Broadway powerhouses Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh are known as sticklers for quality and brand, of course. And they have to be for massive shows like “Phantom of the Opera,” which arrives in 20 trucks at Oakdale Theater in Wallingford for eight shows Wednesday through Sunday, May 8-12.
Keeping a constant eye on quality for this touring “Phantom” is Seth Sklar-Heyn, the tour’s executive producer and associate director who hails from West Hartford. We caught up with him by phone as he was on a train to Mackintosh’s house outside of London during a six-week visit to cast and produce a “Phantom” version in the West End.
He, too, is a stickler, either checking in remotely with his resident director or in monthly visits to tour stops.
“In terms of maintenance of these shows over time, it really is about the details,” Sklar-Heyn said. “You can look at the big picture but I’m obsessing over people’s hair and the costumes and the wear-and-tear on a daily basis.
“And it’s incredibly important to Cameron as well as every other member of the creative team that we are obsessive over the details. Because it is in all the details adding up that we can create such a substantial and impressive whole.”
“Phantom” is the longest running show in Broadway history by a wide margin and has been seen by more than 130 million people worldwide
Tour actors, including Eva Tavares, Jordan Craig and Trista Moldovan, do have some freedom to make choices, Sklar-Heybn said. “New ideas are welcome. ... And then it’s up to us as we watch them to make sure they balance those choices and make sure they fit in the greater whole.”
Sklar-Heyn, who lives in Brooklyn, said he grew up “about nine minutes from The Bushnell, where I used to be an usher when I was in high school.” As a student at Vassar in 1999-2000, he met some people in New York and actually started his career on the Broadway production of “Phantom” as a substitute stage manager on the show.
That led to an Equity (union) card and other shows around town. In 2011, he was asked to return to the long-running “Phantom” as a supervisor and a “caller” — sort of an air-traffic controller backstage. Today, as Mackintosh’s representative in North America, he works on other hits (“Les Miserables”) and the 2013-2014 redesigned “Phantom” on tour, which had a successful engagement at the Palace Theater in Waterbury in November 2017.
“From a physical standpoint, it’s the same production, with big, revolving drum in the center of the stage and all of the adjustments in scenic and lighting design,” Sklar-Heyn said. “There have been some cast changes, and you’ll have one of our alumni, a Phantom, who previously played the role, actually coming back to the role in Wallingford ... Derrick Davis.”
The show is a spectacle at times and a Gothic psychological thriller/love story at other times, featuring special effects, costumes, a big cast and the legendary chandelier. So how has it stayed fresh all these years?
“Cameron is the master at reinvention, of taking a title and looking at it in a new way with fresh eyes,” Sklar-Heyn said of the 2013 redesign. “It just allowed us to take material that people knew, or material people still needed to be introduced to, and bring it into the modern day in terms of style. That’s how we approached the storytelling.”
For the unfamiliar, the story is set in the late 19th century where a deformed musical genius stalks the halls of the Paris Opera from his underground lair. He becomes taken with orphaned chorus girl Christine Daae and (wearing a partial mask) he teaches the young ingenue to sing “The Music of the Night.” She blossoms as a performer but gets engaged to another man. Conflict ensues.
“It’s incredibly important to us that when an audience comes into the theater, they feel as if they are part of the event,” Sklar-Heyn said. “And we try to make the show as immersive as possible based on the scale and the spectacle that we present.”
He said such big productions are like “live-action Imax theater. It’s taking a huge environment, putting it in front of an audience and allowing them to be a part of it. ... But it really isn’t in excess. Everything on stage has a purpose ... part of the picture for a specific reason.”
And then there’s Webber’s score, which also includes “All I Ask of You” and “Masquerade.” Sklar-Heyn said “the foundation of everything we do is based in Andrew’s music. Absolutely, no question. I mean, you could close your eyes and you could create any world you want ... to still tell the same story with a clarity. But it is all built on music that has no become just incredibly important to how the present-day musical theater operates, I think.”
While Oakdale is a big, tall, modern box of a theater, Sklar-Heyn said the show has ways of creating the “Phantom” world from its own black box set that unfolds.