DIVA TALK: Chatting With Phantom of the Opera Star Mary Michael Patterson

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06 Sep 2013

Patterson and Stephanie Rothenberg in Sense & Sensibility.
Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen

Question: What’s it like going from being in the chorus or a smaller role to being one of the leads of a Broadway show?
Patterson: It’s crazy. I pinch myself every day. [Laughs.] A friend of mine just sent me a picture and a text message that he was walking by the Majestic – he’s in Matilda – and he took a picture of the marquee and said, "Look, it’s your name. Is it weird?" And I think every day it’s so strange, and I’m not certain that it’s me it’s happening to, but it’s amazing. I feel like when the opportunity presents itself, you just step into it and do what you need to do to make it happen and do the best you can, and that’s sort of what I have to do. I just show up and do what I know how to do and hope that it’s good enough and what works for the show. I just think also that it’s a different set of skills and muscles than Anything Goes, too, because I'm not tap dancing, it’s not this bubbly light musical. It’s a littler darker and there’s a lot more singing, but it’s great! It’s great to be able to do both, and it's thrilling to be in such a piece of history and see how excited the audience is every night to see it, and most of them have seen it before… I hear a lot of, “Oh, I saw this 25 years ago with Sarah Brightman, or I saw it 15 years ago….” It’s so bizarre and so exciting at the same time.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Christine? Is there something you look forward to every night?
Patterson: I really love the whole Don Juan sequence, "Point of No Return." It’s so fun to play and do the opera within the opera and have that moment of, yes, it’s Christine, but she’s playing a character, and there are so many things happening, and the tension is so high… That's really when the show makes a big change, and you can feel the energy every night and anticipation of that moment.

Patterson in Phantom.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: With Christine, it’s one of the rare Broadway roles where you do six shows a week rather than eight. What’s that schedule like?
Patterson: This is actually my first week doing it. I was doing the alternate for the last three weeks, and I just switched over to principal Christine. I'm just getting to know it, but it's really nice. I think it’s brilliant, and more shows should do it if they can. [Laughs.] Just having those two shows off makes such a difference in terms of energy and feeling fresh. The role is so demanding – not only vocally, but physically – so much of the show is me being thrown to the ground and wearing giant dresses. So I think it’s really smart, and I’m so, so grateful for it because it means I have that extra time to take care of myself and to go back and be 100 percent for the show.

Question Now that you’re in the show, what are your thoughts about why it's had such longevity?
Patterson: I think about that a lot. I think one of the reasons is it’s such an escape. Going to this period, this Victorian heightened sense, it’s very stylized, and it’s not like anybody’s day-to-day life now. So I think when people go see Phantom, it's the ultimate escape. It’s so romantic. It’s the most romantic story ever. And, you see people get so invested in that love triangle and watching Christine choose. I think it’s a way for people to truly escape and go to the theatre and not feel like they’re thinking about anything that’s happening in 2013, which is good, and I think that’s why it’s lasted for so long. And, also, the music is brilliant and gorgeous, and the kind of singing that’s done in Phantom is not done a lot on Broadway anymore, and it’s also a nostalgia that people have for that kind of singing and that kind of music… You see the struggle the Phantom has, this man, and I think everybody has a part of themselves that they feel they’re ashamed of or scared of, so you relate to him, to all three of them really, more than you think you would. That’s why I think people can come back and come back because they see a piece of themselves in it, and at this point it’s a part of their history. Families come and say, "I saw it 15 tears ago, and now I'm bringing my daughter or my grandchildren." So now it’s become this sort of staple, and people know that when they come back to it — they’re reliving something that was very special to them when they were younger.

Question: Are you able to work on any other projects while you’re doing this or just focusing on Phantom?
Patterson: Right now I’m just focusing on the show because I’ve so recently joined. But I’m going to do a concert in December, and once I feel a little more settled I would love to explore concert work because it’s a little bit less of a time commitment and I can do both.

[For more information visit phantombroadway.com.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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