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Lead actor Ben Jacoby's sneak peek into new production of 'Phantom of the Opera'

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"The Phantom of the Opera" is an Andrew Lloyd Weber masterpiece that has been gracing stages across the globe for 25 years. This summer, the sweeping romantic tale returns to Milwaukee's Marcus Center in a new production from July 23-August 3. Yesterday, June 5, Ben Jacoby shared his insight into the new production and how it relates to the classic versions known by many.

"The Phantom of the Opera" follows the love triangle surrounding Christine Daaé, a young opera singer reaching the spotlight thanks to a mysterious tutor. This tutor, later known as the Opera Ghost, or Phantom of the Opera, reveals himself to be a more terrifying creature as the plot develops. Meanwhile, Christine's childhood friend and lifelong love, Raoul, tries to put an end to the Phantom's chaotic and increasingly destructive reign over the opera house and Christine.

Ben Jacoby has always loved the Midwest and looks forward to his return with "The Phantom of the Opera", as he's studied at Denison University, lived in Chicago, and performed with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. He plays the role of Raoul in this production, but has a long history of familiarity with the show as his father, Mark Jacoby, portrayed the Phantom in the original Broadway production and in the first national tour in 1990. Ben Jacoby reflected on this extremely rare father-son connection within the show saying,

I feel like I've always known [the music] and I think as much as anything it's a testament to the show that it can truly be multi-generational. It's an important show and obviously a longstanding show in my family and it's an honor to get to do it myself now.

Jacoby is in the same show portraying a different role, and though audiences will experience the same show, it is an entirely re-imagined production led by Cameron Mackintosh. While the music, plot, and costumes are the same classic elements audiences have come to know and love, Jacoby explains that there are some changes saying,

Physically the set looks entirely different. Our set- you might say it is realistic. It wizzes you through the back stage of the opera house, it gives you the idea of what the dressing rooms might have actually looked like.... scenes take place on and off the set.... The lighting is different and it's new choreography.

But what makes this production really different, and the most important change for Jacoby, was Laurence Connor's directing approach. Jacoby explained,

[Laurence Connor] really encouraged us to find the humanity in these characters. The Phantom is terrorizing the opera house so the stakes are high and every character is going through something pretty immediate and visceral emotionally. So we're treating Raoul as a real guy who's afraid the love of his life is next on the Phantom's list and I think there's a real need there to find the humanity in him. He's not just a young lover but a real guy.

Much like Jacoby's lifelong appreciation of the show from a young age, he feels that there is still a lot that people of all ages and backgrounds can relate to within "The Phantom of the Opera." And while pyrotechnics and gunfire might frighten very young children, all other elements are universal. As Jacoby says,

I think it really is something that reaches or touches different people of different ages in different ways and there is a message there that hits people of all ages. Adolescents will obviously understand the story and commiserate with it because it deals with these things like unrequited love where the Phantom loves Christine so much and yet he feels he's not good enough to be loved. I think people of all ages can relate to that feeling that we're not enough and that's a big theme and message of the show.

Even setting the plot themes aside, newcomers, veterans, and people of all ages can appreciate "The Phantom of the Opera" for its classic, sweeping musical score and the sheer size of this new production. While Jacoby certainly leaves plenty of praise for his director, colleagues, and Andrew Lloyd Weber's "sweeping, luscious, romantic score", he paid particular attention to the magnitude of this production saying,

The set is new and because it's so realistic, it's massive. This whole production is enormous- it takes 21 trucks to transport it from city to city which makes it the biggest show on the road. It's a feast for the eyes and a spectacle.... The show's first performance was in 1986 and a lot has happened technologically since then so we have a lot of updated technical elements which are exciting.

To be involved in such an enormous, epic production such as this is a great honor for Jacoby both because of his personal connection to the show and the new, re-imagined nature of this production. As he says,

It feels like I'm a part of something big and it's a real pleasure to do this new production because we've had the opportunity to breathe new life through these characters and sort of start from scratch again and find something else in there in that way and people haven't gotten the chance to do with these characters for a long, long time. I feel so lucky to really put my own stamp on it.

Milwaukee audiences can expect "The Phantom of the Opera"'s themes of unrequited love, Andrew Lloyd Weber's sweeping score, and "a visually spectacular show" beginning July 23. Tickets are available online or by calling (414)273-7206. For more information, please visit the Marcus Center website.

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