Live performance of ‘Phantom’ at the Byrd Theatre aims to highlight the famed movie palace’s original elegance
For those who know where to look, Richmond is a city of splendor. You can find evidence of such in the winding river that dissects the city or in its myriad of museums and galleries, and you can find it in its people. But the title of Richmond’s most splendid, if such a title exists, surely belongs to the historic Byrd Theater in the heart of Carytown.
For nearly a century, the Byrd Theater has been the cinema of choice for serious (and seriously broke) movie-goers. Though admission can be bought for a scant $1.99, it is virtually impossible to feel poor once ensconced in its luxurious settings. Such opulence has drawn many notable visitors and established the Byrd as the premier venue for practically everything entertainment-related in town.
So it should come as no surprise when the Byrd announced an original, one night-only production The Phantom of the Opera to benefit the Chesterfield Children’s Theatre.
Inspired by Gaston Leroux’s novel, this one-night engagement will take place on the evening of October 10th. Not to be confused with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, nor the Byrd’s traditional screening of the 1925 silent film classic, this dramatic play features period-appropriate ballets and arias mentioned in the novel, as well as an accomplished ensemble of actors, singers, and dancers. Proceeds of this performance go to continuing programming for the Chesterfield Children’s Theatre.
Several cast and crew members, including director/producer Tracey Lynn Frame, actor Aaron Jackson (Raoul), and Kimilee Bryant (Christine), talked about this production’s unique interpretation of the Phantom story, working in Richmond, and their experiences performing at the Byrd Theater.
Though most of us are familiar with the aforementioned musical or iconic silent film, Frame’s production offers a story that is equal parts new and familiar.
Bryant, who has distinguished herself by having played Christine Daae, Madame Giry, and Carlotta in the Broadway musical, noted that this production will have less singing and more dialogue.
“The Andrew Lloyd Webber version is almost all sung through,” Bryant said. “This is more of a play with music, so that’s a big difference.”
Though the beloved songs of the musical may be missing, the drama is intact, according to Jackson. “It’s still operatic when it’s just the dialogue,” he said. “You just take out the tunes, and it’s the same emotion that was in there vocally.”
Just because this particular production lacks Webber’s music doesn’t mean that it lacks music completely. For any die-hard Webber fans in the audience, you’ll be pleased to hear that, before the show, a Webber Phantom medley will be played on the Byrd’s Mighty Wurlitzer.
Of course, anyone familiar with the story of The Phantom of the Opera knows that the Paris Opera House is as much of a character as any of the story’s colorful personalities.
Similarly, the Byrd will be playing an equally essential role in the play.
“I’ve always went there and watched movies, and I’ve just always looked around and thought it looks like the Paris Opera House,” Frame said. “The whole book takes place in the Paris Opera House, so instead of trying to throw a lot of fake sets onto the stage we’re going to use the Byrd as the Paris Opera House and engage the audience.”
Bryant and Jackson, who’ve previously filmed footage for Frame’s new television project, Coney Island, have a similar sense of awe for the majestic movie palace.
“My day of filming was at the Byrd because I played Carlotta for that television show,” Bryant said. “[It was a ] gorgeous theater, so it’s really exciting that we’re going to do something live there.”
It should be noted that, in addition to this live, one-night theatre performance, the Byrd will continue its Halloween tradition of screening the 1925 silent film version of Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney in the titular role. So, what is it about the Phantom story that would prompt two adaptations in the same month?
Bryant, Frame, and Jackson each have their own theories:
For Frame, the story’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and she encourages a return to the source material. “I think everybody looks at it and takes away something different,” she said. “For any of the fans that have ever just watched the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, I always encourage everybody to go back and read the original novel.”
For Bryant, it’s about the story’s decadent and fantastic elements. “I think the period appeals to a lot of people, this Romantic period set in the Grand Opera House in Paris,” she said. “I think that maybe we get caught up in the the fantasy of an opera ghost or an angel of music.”
And for Jackson, the allure lies in the mystery of the title character. “It really depends on how you look at the Phantom,” he said. “Was the Phantom evil? Was he manipulating, or was he going after something that he loved and he cherished and he wanted to honor? I think we all have a different interpretation of what Phantom’s objective was.”
The performance will start at 7PM, and the includes a silent auction to benefit the Chesterfield Children’s Theatre.
William S. Young is an English student at Virginia Commonwealth University and a prospective professional writer. His work has been featured on iheartchaos.com, rvamag.com, and gayrva.com. William enjoys cultivating himself whenever and however possible, and hopes to someday have an expense account.
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