There are no chandeliers in the Gallo Center for the Arts. It's a good thing, too, because three men who've held the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" will perform together March 28 at the center and, well, you know what can happen when you put phantoms and chandeliers together in the same room.
The "Three Phantoms" pops concert will feature Broadway singer/actors Craig Schulman, Brad Little and Kevin Gray with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra, which will be under the direction of guest conductor Stuart Chafetz. Chafetz is resident conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and music director/conductor of the Maui Pops Orchestra. The program includes selections from "Les Misérables," "Miss Saigon," "Guys and Dolls," "Kiss Me Kate," "Paint Your Wagon," "Jekyll & Hyde" and other shows. Appropriately, it closes with selections from "Phantom" performed by the orchestra, then the Three Phantoms singing "Music of the Night."
"Three Phantoms" was created by Schulman, who in addition to playing the Phantom has starred in "Jekyll & Hyde" and done nearly 2,000 performances as Jean Valjean in "Les Misérables" on Broadway and around the world.
"I've been putting this kind of trio show on -- very often two guys and a woman -- for 10 to 15 years," Schulman said last week by phone from his home in New York City. "About four years ago, I came up with 'Three Phantoms' because music from 'Phantom' always seemed to be the favorite when we'd do it in concert." He now has "a whole roster of Phantoms -- six to eight" to turn to for the concerts.
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Of his co-stars in the Modesto concert, Schulman said, "Brad has had a long career doing 'Phantom.' He's one of the go-to guys, as I was with 'Les Misérables.' And Kevin is in great demand."
Gray was in England for a year doing a tour of "The King and I," then was barely back in the States when he landed the role of Scar in Disney's West Coast tour of "The Lion King," said Schulman, who's pleased to have him available.
On Broadway, Gray also has starred in "The King and I" and "Phantom" and played Pontius Pilate in the 2000 revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Little has played the Phantom more than 2,000 times on Broadway, on U.S. tours and in Asia. His other Broadway and national tour credits include "Cyrano, the Musical"; "Fiddler on the Roof," in which he performed with Tony Award and Academy Award nominee Topol; and "Anything Goes."
In creating the program for "Three Phantoms," Schulman said he was looking for great "guy songs." And he doesn't limit the show to pieces that he and his co-stars have performed in musicals. "One of the great things is that I can choose songs from roles that I never would get cast in," he said.
The show is a mix of trio, duet and solo performances. To make it easy for his roster
of Phantoms to rotate in and out as they're available, he keeps the musical lineup fixed. The exception is that he asked his Phantoms "each to pick a song that they like. Each of us does a career-making song in the second act. We talk about how that song boosted our career."
Schulman's career-making song is "Bring Him Home," from "Les Misérables."
"I came to Broadway in a roundabout way," he said. "I started my career singing operetta, then made my way up in opera through regional companies." Schulman was in a production of the opera "The Tender Land" with a director who also did a lot of musical theater. "He suggested I talk with his agent, who suggested a national touring production of 'Les Misérables.' "
For years, Schulman said he tried to maintain "what I called a dual-track career ... but opera and musical theater are really two separate worlds. Opera people seemed to think that because I'd done musical theater, I couldn't possibly be a serious classical singer. And because I was classically trained, I had a big, powerful voice that didn't match the others in musical theater."
Though he learned to adapt his vocal technique to musical theater, Schulman at least had to his advantage that he made the switch from opera during what he called "the age of the mega-musicals" like "Phantom and "Les Misérables."
"Jean Valjean is a workout, vocally," he said. "And the Phantom is a strenuous role to sing eight times a week. Opera singers perform maybe two times a week." He said he had friends who couldn't believe he could do "Phantom" on such a rigorous schedule.
Much of what's on Broadway and touring nationally these days falls into the category of "jukebox musicals" like "Movin' Out," "Mama Mia!" and "Jersey Boys," Schulman said. That type of show doesn't suit him, he said, but it's just as well -- he's happy focusing on concerts. In addition to "Three Phantoms," Schulman has created and produced two solo programs, "Heroes, Monsters & Madmen" and "Craig Schulman on Broadway," as well as the concert series "Broadway Nights." (The talent roster for the latter includes Oakdale native Colleen Hawks, who made her Broadway debut in "Smokey Joe's Cafe" and was in "The Boy From Oz" with Hugh Jackman.)
When he did touring shows, he might spend months on the road, getting home to see his wife and children only on his days off. Once, he was away a full three months, doing "Les Misérables" in Singapore. "When you have kids, you want to watch them grow up," said Schulman, who with his wife, New York City voice teacher Monica Robinson, has children ages 22, 18 and 9, and who dedicates his performances to his daughter Jenna, who died at age 6 in 1998.
Schulman began doing concerts as "fill-in" work between musical-theater jobs, but "it sort of evolved to where it's now my career," he said. "After Jenna's death, I didn't want to go on the road anymore," he said. "The concert thing turned out to be ideal -- it's just going away for the weekend."
And performing concerts still involves the musical-theater touch. "I really love the storytelling aspect of the show," Schulman said. "It's not just singers standing on a stage -- there's definitely an element of acting, portraying each song."
As for the music, "I have my favorite songs to sing, but I have to say that as often as I've done this program -- and done a lot of these songs in other shows -- I still enjoy them all. With very few exceptions, I've been singing these songs for 15 or 20 years, and I never get tired of any of them."
Among the career highlights Schulman lists in his bio -- tucked right in there with such prestigious gigs as representing the U.S. at the "Les Misérables Tenth Anniversary Concert" at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1995 -- is a 1999 performance that his kids consider the coolest work Dad's ever done. He "was heard as the voices of 'Placido Domingo' and 'Luciano Pavarotti' on MTV's Claymation 'Celebrity Death Match.' "
Yes, Schulman lent his talents to the animated-clay comedy in which re-creations of celebrities battle each other to the death in a wrestling ring. His episode pitted the Three Tenors against the Three Stooges.
Schulman auditioned for the show via voice mail and did the job without meeting any of his fellow actors. It was just him with the crew in the studio, doing what the director told him. The show, which can be found on the video-sharing Web site YouTube, has Schulman operatically singing such lines as "You stupida stooga!" and "OK, dudes, let's go kick some Stooge ass."
He got a kick out of the work. And who knows, if a show like "American Gladiators" can come back, maybe "Celebrity Death Match" can, too.
The Three Phantoms vs. the Three Amigos, anyone?
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Bee assistant features editor Deke Farrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2327.
Three Phantoms with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra
WHEN: 8 p.m. March 28
WHERE: Mary Stuart Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
CALL: 338-2100; toll free, 1-877-488-3380