On Stage: ‘Phantom’ is back in Philly

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Phantom of the Opera

It was inevitable that “The Phantom of the Opera” would become the longest-running musical of all time — both on Broadway and London’s West End. It is the longest running show in Broadway history by a wide margin. Based on fan response and ticket sales, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s show is also one of Philadelphia’s favorites — along with “Les Miserables” and “Cats.”

“The Phantom of the Opera” is a musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe. Lloyd Webber and Stilgoe also wrote the musical’s book together.

Based on the French novel “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra” by Gaston Leroux, its central plot revolves around a beautiful soprano who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius living in the subterranean labyrinth beneath the Opera Populaire.

The musical opened in London’s West End in 1986, and on Broadway in 1988. It won the 1986 Olivier Award and the 1988 Tony Award for Best Musical, and Michael Crawford (in the title role) won the Olivier and Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Musical.

Cameron Mackintosh’s spectacular new production of “the Phantom of the Opera” has returned to Philadelphia as part of a brand new North American Tour. “The Phantom of the Opera” will run now through November 12 at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org) as part of the Kimmel Center’s “Broadway Philadelphia” series

The production features a brilliant new scenic design by Paul Brown, Tony Award®-winning original costume design by Maria Björnson, lighting design by Tony Award®-winner Paule Constable, new choreography by Scott Ambler, and new staging by director Laurence Connor. The production, overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Mackintosh, boasts many exciting special effects including the show’s legendary chandelier.

The beloved story and thrilling score, featuring songs such as “Music of the Night,” “All I Ask Of You,” and “Masquerade,” will be performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this The Phantom of the Opera one of the largest productions now on tour.

The cast of the National Tour has Derrick Davis as The Phantom, Eva Tavares as Christine Daaé and Jordan Craig as Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny.

“I’ve been with the show for a year-and-a-half,” said Craig, during a recent phone interview from a Canadian tour stop in Ottawa, Ontario. “I jusy had my one-year anniversary of playing Raoul.

“When I joined the cast, I was in the ensemble as an understudy for Raoul. The guy playing Raoul left, I asked if I could audition and they agreed. It’s kind of rare for an ensemble member to move up to a principal role.”

Craig got most of his early training performing with Houston Grand Opera and the Alley Theatre, after graduating from Sewanee: The University of the South with a double major in English and Theatre Performance.

“Being in this show is an amazing experience, said Craig, who was born and raised in Houston, Texas. “It’s like Christmas every day. Every show, I get to sing these amazing songs.

“I first auditioned for ‘Phantom’ in January 2016. “I was interviewing for several shows when I got a call from my agent telling me I had a role in ‘Phantom.’

“I needed a job because I wanted to ask my girlfriend to marry me. When my agent called, I was on a bus. I got off the bus in East Harlem and walked all; the way home. I was ecstatic that I could get married – and that I got a role in a show like this.”

Craig knew that “The Phantom of the Opera” was a special show.

“It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer spectacle of it,” said Craig. “It’s so well-written – and the music is so moving.”

Craig is also impressed by his character in the show.

“We approach Raoul as very masculine,” said Craig. “My Raoul laughs a lot. He is a 23-year-old male and he enjoys himself. But, in the second act, he gets downright murderous.

“I like his production because we get to approach the show as real people. We get to react realistically. It’s a fresh take on this idea.”

Craig offered his insight on the show’s continuing popularity.

“People love it because it’s so well-written,” said Craig. “The show deals with very basic emotions on a grand scale. Most importantly, it tells a story that people react to genuinely. 30 years later, it’s still here. That’s how good this show is.”

Performing in a show like this is a dream-come-true for Craig – and an avenue for another dream-come-true for the young actor. He recently got married to the love of his life — Iuliia Alekseeva, an actress from St. Petersburg, Russia.

ВСЕ ХОРОШО ДЛЯ ИОРДАНИИ (Russian for “All is good for Jordan”).

Video link for “The Phantom of the Opera” – https://youtu.be/3XVMrtVLQoI.

“The Phantom of the Opera” will run now through November 12 at the Academy of Music

Ticket prices range from $20-$159.

King Crimson

The Kimmel Center is also presenting a show of a very different nature on November 2 and 3. For two nights, the Merriam Theater (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org) will host King Crimson, one of the oldest and most-revered prog rock bands in the world.

