Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A conversation with Nick Cartell from the National tour of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Nick Cartell
by Gil Benbrook

Actor and singer Nick Cartell moved to Phoenix when he was just six months old and went on to appear in dozens of productions across the Valley. He appeared in shows at Valley Youth Theatre, sang with the Phoenix Boys Choir, was a solo artist with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and his performance in Light in the Piazza at Phoenix Theatre earned him an ariZoni award. 

While he left Arizona a few years ago, and performed on Broadway in both the original musical Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson and the recent revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, he's back in Arizona now in the touring production of Phantom of the Opera, that starts performances tonight at ASU/Gammage in Tempe.

Phantom is Nick's National Tour debut and while he appears in the ensemble of the show, and serves as the production's fight captain, he also understudies the romantic lead Raoul and will be performing that role for the last five performances of the Tempe run of the show.

While Nick is a busy guy, he sat down to answer our questions for PHX Stages readers...

Chris Mann as The Phantom and Katie Travis as Christine DaaƩ
Photo: Matthew Murphy
How long have you been on the Phantom tour?

I have been with this tour since the very beginning, going on almost a year and a half now. We started rehearsals in October 2013.

As the understudy for Raoul, how often have you gone on in the part?

I have been on 15 and a half times- once I had to perform the second act of the show as Raoul. Unfortunately the usual actor in the role became ill during the first act and could not continue so I had to step in. That's why you always have to be prepared to go on at any time because you just never know.

There has been a lot of buzz about how this tour has new direction, sets and choreography. What can you tell us about how this production compares to the original one that people might have seen before?

This spectacular new production of Phantom is beautiful. What audiences can expect to see is a visual treat with the same score and music that they know and love, along with the beautiful costumes designed by Tony award-winning Maria Bjornson, but with a completely different look inside the Paris Opera House. Our director, Laurence Connor, really wanted to delve into the backstage grittiness and bring that into the forefront so the audience can really see who the Phantom was and where he was coming from. There have been a lot of technological advances in the last 30 years since the production originally premiered in London and so we're able to bring those advances into the production now in new and exciting ways and it really is such a spectacular new version - audiences are going to love it.

The show is the longest running show on Broadway and has also run for almost 30 years in London. Why do you think Phantom has struck such a chord with audiences?

I think it has to do first and foremost with the score and the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. And secondly with the love story and about a man that falls in love with this young woman because of her voice and along with the music, creates this world that audiences get captured in. It's really a testament to the original story that Gaston Leroux wrote and one that obviously has stood the test of time.
The Company performs "Masquerade"
Photo: Alastair Muir 

When was the first time you saw a production of the show?

The first time I saw production of The Phantom of the Opera was when I was 13 years old at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, and it was the first time the show played Arizona, so it was very exciting for me.

What is your favorite part of the show?

My favorite part of the show, I have to say, is the final lair. It's the final confrontation between the Phantom, Christine and Raoul. I love the music, I love the acting and I love the story telling that goes on in the last 15 minutes of the show every night.

As this is your first National Tour, how does that compare to doing a show that only plays in one city and one theatre?

Our shortest sit down is two weeks, and it's fun because we get to experience each city's greatest hits. Normally we're playing in downtown areas and in areas where there's more nightlife and restaurants so we get a sense of the flavor of a new place. But being on the road can be difficult because you are living out of a suitcase, which is the major difference between tour life and doing a show that plays for an extended period at one venue.

Storm Lineberger as Raoul
Photo: Matthew Murphy
You appeared on Broadway in another Andrew Lloyd Webber blockbuster Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway where you also understudied the main roles, how difficult is it to appear in a show while understudying other parts?

There are many different pros and cons to being an understudy. While I'm very grateful for the opportunities I've had to understudy, I hope at some point in my career to step out of understudying and into principal roles. Having said that, I actually have found that I am very good at it; I have a brain that can compartmentalize and focus on another character along with doing my other track. There are sometimes difficulties that come with being an understudy, such as when things change in rehearsal for the principal cast and you don't always  get those notes. But when you are given the chance to step up, you feel valued and sometimes you help save the day.

Do you still have family in Phoenix?

Yes I still have family in Phoenix and I'm so excited to get to play my home town. My parents, aunts, uncles and cousins all live in the area, plus a ton of friends and colleagues, so it's going to really feel like a homecoming for me stepping on stage for the first time and performing this beautiful show.

Will this be your first time appearing on the Gammage stage?

The last time that I was on the Gammage stage was about six months ago when I did a press event for Phantom to announce that it was coming to Gammage, and before that it was when I walked across the stage and accepted my diploma from Arizona State University. It's so exciting to come home.

For more information on The Phantom of the Opera, playing at ASU/Gammage through June 7th, click here.

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