Q&A: Broadway’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ lead actress Emma Grimsley

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Emma Grimsley stars as Christine Daaé in Northern American tour "Phantom of the Opera". ustour.thephantomoftheopera.com

By JACKIE MOE

In one of the most iconic roles on Broadway, actress Emma Grimsley will step into the shoes of “Christine Daaé,” the female protagonist of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel and theatrical phenomenon “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Grimsley has performed as ‘Princess’ and as an understudy for Christine on tour, but was recently announced as the North American tour’s new lead — taking on the role in several performances during the tour’s stop at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa (July 10-21) before taking over officially for the Honolulu stop in August.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts – The Phantom of the Opera – The Company performs “Masquerade.” Original Tour Cast – Photo by Alastair Muir

The tour will return to Orange County for a two-week stop. Before she graces the Segerstrom Hall stage, Grimsley chatted with Backstage SoCal:

How long have you been involved in theater, and what inspired you to get into this industry?

Grimsley: My parents are both opera singers, so I grew up traveling with them and watching them work. Sometimes I was lucky enough to get to be in shows with them—the first one at three years old. So I’ve been on stage most of my life. Getting to watch shows take shape as a kid and falling in love with the theater from such a young age made it pretty impossible to avoid as I got older. 

What does it mean to you to perform this iconic theater show?

Grimsley: We’re in a cultural moment right now that is so dominated by screens and text and binge-watching content which can all be really isolating activities—it really is a thrill to bring a whole theater full of strangers on this story’s journey together. To spend the evening forgetting our devices and experiencing something with each other in real time. And the fact that Phantom is such an iconic show just adds to that thrill because we know that there are people in the audience who’ve loved this show for thirty years. Maybe they saw it with their parents years ago, and now they’re passing it down to their kids. It’s pretty cool to be part of a legacy like that.

In what ways is this tour run of “Phantom of the Opera” production unique from other productions?  

Grimsley: The production on Broadway right now has stayed the same since it opened in the Eighties, whereas our production incorporates new sets and a new approach to the characters while preserving the music and story and costumes you know and love.

What are some exciting elements about this theatrical production? (set, choreography, costumes, etc.)

Grimsley: We’re particularly proud of our set. It’s quite a thing to behold with lots of tricks hidden up its sleeves. Paul Brown designed our set to really capture what it would feel like to go backstage in a 19th century opera house where much of the story is set. And the iconic costumes were designed by Maria Björnson and have been a part of Phantom from the very beginning. And keep an eye out for our chandelier. It’s massive and beautiful and it comes with us to every city.

Are there any changes or updates to the original story?

Grimsley: The story and the music are the same, though Laurence Connor directed our production to focus on who each of these characters are as individual people. So you may walk away thinking about Christine’s journey from the beginning of the show to the end of the show or how the Phantom became the Phantom and how that impacts the way he interacts with the people in his world. 

What is your favorite scene in the musical?

Grimsley: I love “Masquerade” at the beginning of Act II. Act I is a roller coaster, and when you come back from intermission, “Masquerade” throws you right back into the action. It’s big and colorful and shows off all the elements of our production that make it so exciting. 

What part of the musical do you feel generates the most excitement from the audience?  

Grimsley: There are so many, and it changes from city to city—from audience to audience, really. But the way we use pyrotechnics is definitely something nobody in the audience forgets.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

Grimsley: This is the second time The Phantom of the Opera North American Tour has come through Costa Mesa, and we cannot wait to share this story with you again!

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: July 10 – 21. Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m. (Thursday July 11 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.); Saturday at 2:00 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30 p.m. The 2:00 p.m. performance on Saturday, July 20, 2019 will include audio description, open captioning and sign-language interpretation.

How much: Start at $35.75

Phone: (714) 556-2787

Online: SCFTA.org

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