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‘Phantom of the Opera’ tour approaches its finale

After the chandelier drops on the Halloween night performance of “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Pantages Theatre, the show’s cast members will be looking for their next gig after years, and in at least one case, decades, of job security with the venerable musical.


FOR THE RECORD:
Tim Martin Gleason: An article in the Sept. 26 Arts & Books section about actor Tim Martin Gleason, who plays the Phantom in the “Phantom of the Opera” show that opened last week at the Pantages Theater, said he opened the Las Vegas production of the musical playing the title character. He played Raoul when the Las Vegas “Phantom” opened. —


“Does The Times have any openings?” asks Tim Martin Gleason, who has been with “Phantom” on tour, on Broadway and in Las Vegas since 2001 as a member of the ensemble, the romantic interest Raoul and, for the last 16 months, as the tortured, masked Phantom.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe musical based on the Gaston Leroux classic is still going strong on Broadway in its 23rd year. But its producers say the national tour is coming to an end.

“Phantom” has been on the road since 1989, when it opened with the original Broadway lead actor, Michael Crawford, at the Ahmanson. The first national tour, dubbed the Christine Company, played L.A. and San Francisco for 10 years. The second national tour, which producers called the Raoul tour, ran for 8 1/2 years in major cities. The current tour, known as the Music Box Company, will have played some 7,284 performances over 18 years.

Trista Moldovan 30, has played Christine, the object of the Phantom and Raoul’s affection, for the past 2 1/2 years with only a brief time off from the tour to do a production of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

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She was 12 when she first saw “Phantom,” on tour in Cleveland. “I fell in love with the Phantom and musical theater,” she says. “What drew me in was purely the spectacle and the music. What draws me in now is the love story. People go back time and time again because it’s very endearing to root for the underdog.”

Over the years, she played opposite three Phantoms and several understudies. “Tim is very volatile but sexy at the same time,” she says. “I love working off that energy. I still feel like I have been beaten up by a baseball bat every night, but playing to a new city every month you’re playing to a different audience. Not only does this show hold a very special place in my heart, this national tour holds a very special place in my heart because never in a million years [did] I think I would be part of it.”

Unlike Moldovan, Gleason was not impressed when he saw “Phantom” on Broadway when he was 18. “I had sung when I was a kid and I was doing plays in high school so I kind of liked musicals, but I was bored with ‘Phantom.”’

But that all changed when he turned 25. He was part of corporate America — he’d had stints at Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Pioneer Electronics and as an actuary/accountant at a consulting firm — and at that point was miserable. “So I started to think, maybe I should do some theater again,” Gleason says. “So I started doing community theater at night and thought maybe this is what I should be doing [for a living]. I saw ‘Phantom’ again and it really hit me how great it was.”

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He began in the “Phantom” tour in December 2001 and within two months was playing Raoul and understudying the Phantom. He did the tour for three years, went on Broadway as the rival for a year and then opened the Las Vegas production as the title character. He played the Phantom as an understudy some 150 times and in May 2009 took over full time as the Phantom on tour.

Gleason drives from city to city with his 8 1/2-year-old golden retriever, Madison, and a 3-year-old orange tabby named Hurley. “There are probably a dozen dogs on tour with the show,” he says.

Sean MacLaughlin, 31, who has been with the tour since May 2007 and has played Raoul since January 2009, also travels with two dogs and his fiancée, ensemble member Elaine Matthews, whom he met doing the show.

“Tour life is really hard,” he says. “I drive around from state to state and we have our trunks the tour provides for us and then, every city, the dogs get readjusted to the water and the different parks. It’s a very unique lifestyle. It gets really hard but to go into a new space and to feel a crowd and to be able to perform the show, it does make a difference.”

He saw “Phantom” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., when he was about 14, and calls the show “the gateway drug of musical theater.”

“That’s what made me want to get into musical theater,” he says. “I come from a small town in Virginia. I would perform with my family in community theater but I had never seen anything like this.”

MacLaughlin is very aware of youngsters in the audience. “I am in charge of making sure that this kid has the same experience,” he says. “There is another kid just like me who will want to, poor guy, go into musical theater. It’s my responsibility to do my best every night. I will try and give them as much help as I can.”

D.C. Anderson, who has played Monsieur André on tour for the last 10 years, has actually been with “Phantom” since it opened at the Ahmanson 21 years ago.

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“I recently thought about when I was a kid, I knew I was going to be an actor and I would never have the experience my father had: He worked at the same company for 25 or 30 years,” Anderson said. “As an actor I thought I would do four weeks here and six weeks there, maybe something in New York that lasted a year. It never ocurred to me I would just be four years shy of a gold watch.”

“Being in the show has given me everything I have,” he says. He doesn’t know how he’ll react when the tour ends in Los Angeles. “I was a wreck after [the show at the Ahmanson] closed,” he says. “I can’t imagine after this closes.”

As for the future, Moldovan says she’s returning to home base in New York where she has a few irons in the fire. MacLaughlin and his fiancée have bought a place in Brooklyn but also want to spend time in Los Angeles looking for work.

Gleason also is ready to give Hollywood a whirl.

“To be gainfully employed for almost nine straight years as a theater actor is just unheard of,” Gleason says. “Sometimes it’s like the golden handcuffs. People who become actors don’t do it because they want to get comfortable in their lives. We are risk takers and so it’s nice to have that decision made for us that we have to enter the fray again. It’s going to be interesting.”

Besides, he says, “I have a great place in L.A. near the Hollywood Bowl with a dog park at the corner.”

susan.king@latimes.com


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