King Crimson was formed by Robert Fripp in London in 1968. The band has undergone numerous line-up changes over the year with Fripp as the only consistent member of the group. The band introduced itself to the rock world in 1969 with its debut album “In the Court of the Crimson King,” an album that blended elements of jazz, experimental music and rock.

Since then, King Crimson has released close to 20 studio albums and has performed with a variety of line-ups and a wide array of formations including conventional and unconventional, such as a double-trio live act.

The configuration heading to the Merriam is unique to the world of rock.

With three drummers up front including Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey, as well as the return of multi-instrumentalist Bill Reiflin on keyboards, Fripp, states that this “double quartet formation” is likely to make more noise than ever before. Rounding out the eight-piece line-up are guitarist and vocalist Jakko Jakszyk, long-time bassist Tony Levin, and saxophonist Mel Collins, who was a mainstay of Crimso from 1970-1972.

“We all got the call in September 2013,” said Jakszyk, a native of Watford, England. “The current line-up has been together ever since.

“I was an enormous fan of King Crimson as a kid. I saw King Crimson play at a local town hall back in 1971 when I was 13. I felt my life had changed. Now, all these years later, I’m living out this dream.

“I got to know Pete Sinfield (one if Crimso’s early lyricists) in the 80s when he had become a successful pop lyricist. I was a session musician at the time. Robert (Fripp) was getting together another King Crimson line-up and Pete suggested me to Robert.

“I was playing in a King Crimson tribute band called 21st Century Schizoid Band. Robert called me to ask how rehearsals were going. That’s how I got to know him. I asked him to play on my solo album and he did.

“Around the same time, they were remixing all the King Crimson albums in the catalogue. I ended up remixing the ‘Thrapp’ album. A little while later, Robert invited me to his house for lunch. A year later, he invited me to his studio to work on some King Crimson stuff. Then, in 2013, I became king Crimson’s lead singer and second guitar.”

Now, King Crimson is on the road with perhaps its most powerful line-up ever.

“Harnessing this power takes a combination of a lot of rehearsal and listening,” said Jakszyk. “One thing Robert has done with this line-up is to put the three drummers up front and the band behind them. It’s an egalitarian thing. It’s like a mini-orchestra with a lot of different focuses.

“There has been enormous progress for this band in the last few years. When the tghree drummers play, it’s like one drummer with 12 limbs. This line-up is capable of playing any song from any era – and we do.”

Video link for King Crimson – https://youtu.be/24wD_Tcapxg.

The shows at the Merriam Theater will start at 8 p.m. each night. Tickets prices range from $49-$99.

The show on November 2 at MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com) will have its focus on duos.

Whitehorse

The headline act is Whitehorse, a Canadian rock band featuring husband-and-wife duo Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland. The support act is Nalani & Sarina, a pop-rock-funk duo featuring talented twins from New Jersey – Sarina and Nalani Bolton.

Whitehorse’s brazen sonic breadth encompasses psychedelic surf, arid border rock, lo-fi ingenuity and icy 80’s sparseness. Luke Doucet’s Gretsch White Falcon and impeccable tone, combined with Melissa McClelland’s blazing vocals and badass P- Bass playing, have made the duo’s sound unmistakably, inventively “Whitehorse.’”

The couple’s songwriting is distinguished by its cinematic fiction, full of flawed characters, foiled plans and anti-fairytales that transform real life into sleek, stylized collages of neo-noir drama and high-gloss.

“Whitehorse has existed for seven years,” said Doucet, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “Melissa and I have been playing music together for 14 years and we’ve been married 11 years.

“I was a solo artist and she hired me to produce a record for her. After that, we played a lot of music together – she on my projects and me on hers. We bring really different things to the table. There is very little redundancy. I have a very special way of doing things. With what she brings, my work benefits from a different perspective.

“I was really struck with what an empathetic singer she is. Melissa had it the first time she opened her mouth. Everything she does vocally is the perfect choice. She plays guitar that way too. Everything that comes out of her fingers is perfect.”

The Toronto-based band’s latest album “Panther in the Dollhouse” finds the band rocking out harder than ever.

“We started out very much in the Americana world,” said Doucet, who grew up in Winnipeg. “That was an honest thing – no mistaking it. It was our natural home. Our second album ‘The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss’ expanded things.

