By Jacqueline Monahan
Photos by Stephen Thorburn
Phantom Fan Week at The Venetian Part 1: A Conversation with Anthony Crivello
The first annual Phantom Fan week (September 14-18) took place in and around the Phantom Theater at The Venetian. One of the premier events featured a Q&A session with the star of the popular show.
As resident Phantom and Tony Award winner Anthony Crivello took the stage, he immediately exhorted the audience to yell out their states and countries of origin. Phantom fans are among the most loyal, and enthusiastically obliged. “Idaho! Utah! Massachusetts! Texas! Arizona! Illinois! Iowa!” There were even a few die-hard devotees from Australia and England.
Crivello launched into a brief history of his three-year involvement with Phantom stating that he “has not read the novel nor seen the movie.” He did not want to be influenced by someone else's work. The Tony Award winner (Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1993) admits he was an unconventional choice for the role, and was chosen by Director Hal Prince because of his passion and approach, which he “molded to fit the stage and words.”
The black walls and floor of the expansive Phantom Theater stage served as an appropriately dark backdrop for the actor, who portrays a shadowy, seductive figure, capable of love, despair and an all-encompassing rage. His costumes alone cost a quarter of a million dollars. You've got to dress well for the opera, after all.
In analyzing his character, Crivello wondered why the Phantom “reacts in this bi-polar way to the young girl (Christine). He experiences the rejection of his mother, has a physical attraction and an unrequited love, plus the Svengali-like part of him vying for dominance over the teenager that never matured.” His assertion that “Michael Jackson was the equivalent of The Phantom for this generation,” met with nods of agreement from many audience members.
Anthony Crivello answers questions
When asked how he kept in shape for such a demanding role Crivello replied, “You don't just perform a role like this, you have to live it.” The actor calls himself a creature of habit, seeking proper sleep which said wasn't always easy with small children at home (he has a 3 year old and a six week old). The kids “dictate terms.”
Preparation for the role is a daily occurrence, and Crivello warms up in his car on the way to the theater, knowing by 3:00 p.m. if he's going to be able to perform that day. He only had to cancel once, and it happened to be April 1st. The stage manager called back to confirm that he was serious.
Crivello was musically influenced by his father, who qualified for a coveted spot in the Metropolitan Opera chorus, but had to refuse due to military service in World War II. The actor's own influences (James Brown, The Temptations, The Four Tops) expanded to include the works of Puccini and Verde, augmented by the vocal talent of a young Pavarotti.
The acting bug bit in his sophomore year of high school, when he played a Shark in West Side Story. His blonde brother was cast as a Jet. In real trooper fashion, Crivello made it all the way through a performance with a large wooden splinter embedded in is calf. The show must go on, as they say, and Crivello would be the first to agree.
Crivello did 12 shows in high school, worked in summer stock when he was 17, and showed such promise that both his vocal coach and acting instructor (Stanislavski method) would not charge him for lessons. He won a scholarship to Marquette University and was wooed by Northwestern (he declined). He left college for stints at Second City in Chicago and became a member of The Actors Studio, sponsored by none other than the distinguished actress Estelle Parsons.
He admits that the Las Vegas climate is a challenge for him. The dryness, heat and wind stir up allergies and aggravate his mild asthma. “Bugsy” Siegel should have built this town closer to Mt. Charleston,” he quipped, making locals laugh appreciatively. Although he's blessed with “iron vocal chords”, Crivello keeps humidifiers in every room of his house, does not smoke or drink, and avoids restaurants which have a “din.” which would cause him to strain his voice to be heard.
In giving advice to fledgling actors in the audience, Crivello was adamant about taking initiative for one’s career, saying, “Create your own work. “Create multiple paths. Be your own press secretary, gopher, publicist and manager. Be a self-starter. Don't wait for an agent.”
When asked what his favorite part of the Phantom production was, Crivello replied, “The last fifteen minutes. They are the meat of the piece.” His favorite role (other than Phantom): Che from Evita. His dream role: Willie Loman, the tragic protagonist of Death of a Salesman. He'd also like to direct someday.
Michael Crawford wax figure
An audience member remarked on his expressive hands, which Crivello attributes to his Sicilian heritage saying that, “Physical movement is a key element to the Phantom's mystique.” Facial prosthetics help him get into character. It takes one hour to get into the makeup and 20 minutes to remove it.
“I subscribe to the Maria Callas and Lon Chaney School of doing this role,” he said, acknowledging the passion those performers felt for their craft. Crivello is just as exacting. Using a “toolbox of techniques to keep things fresh,” Crivello believes in the saying (and repeats it whenever he can to explain his acting philosophy) “There is no such thing as an accident, only the potential for divine inspiration.”
Phantom is the most dangerous show he's ever done, citing the time his leading lady lost a tooth during a misstep facilitated by diminished stage visibility (too much fog).
Yes, he had to audition for producers to get the Phantom role. He was already Hal Prince's choice. The legendary director detected a passion and a dark intensity that made Crivello able to articulate danger and tenderness in a seamless manner. After alternating the role initially with Brent Barrett, Crivello is now the sole Las Vegas Phantom, although he has two understudies.
But, it’s safe to say, no peers.
Next Issue: Phantom Fan Week Part 2: A Conversation with Hal Prince
For further information:
Phantom Box Office
The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109