How Phantom of the Opera Finds The Man Behind the Mask

Interview   How Phantom of the Opera Finds The Man Behind the Mask The casting director reveals the key differences between a Phantom and a Piangi, a Carlotta and a Christine.

When Eric Woodall was a college student, training to be an actor at Carnegie Mellon University, he hung ceramic half-masks in his dorm room: an homage to The Phantom of the Opera. “I was in awe of its spectacle and its beauty,” he recalls, after seeing the show in New York in the early ’90s. These days, Woodall doesn’t act much, but the mask still looms large in his life: He is now in charge of casting the Broadway production. “It is a joy to be able to work on such a loved piece, and a timeless piece as Phantom of the Opera,” he says. “I follow a great line of folks here in Tara Rubin Casting, in our office, of working on the show.”

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This winter, Phantom celebrates its 30th anniversary on Broadway, holding well onto its title of the longest-running show on the Main Stem. And Woodall’s boss, casting director Tara Rubin, has worked on it from its beginnings. Since then, she’s passed the mantle of being the lead casting director on Phantom to several people in her office. For his part, Woodall has led the casting of Phantom for the past seven years. “It’s been an important show for us to be a part of, and one that has played such a special part in our office,” he says, “We feel like we’re a part of history being able to work on it.”

To Woodall, the biggest challenge in casting Phantom are finding the right voices. Because Andrew Lloyd Webber was inspired by operatic forms in writing the music, many of the performers in the show need to have had classical training in order to properly hit the notes. “There are characters like Piangi and Carlotta—characters who need to have much more of an operatic sound,” explains Woodall. “When it comes to Raoul, and even Christine and the Phantom, there’s a classical base but there’s also a wonderful musical theatre influence, which accounts for the incredible crossover [sound]. I wouldn’t say it’s easy but it’s one of the most exciting parts of my job.”

Though Woodall’s primary job is to maintain the quality of the production, that doesn’t mean it’s a static museum piece. For one, the cast has become more diverse. Ali Ewoldt is currently playing Christine, making her the first Asian-American actor to play the role on Broadway. Recent, Jordan Donica was the first African-American Raoul, and in 2015, Norm Lewis was the first African-American Phantom on Broadway. “I think it’s a wonderful sign of the times, with all shows hopefully moving in that direction, because that’s just what is right,” says Woodall. “It celebrates the diversity of the performers and also the diversity of the audiences. And I think that adds to the universal love of Phantom of the Opera.”

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