“We moved more away from folk music. We decided to take some chances and have some fun. We thought about things we’re not supposed to do musically – hip hop, fiction songs and songs about sex.

“We had a good time making the new album. We recorded it in Toronto at Revolution Studio last winter. We play all the instruments but sometimes we pull other people in. We even worked with two beat makers who were recording at the studio. Then, we went to Brooklyn to mix it at The Boiler Room.”

Video link for Whitehorse – https://youtu.be/u8LtWhQgVpE.

Nalani & Sarina

Nalani & Sarina have been building a huge fan base in the Mid-Atlantic region for the last five years. The duo has performed at a variety of venues around the area — including Kennett Flash, the Eagleview Concert Series in Exton, World Café Live at the Queen, and the Ladybug Festival.

The highly-talented twins have already established themselves as top-flight vocalists, songwriters, and multi-instrumentalists.

“We’ve been working in the studio a lot lately,” said Sarina Bolton. “We’ve been recording a lot. We’re taking a pretty relaxed approach — doing it piece-by-piece…song-by-song.

“There are no deadlines and that makes it a lot less stressful. We’ve been recording at Carriage House Studio in Stamford, Connecticut and at the home studio in Wayne (PA) or our engineer Julian Herzfeld.

“With the songwriting, we had a new approach this time. The songs on our last album were based on personal experiences. This time, it’s other people’s stories — more of a world-wide approach.

“It’s a combination of first person and third person. We’re writing about people our age – observing other people’s stories. It’s like a story about kids’ lives from their early to late 20s – love, first relationships, work.

“The songs are about what life is like for people our age. But, people of all ages can relate to these songs. We’ve had older people tell us that they can identify with these songs.”

With roots based in rhythm-and-blues, soul, rock and especially funk, the sisters create vocal harmonies that only twins can make.

“We’re identical twins,” said Nalani. “We graduated early from Hunterdon Central High a few years ago and we’ve been doing music ever since. We both started playing classical piano when were six and then studied operatic vocals when we were in sixth grade.

“Classical music and opera provided good basics for us. Our mom was a folkie so we listened to a lot of folk music when we were young — great songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. And, we’ve listened to a lot of classic rock.

“We always have the funk. It’s impossible for us to keep the funk out. We’ve always had funk in our blood. We play shows with just the two of us, it always sounds more singer-songwriter. When we do shows with our band, it gets more funky.”

Video link for Nalani & Sarina – https://youtu.be/OMe0lVy6eMM.

The show at MilkBoy Philadelphia, which has Nalani & Sarina as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.

Other upcoming shows at MilkBoy Philly are Zach Deputy on November 3, Foxtrot & The Get Down along with Lionize on November 4, Humming House and Becca Mancari on November 5, Jazz Under the Stars on November 7, and The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band on November 8.]

MISSIO

MISSIO, which is performing on November 2 at Coda (1712 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 267- 639-4630, http://www.codaphilly.com), is an Austin, Texas-based electronic duo that features Matthew Brue (vocals, producer), and David Butler (producer, instrumentalist).

MISSIO was formed in 2014 by Brue who created a series of songs in a 1974 airstream trailer in which he was living. After the completion of his demos, Brue hired Butler, a friend and local producer/engineer, to collaborate on the self-titled EP, which would later be released in November 2014.

After unexpected online success, Brue made his debut appearance under the name MISSIO at the SXSW festival in 2015 with help from Butler. As the project progressed months later, the two joined together to officially become MISSIO.

A few weeks ago, MISSIO released “Skeletons+ (Part II),” the second chapter of an exclusive new docuseries chronicling MISSIO’s story thus far. The first two installments of the three-part film — directed by longtime MISSIO collaborator Jeff Ray (Sigur Rós) — are now streaming at MISSIO’s official YouTube channel., “Skeletons (Part III)” made its debut on October 31.

“Skeletons (Part I)” featured acoustic versions of songs originally featured on MISSIO’s acclaimed full-length debut, “Loner,” an LP that featured the duo’s breakthrough single, “Middle Fingers.”

“We’re roommates in Austin,” said Brue, during a phone interview Wednesday from a tour stop in New York.. “We have a studio in our garage so we go there and write. Sometimes we write together and other times individually. We balance each other out with our strengths and our weaknesses.”

Butler said, “Matt sings and does a lot of the melody and lyric work. I do more the nitty gritty of the production. Some songs come fast – sometimes in a day. Others may take a long time to finally come together.”

Brue said, “Most of the tine, it starts with a scratch track. We try to get the melody down and go from there. The music tracks tell me where to go with the lyrics.”

The duo has reached a good working balance.

‘Our normal way of writing is with me at the computer pulling up sounds while Matt is on the keyboards,” said Butler. “We also play a lot of drum machines. We’re just two songwriters trying to write a song. Every song is made a little differently.”

Brue said, “We do most of the work at the studio at our house. Then, we take it to a bigger studio. By that time, 565-70 per cent of the song is already done.”

Brue and Butler create a lot of sound in the studio0 fo9r just two guys. On the road, it’s a little different.

“We play with a drummer live – three of us onstage,” said Butler. “With writing, we have our own way. We’re not interested in having a third member on a permanent basis.”

Not long ago, MISSIO was named by Rolling Stone as one of “10 New Artists You Need To Know.” You can find out why by checking the duo’s show at Coda.

Video link for MISSIO — https://youtu.be/o0kbu5AOFlc?list=PLmWvdgelz3VysuC1tnwz-lsSK-OI4h8zw

The show at Coda, which also features Nothing But Thieves and Airways, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20

New Kingston

New Kingston, which is performing November 2 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com), is a progressive reggae group from New York featuring a trio of siblings with Jamaican heritage – Tahir, Courtney Jr., and Stephen Panton.

“We’ve been playing music together since we were really young,” said Tahir Panton, during a phone interview Tuesday from his home in New York.

“Our father’s roots started in Kingston, Jamaica. He was a musician and the reason he left Jamaica is because he was in touring bands with Pablo Moses and Sugar Minott. He eventually settled in Brooklyn.

“Our dad taught us music. I always had a piano in my house and every morning I would play scales before I went to school. One morning, a drum set, keys and a bass were set up in our basement and that was the beginning of us being a band. I was about 13 – right before my freshman year in high school.”

A first-generation Jamaican-American, Courtney Panton, Sr. was active in New York’s reggae scene before turning his sons on to the music of their island heritage. Born out of jam sessions in the family’s Brooklyn basement, the brothers began their career playing Bob Marley and Earth, Wind & Fire covers at parties and gatherings around the neighborhood.

“We actually started playing out right away,” said Panton. “We did bar gigs playing covers – R&B acts like Michael Jackson and Earth, Wind and Fire and reggae acts like Bob Marley and Dennis Brown. We got pretty popular at that time.

“Even from the very beginning, our father wanted us to do originals. He wrote original songs for us. Now, we all write songs collectively.”

By 2010, the brothers had become focused on their own writing, which fused R&B, hip-hop, and dancehall with traditional reggae sounds. With each brother writing and offering vocals, Courtney Sr. filled in on bass. Following their self-released debut, “In the Streets,” New Kingston went on a European tour with rising reggae star Collie Buddz and played a number of prominent festivals.

The band’s sophomore LP, 2013’s “Kingston University,” earned them a deal with New York label Easy Star Records, which issued their third LP, “Kingston City,” in early 2015. Boasting an increased production value and guest spots by the Tribal Seeds, The Wailing Souls, Sister Carol, and Sugar Minott, “Kingston City” raised the band’s visibility considerably. The brothers released an EP titled “Kingston Fyah” in the summer of 2016.

“Our new album ‘A Kingston Story: Come From Far’ came out August 25,” said Panton. “We spent most of this year recording it at our house studio in Brooklyn – Kingston Studio. It’s all digital but we run a lot of things through our tape machine.

“It’s a rock reggae album. That’s our foundation. We feel like we can be a bridge to a new generation – that it can be digestible to everybody. It’s reggae. It’s rock. And, it has a conscious message.”

Video link for New Kingston – https://youtu.be/XhaAb3Q5Bsc.

The show at World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com), which alswo features The New Movement, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17.

Beru Revue

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will host “Beru Lite – A Beru Revue Workshop” on November 3, and Open Mic with guest host Frank Sokolovic on November 5.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Megan Slankard and Alex Wong on November 3 and Sarah Ragsdale and Michaela McClain on November 4.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present Callaghan and Jesse Terry on November 3 and Beth Wood and Heather Mae on November 4.

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