24 Minutes with Derrick Davis
Derrick Davis is The Phantom of the Opera. (Supplied Photo)
After 29 years, The Phantom of the Opera is still the reigning champion as the longest-running production on Broadway.
With a current touring production featuring newly-reinvented design and staging, Derrick Davis becomes only the second black male lead to assume the iconic role.
Prior to its final weekend at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Joe Leary spent 24 Minutes with the Phantom himself.
Your Broadway portfolio includes performances such as Dreamgirls, The Lion King and Showboat. To be a groundbreaker and earn the lead role in The Phantom of the Opera must make you feel inordinately proud.
I am. It’s a blessing and an honour and a huge responsibility but I take it all.
You’ve spent a fair bit of time on the stage in some legendary productions, but this is certainly at the top of that list. What was your introduction to The Phantom of the Opera?
Actually, my parents took me to see my first ever show in New York and it was The Phantom of the Opera. That was instrumental not only in making me fall in love with this show, but fall in love with musical theatre as a whole.
When you were there with your parents, did you look at that lead and think that was going to be you some day?
I didn’t. Not at that point, but mother did. She said: “You know, you’re going to play that role one day.” I didn’t believe her. I should have because what she says usually happens but I looked at the show and said, “I will be onstage”. That’s as large as my faith was at that time in myself but now, clearly I believe it.
For those of us that are theatergoers, we come to a performance, sit for a couple of hours and then walk away. For you, the performers, it’s a pretty full day. What is the typical touring production schedule like?
Well, because we are usually in the cities for two weeks at a time, everything that needs to happen happens in those two weeks. The first week is usually the load-in and a condensed version of the eight show week. We have one show on Wednesday night, two on Thursday, one of Friday, two on Saturday and two on Sunday. So that in and of itself is grueling. Then you have to add to that our press schedule which we have to do in every city. The second week of every city is a little bit more lax. But then if there are any touchups or rehearsals or meetings, things like that have to happen prior to the one show days and by the time we get to the end of that week we’re preparing to move. It’s a very turbulent cycle but once you’re in it you kind of get used to it.
Does everybody who dons the mask and cape pretty much hold true to the role as previously portrayed, or do you all bring your own nuances to the Phantom?
As an actor you always bring something a little bit fresh. A little bit different to the role when you step into it but in a show as long-running as this and as popular, you also want to make sure you pay homage to the legacy that’s been created before you. The majority of that responsibility falls into the hands of the creative team: the musical director, the director and resident director. They come in and take whatever you create and kind of mould it into the form that still tells the story as accurately as has been created.
What’s the moment in the show that really stands out for you?
The Music of the Night. It’s one of the most exposed songs in the show. It’s a long song and it gives you a lot of information and so you really have to be dedicated to giving that information every time you open you sing it or the audience will drift off in the beauty of the music and lose the words.
Is this your first trip to Vancouver?
It’s my first time ever to Canada, period.
And what was the first thing that made you realize “this is not like the US because...”?
It’s clean! It’s absolutely clean. I keep saying there are areas in Vancouver that are just like New York but it’s just beautiful. I love it!