'Phantom of the Opera' visits Detroit Opera House

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
The Phantom (Quentin Oliver Lee) leads Christine (Eva Tavares) down into his subterranean lair in "Phantom of the Opera" at the Detroit Opera House.

Everybody's favorite unstable, murderous, opera-loving "ghost" will rise from his lair to haunt the Detroit Opera House Jan. 24 to Feb. 3, when the dazzling new Cameron Mackintosh production of "Phantom of the Opera" — complete with new set design and choreography — blows into town. 

The Detroit News caught up with the musical's two stars last week in Oklahoma City — Quentin Oliver Lee, 30, who plays the Phantom, and Canadian actress Eva Tavares, 27, who plays Christine, the operatic understudy who becomes a sensation and the object of the disfigured man's obsession. 

Key to fully inhabiting a role, of course, usually involves finding some aspect of the character the actor can like or admire. But that's an easier task for Tavares than it is for Lee and the creepy Phantom. 

Nevertheless, Lee — who first played the Detroit Opera House in his 2014 professional debut with "Porgie and Bess" — insists that's not been a problem.

"I don’t think a lot of people realize this, but the Phantom is incredibly honest," he said. "He does exactly what he says, and I think that’s honorable." In addition, Lee added, "He's incredibly passionate and observant — almost a genius in that regard. So there is something redeemable, despite his tendency to go to extremes."

Which, given that the Phantom threatens to blow up the Parisian opera house and everyone in it, is putting that as gently as possible.

Tavares' character, by contrast, is full of virtues, in addition to her breathtaking voice. 

"Christine is the epitome of empathy," the actress said. "She sees this man who’s wounded, who's had to hide his whole life to escape criticism and violence. But she sees beyond the physical into this violent, frightened individual, and finds his intelligence and worth."

Christine's good side almost spells her doom

"She tries to show her kindness," Tavares said, "but ultimately she has to leave because she can’t save the Phantom — he has to save himself. Obviously, he’s not able to figure out the right path. But you see her over and over offering him a way out of the cast he’s locked in."

Christine's ability to think for herself is one of the traits Tavares most admires, and is one reason the song "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" has become the actress' favorite. 

"It’s kind of Christine’s turning point," Tavares said, "where she stands on her strength and makes her own choices. And that’s very important to me at the moment."

If an actor's relationship to his or her character is important, another key factor — which can lift or kill a production —- is the rapport the leading lady and leading man have with each other. 

Happily, this national touring production appears to be an easy fit for Lee and Tavares — even if he's 6 feet 7 inches, and she's 15 inches shorter. 

"Eva is a treat to work with," Lee said. "She’s a bundle of fire and energy and strength, and that’s fun to work against. We’ve been performing together a year now, and she always brings something new to the show every night. I cannot tell you how I appreciate that." 

When asked about her co-star, Tavares laughs. "He’s a good egg," she said. "He's a good one."

"When you're in a show with someone," she added, "it’s almost like you’re in a relationship. You have to navigate day to day and communicate. Quentin's a very present partner in all this. I’ve got to give him so many props for instigating conversations — sitting down and really getting to know me."

Plus, Tavares says, Lee's a total character. 

"He’s kind, full of laughs, and very loud with a big booming voice," she said. "And it’s wonderful. That’s just what you need for the Phantom."

Finally, ever wondered what performing every night 'till 11 p.m. does to you and your biorhythms? 

"I'm pretty demolished after a performance," said Lee, "but It depends. Some shows are harder than others, and I’m not exactly sure why. You work yourself up," he added, "but then you’ve got to go to the stage door and talk to people. You’ve got to do that. And that's usually really nice and rewarding."

And when does he manage to hit the hay? "About 2:30 or 3," he said.

Tavares agrees with "demolished," noting she usually gets to bed about an hour before her co-star.

"I’m emotionally drained after every show, for sure," she said. "It's such a rollercoaster and takes a lot out of you physically."

Tavares doesn't do a lot after she gets back to her hotel, she admits, apart from having a snack and reading or watching TV. Like mental-health professionals, she has to be careful not to take her work home with her.

"The biggest thing for me was learning how to shed the character," she said, "because Christine goes through a lot. And I’m very emotional myself, and sometimes take on things from her that I don't need, like the grief she goes through. I have to check myself," Tavares added. "Is this me — or something I’ve picked up in the show?" 

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy 

(313) 222-6021


'Phantom of the Opera'

Jan. 24-Feb. 3

Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit

8 p.m. Tues.-Fri; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Sat; 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. Sun.

Tickets: $39 and up

(800) 982-2787