it is about the show that people love so much for it to be around for so many years?
Masella: I think they love the story. I think they love the music. I think they’re transported by the music. Of course, the sets and the costumes being so wonderful. But I think people also find that when they come to see this they’re not disappointed in any way, and they want to come back again and again.
Simpson: When I watch it rehearsed now, after 22 years, this sounds corny but it’s like it was done yesterday, it’s like it was designed yesterday. It looks incredible. It still looks really fresh. I think it’s because it’s timeless. The design, of course, is legendary. The music is legendary. It’s found its way into iconic status. It really is one of those things.
McFarlane: It’s such an incredible combination. First of all, it’s a story about love and that has universal appeal. It’s the most incredibly sumptuous production, from the music to the sets and costumes. It’s the whole package—it’s such a romantic and beautiful show and such glorious music.
Do you remember the first time you watched “Phantom”?
Masella: Believe it or not, it was actually in New York. I did not see the production in London. I was not working on that although I was working for Harold Prince, the original director. I saw it at a performance in New York. I loved it. It was astounding. I think the original creative team did a magnificent job.
Simpson: Yes, it was when I was doing the show. I started in 1990 in Melbourne. Melbourne was my first one.
Do you still get goosebumps when you see the show?
Masella: Occasionally I do. There are periods of time I’m away from the show doing other things and I come back to it fresh, and when the performers are really good on a particular night, even I, after seeing it thousands of times, I still do. I’m very moved at times.
Simpson: I sometimes do. It’s usually because we have an amazing new person in the show. These guys change all the time in different countries. When they’re really good, oh yeah, right.
McFarlane: I do, absolutely. I’ve seen it more times than I can ever remember but I still wait particularly for that final scene when Christine comes back and you just see the agony on the Phantom’s face and in his voice. You can’t help but be moved by that. And if you’ve got a really good Phantom like we’ve got here, it’s just heart-wrenching even after seeing the show hundreds of times.
How does it feel to be bringing the show to the Philippines?
Masella: It feels wonderful, it really does. All of us who work on this show know we have a very precious thing, and we are very conscious of that, and we are very careful to treat it carefully and do the best we can to bring the best production we possibly can. So far the first few audiences that we’ve had have responded tremendously. Standing, screaming ovations. It’s just wonderful, wonderful.
Simpson: Well, I’ve been here a number of times, with “Miss Saigon,” particularly, and my involvement with that show. I’ve met lots of Filipinos over the years. Coming back here and seeing my old friends, it’s fun. The city is chaotic at times but you just gotta go with that. I highly enjoy being here.
McFarlane: I feel really proud. From our office in the Asia Pacific we’ve been developing audiences for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows throughout Asia, and it’s great that the Philippines is very much in our sights. This is the second show we brought here after “Cats,” and “Phantom” is the big one. I think it does a lot to develop interest in musical theater. It’s not just about “Phantom” season. It’s a longer-term benefit for everybody.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
Simpson: Well, I thought it was going to be finding the musicians. But it wasn’t.
What’s it like working with the local talent?
Masella: Fantastic. Dondi Ong is great. Your local musicians are really talented and play beautifully. And the technicians, some 35 or 40 of them are working endlessly backstage, doing a great job on a very complicated show.
Simpson: It’s really great. They’re so lovely. And they’re trying so hard. Their commitment is so strong, they really want to make it right and they’re prepared to put in the extra time to make it good which is really nice.
McFarlane: I think they are wonderful. But that’s something Filipinos are known for—a love of and an involvement in music so I’m not really surprised.
What’s your favorite song from the show?
Masella: I like a lot of them but I still love “Music of the Night.”
Simpson: I like “Past The Point of No Return.” It’s my favorite song. It’s not very well-known but it’s a beautiful melody. It still remains my favorite.
McFarlane: I think “Music of the Night” is hard to beat but I also love “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” by Christine. It’s such a lovely number. And sometimes, the Entr’acte and the playout at the end of the show is fantastic. Sometimes we’ll have literally hundreds of members of the audience go down to the orchestra pit just to hear the orchestra play out the last bit of music. I love that music and I love watching people get pleasure from it, too.
Who’s your favorite character from the show?
Masella: It would have to be the Phantom. Because he’s complicated and interesting and I so love the scenes that he’s in.
Simpson: It has to be the Phantom. I think he’s really mysterious and very exciting. He’s a very strange character.
McFarlane: I think for everybody it’s got to be the Phantom. He’s such a complex character, someone who’s capable of murdering people but also capable of incredible tenderness.
“The Phantom of the Opera” runs at the CCP until Oct. 14. It is produced 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 8919999 or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph.