Andrew Lloyd Webber's monster success The Phantom of the Opera is dramatically arriving in Chicago for a North American tour to kick off a new year. This production has new special effects, lighting designs and choreography, thanks to musical mastermind Cameron Mackintosh and modern technology.
The story of a Swedish chorus girl named Christine who makes it big and becomes an obsession for a man with a deformed face haunting an opera house rang true with audiences thanks to a magnificent score and lots of drama.
Suddenly suitor Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, arrives on the scene and is ready to prove to Christine he won't play second fiddle to a phantom. Ben Jacoby, who plays the part of Raoul, called Chicago his home before going on this whirlwind tour. He worked in past shows at the Marriott Theatre in South Pacific and Dolly Parton's 9 to 5.
Windy City Times talked with Jacoby the day he arrived in the Windy City, while the trucks brought in the famous chandelier.
Windy City Times: Hi, Ben. Are you from Chicago?
Ben Jacoby: Not originally but I worked here last year, basically. I went to graduate school in Southern California and moved here after that.
WCT: You were in the city?
Ben Jacoby: Up in Edgewater at the Bryn Mawr stop on the Red Line.
WCT: Great area. How did you become involved with Phantom of the Opera?
Ben Jacoby: My agent here starting putting video auditions together for me. Once I became further involved in the process I flew to New York.
WCT: Describe your character.
Ben Jacoby: He's a suitor of Christine and the third piece of the love triangle. He's an aristocrat and Vicomte. He has lots of money and decides to be a patron of the opera house. He sees Christine, a childhood friend of his at the opera and falls in love. Meanwhile, she is being pursued by the Phantom.
WCT: In the 1910 writing, Raoul is described as "small, fair-mustached, with blue eyes and the complexion of a girl." Have you read that before?
Ben Jacoby: I have. There is another character, his older brother, that existed in this book; I think he is a hybrid of the two because he has a little more swagger and more confident. Raoul in the book is 21 years old and bright-eyed. That is why they describe him in that way.
WCT: What things have been changed for the tour?
Ben Jacoby: It might be easier to say what stayed the same. The costumes are the original design and the story is the same. It is still the same Andrew Lloyd Webber production. The same material is intact but the staging is entirely different, along with the lights and choreography. There are elements of the brilliant original production that are still herelike the chandelier, of courseis still around but this has a different flavor.
WCT: So a more modern take, visually?
Ben Jacoby: Right. That show opened in the '80s and now we are in 2014. We have a lot more technical facilities than we used. Everything has been updated, technically.
WCT: So not your grandma's Phantom of the Opera! I heard 18 trucks had to be unloaded today in the snow.
Ben Jacoby: I think it is tied for the biggest production now on the road. It is massive.
WCT: Vocally, is this role challenging?
Ben Jacoby: It is, a lot. It is more than I thought when I was auditioning for it. When I saw it I thought that it was just singing "All I Ask of You" and that would be it. He is onstage much of the time and there are a lot of scenes. The challenge is the durability for the length of the show. I have to take care of myself.
WCT: Is Christine a diva?
Ben Jacoby: Carlotta really is the diva in the sense that we think of a diva. She throws these diva fits. Christine is really the product of her storming off after the Phantom makes his first appearance in the show. Carlotta explains that they have experienced these things in the theater for a long time. She is done and so Christine goes on for her that night. Christine then becomes a big star but not a divawell, maybe an opera diva. In that sense she is a diva...
WCT: A star is born! So there's a lot of drama.
Ben Jacoby: Of course. There is magic and mystery along with a love triangle so you are guaranteed so drama with unrequited love.
WCT: Did you see the movie version, with Emmy Rossum from Showtime's Shameless and openly gay director Joel Schumacher?
Ben Jacoby: I did but it has been a long time. That was the first thing I saw that she did.
WCT: Where else is the show traveling to?
Ben Jacoby: We were just in Providence and Minneapolis but Chicago is our longest sit down scheduled for right now, with eight weeks. We go to Columbus, Philadelphia and Boston so we go everywhere.
WCT: What are you doing after the tour?
Ben Jacoby: I am still getting my feet wet while being on tour so we shall see.
WCT: How was being in Dolly Parton's 9 to 5?
Ben Jacoby: Lots of fun.
WCT: Speaking of fun, will you do anything fun while in town?
Ben Jacoby: I am off Mondays so maybe some museums. I wish it were baseball season so I could see some games so maybe I will see the Bulls instead. I have lots of friends from doing shows at the Marriott so hopefully I can see them.
The Phantom of the Opera tickles the ivories at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., until Sunday, March 2. Tickets for the eight-week run can be found at www.BroadwayInChicago.com or at 800-775-2000.