Martin Crewes chats THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Under the stars, on a floating stage with the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and city skyline glittering in the background, with fireworks every night and themed pop-up bars and restaurants, Handa Opera’s new production of The Phantom of the Opera is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Having played for 35 years on the West End, and 34 on Broadway, this inspired interpretation of Gaston Leroux’s novel remains one of the world’s favourite musicals. The story of a mysterious masked man who lives beneath the Paris Opera House, and the beautiful young singer who becomes his obsession and muse, seduces generation after generation and continues to enchant long-time devotees.

This new non-replica production is staged entirely outdoors on a fragmented set, capturing the essence of the much-loved musical and breathing new life into it. In the role of Monsieur Andre, one of the two new theatre owners disgruntled by the Phantom’s presence, is legendary performer Martin Crewes.

Martin Crewes

Martin has enjoyed a phenomenal and decorated musical theatre career. He created the role of ‘Steve Blauner’ in Simon Phillips’ critically acclaimed Dream Lover.  He starred in the Dean Bryant directed Sweet Charity, receiving generous praise for his performances as ‘Charlie’, ‘Oscar’ and ‘Vittorio’. Martin’s other productions include Assassins, The Fantasticks, A Girl with Sun In Her Eyes, The Front, Sondheim On Sondheim, Animal/People, Hipbone Sticking Out, Doctor Zhivago, South Pacific, Guys and Dolls, Chess, Hair, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Aspects of Love, Oh! What a Night, “8” The Play, The Man From Snowy River Arena Spectacular and West Side Story. Martin played the role of ‘Marius’ in Les Misérables, in Asia, South Africa and London’s West End. His work in the UK includes The Woman in White, Pal Joey, The Rink and Merry Wives the Musical. He also has an extensive list of film and television credits, including Patrick, Resident Evil, and A Place To Call Home.

Martin has received numerous award nominations and wins. For Doctor Zhivago he won a Sydney Theatre Award, A Glug Award and a nomination for a Helpmann Award. He won a Green Room Award for Hair and Sweet Charity and a nomination for The Man From Snowy River Arena Spectacular. He received Helpmann Award nominations for Oh! What a Night, and Dream Lover, a What’s Onstage Award nomination for The Woman in White and a Green Room Award nomination for Chess. He received Helpmann, Sydney Theatre, and Glug Award nominations for his performance in Sweet Charity.

Can you tell me a bit about your background with theatre?

Martin: I grew up in England to the age of ten before immigrating to Perth with my family. My dad was a member of The Questors Theatre Company in Ealing, West London and I have vivid memories of watching his rehearsals as a toddler and thinking, “I can do that, and that’s what I’m going to do with my life.” However I thought I was going to be discovered walking down the street so it wasn’t until I finished high school and spent a year in the workforce doing a “real job” that I decided my career on the stage wasn’t going to happen unless I actually did something about it. So I auditioned for the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and graduated in 1990 with a B.A. in Musical Theatre. (Which sounds frighteningly like a song from “Avenue Q”) There wasn’t really enough acting work in Perth so I moved to Melbourne and got a job as an usher on the original Australian production of “Phantom of the Opera”. Shortly thereafter I landed my first role in a professional musical playing Mr. Plod in Garry Ginivan’s production of “Noddy Goes to Toyland”! I played minor roles and ensemble parts in a few bigger musicals after that until John Frost cast me as Lt. Joe Cable in the production of “South Pacific” that he took to Chiang Mai, Thailand. That was my first professional lead role and things changed after that.

I was cast as Marius in the International Tour of “Les Miserables” which performed throughout South East Asia and South Africa and then played the role in the original production in London the following year. I spent over a decade living and working in London during which time I was lucky enough to work fairly consistently in theatre, film and television and originated the role of Walter Hartright in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Woman in White”. Some of my career highlights back in Australia have been playing The Man in “The Man From Snowy River Arena Spectacular” with Georgie Parker, Pasha/Strelnikov in “Doctor Zhivago” with Anthony Warlow, Charlie/Vittorio/Oscar in the Hayes Theatre’s inaugural production of “Sweet Charity” with Verity Hunt Ballard, and Steve Blauner in “Dream Lover” with David Campbell, directed by Simon Phillips.

Martin Crewes, Paul Tabone, Naomi Johns, and Michael Cormick in rehearsal

How is Monsieur André different to past roles you’ve played?

Martin: I have spent much of my career playing romantic roles which, as enjoyable and challenging as they might be, don’t always provide the opportunity to play comedy, much less be part of a comedy double act. One of the great joys of playing Monsieur André for me is the chance to team up with my long time friend Michael Cormick who plays Monsieur Firmin. We quite literally do everything in the show together (as well as car pooling to and from rehearsals!) and I personally think some of the wittiest lyrics in the show belong to the managers.

Do you see any of yourself in him?

Martin: I think an essential part of developing a role is finding those elements that you and the character have in common. Otherwise how can you hope to bring any shred of truth to your portrayal? Obviously it’s more easily done with some roles than others but André is a man of the theatre, passionate, exuberant, occasionally dramatic but always an enthusiastic and devoted champion of the arts. So yeah!

What do you think is the most exciting thing about performing on the harbour?

Martin: It’s one of the most iconic locations in the world. Performing this amazing show with this phenomenal cast, on this breathtakingly beautiful set, on such an enormous stage, outdoors, suspended over water, with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as a back-drop, it’s hard not to feel like all your Christmases have come at once. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

And the most challenging?

Martin: The weather has already proved to be a bit of a challenge what with La Niña and all. The incredible back stage team have had to deal with a lot of rain and mud while they’ve been assembling the set. We have a big cast on a massive stage, which is challenging enough without having to deal with wind and rain but I guess that’s all part of the thrill of performing in such an amazing location.

Why do you think audiences still love The Phantom of the Opera?

Martin: It’s such an intrinsically theatrical story and so brilliantly told. I love the way it starts with an auction of some of the key items that feature in the story, referring to the Phantom as a mystery that happened some time in the past. It has the effect of making us nostalgic for something we haven’t seen yet. I think the balance between drama/comedy/romance and horror is beautifully struck and throughout the whole thing you have Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sumptuous music. What’s not to love?


Handa Opera’s production of The Phantom of the Opera is playing now.

For tickets and more information, visit the Opera Australia website.


Header photo by Prudence Upton

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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