“The priority, in many ways, is the music because we can’t make compromises on the score,” explains casting director Tara Rubin, who has been working on The Phantom of the Opera since she was a casting associate with Johnson-Liff Associates. In 2001, she started her own company, Tara Rubin Casting, and took Phantom with her.
“The vocal demands are very specific,” she continues. “There are many young women who have beautiful soprano voices, but they aren’t particularly suited to singing the role of Christine. There’s always that search to find that beautiful soprano voice that’s very light and yet dramatic. Within the role of Christine, we also look for actresses who bring a strength to that part. We look for actresses who can, more or less, grow up before our eyes, as the character does—as the character finds her voice, literally and figuratively, and becomes a strong person on the stage.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera has been running for over 29 years, having opened on Broadway January 26, 1988, and has seen many actors walk through the Majestic’s doors.
Replacements must transition seamlessly into the well-oiled machine in terms of look, feel, and costuming, but vocal and acting talent remains at the forefront of casting decisions.
“The Phantom is a creative genius, so we look for people who have that sense of being driven by beauty, being driven by creativity and art, and performers who understand the beauty in that dark side of creativity,” says Rubin. “Actors who understand the broken heart at the center of it. He’s not a villain, and he’s actually quite alluring throughout the evening, isn’t he? The world has viewed him as a hideous person, but for the time that we spend with him, we find him appealing. We understand that the depths of his soul drives him to do what he does.”
As for the ensemble members—some of whom function as body doubles for the Phantom and Christine during the show, and some of whom understudy principals—Rubin needs true triple threats.
“That’s one of the thrilling things about being around actors—finding people who can create a supporting character, but also have the talent and ability to take on a principal role when called upon,” she says. “Also, I think that one of the most original things about Phantom of the Opera was the physical production… We need to look for people who feel like they’re denizens of that world.”
But Rubin and Harold Prince, the visionary director behind The Phantom of the Opera, aren’t afraid of change within that realm. The production celebrates diversity. Norm Lewis became the first African-American Phantom on Broadway, with Ali Ewoldt currently the first Asian-American Christine and Jordan Donica (who recently departed for Hamilton) as the first African-American Raoul.
“This show evolved because everyone involved in maintaining the show is also continuing to evolve,” she says. “Hal Prince created this show with specific standards and specific ideas about the casting of the show, but he has continued to be an incredibly imaginative and creative and vibrant person in the creative community. … We’ve all responded to the evolution of different aesthetics and trends in theatre, so I hope that the show reflects that while maintaining the core of original production.”
Michael Gioia is the Features Manager at Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.