What Playing the Phantom of the Opera Taught This Actor About Being A Man
Of the many iconic leading roles in the theater world, the titular character of The Phantom of the Opera has a very good case for being one of the most formidable.
But the difficulty of playing the Phantom goes beyond being physically and vocally demanding. Because of its popularity, every actor who takes on the role is subjected to high scrutiny, with even the most casual audiences expecting nothing less than perfection.
So imagine taking on the role for the first time, knowing you were the youngest English-speaking person to do so in the world.
“Yes, it was an honor to be the youngest English-speaking Phantom, but there is massive pressure that comes with it,” shared Jonathan Roxmouth, who first took on the role when he was only 25 years old back in 2011, in an interview with Esquire Philippines. “To have that sort of microscope means that the margin of error or having a bad show every now and again—the pressure’s huge.”
Jonathan Roxmouth was only 25 years old when he first wore the mask, which made him the youngest English-speaking Phantom at the time.
By then, the South African stage actor had already played several major roles such as Danny Zuko in Grease, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, and Judas Iscariot in Jesus Christ Superstar, many of which were productions in his home country. But he knew that the pressure in taking on the Phantom was different, especially since the role wasn’t originally his.
“I was cast as Raoul way back in 2011, six shows a week. And then I was gonna be playing Phantom twice a week,” he revealed. “But in a weird Cinderella story, I ended up playing the Phantom full-time. Our Phantom got sick and bowed out, and then they asked me if I was interested in being the Phantom indefinitely.”
It was an offer he couldn’t refuse, but he admitted that he took it on “quite scared and a little bit tentative. And I don’t think I had the self-confidence immediately to play the role, because you need supreme confidence in yourself to be able to do that role.”
“It can be quite overwhelming,” he added. “But it’s worth it.”
Angel of Music
Roxmouth’s first time playing the Phantom brought him around the world, including a seven-week run at the Cultural Center of the Philippines back in 2012. Seven years later, the 31-year-old actor is back in Manila for his second world tour wearing the mask, this time for a five-week engagement in The Theatre at Solaire.
He’s had a lot of time to understand the character, being in a position he shares with very few other people. So when we told him about how we compared the role to Joe Goldberg, the creepy anti-hero of Netflix’s hit show You, he couldn’t help taking the comparison a step further.
“[They’re] hugely similar,” he said, after sharing that he was currently watching the show. “But he (Joe) isn’t disfigured. He’s that standard Hollywood good-looking pretty-boy who happens to have a bad side. But I think the disfigurement really changes things, because with the Phantom, his behavior is a reaction to the treatment by society.”
The 31-year-old actor has played several other leading roles, including Danny Zuko in Grease, Tony in West Side Story, and Judas Iscariot in Jesus Christ Superstar.
For those unfamiliar with the story, the reason why the Phantom wears his iconic mask is because he was born with a disfigured face. For Roxmouth, this disfigurement is what shapes and grounds the character, and it’s something that he had to internalize to better portray the role.
“I made it a point to base him in reality first and see how I can bring the world that the Phantom lives in into the real world,” he shared. “The fact that his mother's first reaction to him was to put a mask on his face, that his first touch from another human being was a mask, a barrier—he craves it, because fundamentally in all human beings we crave contact or community. And to not have that, I think something breaks in your mind.”
“I make that [portrayal] as real as possible,” he added. “Otherwise, it’s just an ugly guy in a basement throwing chandeliers at people.”
Abandon Their Defenses
The original The Phantom of the Opera, a French novel by Gaston Leroux, was first published back in 1909. It would take several decades before Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted it to the musical we all know today, which first ran in West End back in 1986 before opening in Broadway in 1988. The show is still running in both locations to this day, making it the third longest-running West End show and the longest-running Broadway production in history.
Of course, for a 110-year-old story and a 32-year-old musical to stand the test of time, it needs to not only be good but also be resonant to an ever-changing audience. And for Roxmouth, the show is still very relevant today—especially when the conversation turns into how the show twists the idea of masculinity.
“I think we’re living in an age of toxic masculinity being shown up as bullshit, because the idea that we have to be stoic and never show emotion is detrimental,” he said. “There’s nothing more beautiful than somebody owning their feelings and not being ashamed of it.”
He says that playing the Phantom has to be "as real as possible," because if not, he's just "an ugly guy in a basement throwing chandeliers at people."
Roxmouth pointed to how one of his biggest personal lessons in playing the role was how he became both stronger and more vulnerable, and it’s the balance between both that “gives a person their essence, how much of both they show to the world,” he said. And it’s these types of insights that he hopes to convey to other men through his portrayal of Phantom in the show.
“Making the decision to allow your humanity to be seen more than being stoic is perhaps the manliest thing of all,” he said. “And this show proves that. Grown men come [to watch] and cry, and they’re fine doing so.”
And if none of the above is convincing enough to watch the musical, Roxmouth has one more reason why you should.
“This is the perfect show to bring a first date to, just so you know,” he said, smiling. “Trust me.”
The Phantom of the Opera will run from February 20 to March 31 at The Theatre at Solaire. Roxmouth’s solo concert, Jonathan Roxmouth, The Musicals in Concert, will be held at April 13 in the same venue.
From top: Sport coat by Van Laack and jeans by Hiltl, both at Van Laack, Greenbelt 5, and gray hoodie and white T-shirt by Derek Rose, both at Moressi; Shirt by Van Laack and jeans by Hiltl, both at Van Laack, Greenbelt 5.