by Michael P Coleman
The wait is almost over for Sacramento-area fans of the classic The Phantom Of The Opera. A new production of the musical opens on May 17 and features Derrick Davis in the lead role.
Davis has amassed a very impressive body of work, having starred in productions like The Lion King and Dreamgirls. While the biracial Davis follows a long line of phenomenal Phantoms, he’s only the third man of color — and the first of Latin descent — to play the iconic role.
The actor doesn’t take the distinction lightly.
“It can be a little bit of an overwhelming thought,” Davis shared by phone recently. “It’s an honor, a privilege — and those words sound like cliches, but I mean them with my whole heart. There’s not a moment that passes that I’m not acutely aware that I was chosen to do something that many, many people have tried to be a part of, and many great men have done this role before. To be able to step into these shoes is an incredibly weighty responsibility, to pay homage and to live up to the storytelling that the great men who have gone before me have done.”
I wondered how and why Davis decided to pursue a role that wasn’t expressly written for an African American man.
“Where there’s no specificity to the role, I would rather go for the roles that don’t specifically look for people of color, to see if we can break down some walls,” Davis said. “If you don’t reach out and try for something, there’s no way you’ll get it. If you reach out and try, and you fail, at least you tried. I’m so grateful to Andrew Lloyd Weber and the entire creative team for believing in me and my work ethic and talent enough to give me the opportunity to be the third man of color to play the Phantom in the show’s 30 year history.”
With just a glimpse of performance footage of Davis as the Phantom, I found myself both awed by his gift and curious about whether he felt any trepidation accepting a role that so many musical theatre legends have played. Davis told me he feels nothing but gratitude, and rather than be weighed down by comparison to others, he tries to stay in the moment each night on stage.
“I feel like I”m a part of that family, that community of creativity,” Davis said. “When you come to live theatre, it’s a one-of-a-kind moment. You never get the same show twice. There are so many different things that create the moment that the audience is taking in at any given moment, [and] the energy from the audience is always different. So when they hear a song, my only thought is to live honestly and truly in the moment, with the character on stage, with the words I’m singing. If I’m doing that, there’s really no competition in that moment. I don’t feel I’m comparing myself [to others] or that anyone’s comparing me to anyone else.”
Davis’ enthusiasm for playing the Phantom is undeniable. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to talk with someone who’s more connected to a role. He told me he has two favorite moments in this new production.
“It’s a show about an opera house, so there are shows playing within the show,” Davis whispered with the unbridled joy of a young boy telling me his biggest secret. “As we go in and out of one of those shows, it’s just escapism at its finest. The other favorite moment, that I have as the Phantom, is that final layer where all of this tension that he’s held for his whole life and the entire time that the audience has had the opportunity to know him all comes snapping loose! Every emotion is incredibly raw, and the energy and the angst and the fight and that love triangle comes to a head. It’s incredibly intense! It’s just so wonderful to create that moment every night to end the show.”
Davis emphasized that while elements of the show are familiar to almost three decades of theater fans, this new Phantom production offers quite a lot that’s new.
“The music is the same that fans have always loved, and it’s the same script you’re familiar with,” Davis said. “But our director wanted to take the mysticism and the magical components and make them a little more human, so they’re a little more relatable and a little more realistic. The set design is more reflective of what you would find in an opera house in Paris. There are certain things technologically that just weren’t in existence 30 years ago [when the production premiered] that exist today, so we’ve updated a few things.”
“And the chandelier — oh, God! Get ready for that one,” Davis laughed. “I’m not going to give away all of the special effects, but if you’re sitting anywhere near the center of the orchestra section, you’re going to get every penny of what you paid for when that chandelier drops!”
The Phantom Of The Opera is presented by Broadway Sacramento May 17-29. Click here for tickets.