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The 101 Dalmatians Musical & The Phantom of the Opera

Two shows on the Broadway Across America tour are coming to South Florida over the 2009 holidays, and each is a perennial favorite. “The Phantom of the Opera” begins a four-week run at the Broward Center Dec. 23, and “The 101 Dalmatians Musical” begins its five-day run at the Arsht Center Dec. 30.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Phantom” tells the story of a masked figure who lurks beneath the Paris Opera House and his obsessive love for innocent young soprano Christine. With worldwide grosses estimated at $5 billion, it is the longest-running show in Broadway history and has played in more than 124 cities around the world.

In this production, the longest-running Raoul (Christine’s boyfriend) in American history, Tim Martin Gleason (he’s played Raoul more than 2,600 times over seven years), has donned the iconic cape to play the Phantom.

“I started as a Phantom cover pretty much right away, so I’ve always been familiar with the role,” Gleason said. “The first Phantom for me was Ted Keegan, who sings the daylights out of the show. When I heard him sing I knew where I wanted to go with it vocally, but the creators of the show are supportive of me making the role my own, because it’s very open for interpretation.”

At times Gleason’s interpretation may depend on the audience. “There is a living, breathing energy in the theatre that affects your performance,” Gleason said. “Yes, the role is the role, but there’s also a give and take that exists between different audiences. I can play with the character constantly, and a lot depends on the energy I get from the audience.”

Is it possible for the audience to notice these changes?

“Obviously, if you saw the show repeatedly in a short period of time, you would notice,” Gleason said. “But the true answer is that if you see a show and it feels alive and breathing, then I can guarantee you people are tweaking it. I don’t care how good an actor you are, it’s impossible to keep it fresh and exciting if you just do it like a machine.”

Rachel York, who plays villainess Cruella De Vil in “The 101 Dalmatians Musical,” agrees.

“It’s a live performance, and an audience is a part of the performance,” York said. “As an actor we strive to be in the moment. Every night you discover new things about your character, what’s happening. Something might happen on stage and the audience gets it and you add that to the performance, and it might become permanent in the show after that.”

One challenge York faces is wearing stilts.

“The show is told from the dogs’ perspective, so stilts was a way to differentiate between the people in the show, the actors playing dogs, and the 15 real rescue dogs who appear in the show,” York said.

One might think that Cruella, who kidnaps Dalmatians for their furs only to get her comeuppance when the dogs fight back, would be a difficult challenge for the animal-loving York, but York is quick to separate fantasy from reality.
“It’s all in good fun, right?” York said. “I have a great affinity for the character, but I don’t like to have people around me who don’t enjoy animals. I enjoy how ridiculously over the top and self-centered she is, and she’s fun to play. I normally only show my light side to the world, so it’s wonderful to be in a nice environment and play evil so I can get all the aggression out of me.”

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