Behind the mask: Dubai’s first-ever Phantom of the Opera reveals why the show will be better than ever

Jonathan Roxmouth will play the lead role in this year’s production of the hit musical

Behind the mask: Dubai’s first-ever Phantom of the Opera reveals why the show will be better than ever
Behind the mask: Dubai’s first-ever Phantom of the Opera reveals why the show will be better than ever Image #2
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When Phantom of the Opera comes to Dubai later this year, the behind-the-scenes crew will be breathing a bigger sigh of relief than Christine Daae when her masked stalker eventually frees her from his underground lair.

Gone is the rickety boat from the original production in 1986 that was on the same frequency as the local fire brigade, meaning it would idly sail off stage whenever an emergency call-out went by.

To the delight of the orchestra, the floating clouds of dry ice have been tamed too, so the cellists can actually read their music during the legendary underground cavern scenes.

And in even better news for the stagehands, the candelabras are no longer controlled by Victorian hand cranks.

But perhaps most surprisingly, the audience will scarcely notice anything different. The music, the costumes and the sets, those beautiful sets, will all be the same. In fact, they’re more faithful to the original concepts by late theatre designer Maria Björnson that were first sketched out more than three decades ago.

That’s according to Jonathan Roxmouth, the South African musical theatre star who has just been unmasked as the man playing the lead role in Dubai’s October 2019 shows.

After starring roles in hit productions from Sweeney Todd to Beauty and the Beast, he’ll be taking to the stage in Dubai this October as part of a “truly international” company of performers, who will bring the musical to life for the first time ever in the city.

“What you see and what you hear is exactly the same – that hasn’t been touched,” he explains. “But backstage, it’s state-of-the-art”.

“This is the first production since London that is as close to the original designs without associates getting in the way. They started from scratch, with Maria Björnson’s original notes. But now there are more tricks.

“What people know Phantom to be is what they’re going to get, and then some. We haven’t touched the show – the music’s there, the costume’s there, the set’s there. But there are moments the audience will notice.”

There’s a strong history when it comes to Phantom of the Opera. Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, the production captured the attention of theatre and musical fans worldwide with its tragic tale.

Now it’s the second-longest running West End musical after Les Miserables, which showed at Dubai Opera in 2016. Phantom opened in New York in 1998 and is the longest-running show in Broadway history.

And while the production coming to the UAE might be shiny and new, Roxmouth, 32, is far from a novice when it comes to the world of Phantom. His love for the Andrew Lloyd Webber show started as a young child, when he would conduct along to the tapes of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, the stars of the original London stage show.

Years later in 2011, a dream came true when Roxmouth’s role playing the Phantom’s nemesis-in-love Raoul in a South African production was swapped out for the lead when the starring actor was out of action.

At the age of just 24, the actor was taking to the stage in a show that had been “part of [his] family tapestry for generations”. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, once wasn’t enough. Following a run in his native South Africa, he was asked back to play the lead in Manila.

Now he’s just finished a second run there and is playing the role in Singapore, before heading straight to Dubai in October.
Roxmouth explains: “Dubai is known for its opulence and so is Phantom.That to me is the perfect match.

“What I’m looking forward to with Dubai is that it’s never been here before. Any actor who goes on tour will tell you that being part of a premier event is the most exciting thing, because it’s brand-new. There’s no-one to compare it to. I become Dubai’s original Phantom. I don’t take that lightly.”

We’ve met the man behind the mask – now we can’t wait to hear him sing.
From Dhs250. Wed Oct 16-Wed Oct 30, 8pm, 2pmon Fridays and Saturdays. Dubai Opera, Downtown Dubai, www.dubaiopera.com.

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