Ben Lewis: 'There's an Aussie takeover in Phantom'
The new star of The Phantom of the Opera discusses his time on the show and his initial desire to be a rugby player
On 4 September Ben Lewis took on the titular role in The Phantom of the Opera, succeeding Ben Forster as the brooding romantic at Her Majesty's Theatre. A month down the line, we caught up with the actor to see how he's getting on, as well as some of the highs and lows involved in getting to the West End.
Interestingly, Lewis was the first to play the Phantom in the Australian production of Love Never Dies in 2011, meaning he had a unique approach to creating a to the role for when he arrived in London.
I originally wanted to be a rugby player. I did most of my schooling in UK (in Harpenden near St Alban's) and that was where I discovered a love for the sport. For years I wanted to do it as a career. Then I realised it was probably harder than I thought, and my genes took over [Lewis's parents are both opera singers]. I still love it to this day and it gives me an outlet, theatre is a consuming job so it's nice to have something to do in my free time.
My first role was in the first Australian run of Priscilla. I was an ensemble and a cover and stuck with the show from workshops to rehearsals to the tour. I love being associated with that period of a piece, and I'll always look for opportunities like that. Thérèse Raquin at the Finborough was the same, even though it was in a 50-seat theatre as opposed to a huge stage - there was something very fresh.
I saw Michael Crawford in the lead role in Phantom. It was in the UK when I was a young teenager, and it has been with me since then. I never forgot the imagery of the show, with the iconic set pieces, they all sucked me in. Then I saw it ten years ago when my younger brother [opera singer and actor Alexander Lewis] was in it in Australia - playing Raoul and also standing in as the Phantom. It was great to have him to run lines by. It's all a bit of a family affair, there are now six Aussies in the cast including Paul Tabone.
I'm wary of the fact I've played the role before. Vocally the two shows have different demands, and they are characters at different stages of life. We meet the Phantom in the original as a young man, basically living as a recluse, making his first tentative steps towards intimacy but he is an adolescent intellectually. He's very stunted. In Love Never Dies he's world-weary and broken, coming to terms with loss and heartbreak.
I was amazed at how much freedom I had in rehearsals. They said you know you have to hit the iconic moments but everything between is yours, and that meant I could originate something different. I loved doing the same on Love Never Dies and also in Priscilla and Spamalot over in Australia.
My most embarrassing experience was doing Spamalot. On what was a particularly bad day, I was supposed to deliver this iconic Monty Python speech but completely dried (the only time that's ever happened to me on stage). My cast members on stage started giggling rather than helping me out, so someone from the audience, because the speech was so famous, yelled the lines out at me. It was so bad.
The Phantom of the Opera is booking through until March 2018.