Spending six years behind a mask will teach you a few things.
For Franc D’Ambrosio, known as the “world’s longest-running Phantom,” that meant learning how to express himself in other ways.
“When people saw ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ often they’d say, ‘Your arms and hands are so expressive,’ ” said D’Ambrosio in an interview. “There are other ways to communicate. When you can’t have half your face to use for communication and expression, it comes out in another way. In his arms and hands is how he expresses his smile and sorrow – all of the Phantom’s emotions are in his hands and in his voice.”
New York-native D’Ambrosio spent 61/2 years in the 1990s playing the famed character in the San Francisco production of “Phantom of the Opera” at the Curran Theatre. During his tenure behind the mask, he performed the role more than 2,300 times.
D’Ambrosio said when he signed on, he never thought he’d become the iron man of the part. His goal was just to do everything he could to be there for eight shows, six days a week.
“I teach master classes all around the country in colleges and conservatories and I tell them actions always follow intentions,” he said. “My intention from the moment I signed the contract was to be there. I’m from old-school of Broadway where you never missed a show. If I was hoarse, I didn’t speak all day long so I could sing two hours at night. The show was never second in my day, it was first in my day – as are all of my concerts.”
The singer and actor brings his show, “Franc D’Ambrosio’s Broadway: Songs From the Great White Way,” to the State Theatre on Sunday.
While best known for his run as the Phantom in the famed Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, he has appeared in other productions on stage and screen. D’Ambrosio earned a National Theatre Award nomination for Best Male Performer in a Musical for his work as Tony in the pre-Broadway tour of “Copacabana.” He also played Anthony Corleone, Al Pacino’s opera-singing son, in “The Godfather Part III.” His talents even earned him a chance to study with master tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
Still, D’Ambrosio said he knows that mysterious man in the mask continues to captivate people because of emotional range.
“We all have fears and insecurities and love,” D’Ambrosio said. “We worry that if I take my mask off – whatever that is – to show people who I am, maybe you’ll go away. That fear. We know what it’s like to fear and to love.
“The Phantom goes through all of those things.”
The performer recently began expressing himself in other ways as well. D’Ambrosio, who splits his time between New York City and San Francisco, has taken up abstract painting.
“It gives me a way of being able to express myself silently,” he said. “I get to be creative and exercise that creative energy and not be singing for a change.”
After his Modesto show, D’Ambrosio will perform June 6 and 7 at Feinstein’s at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco with fellow Broadway star Glory Crampton. He said even after all these years, he never tires of the music that put him in the record books.
“This is just music that is accessible,” he said. “When you hear these songs, other songs from ‘Phantom,’ ‘Les Miz,’ from Bob Fosse all the way to George M. Cohan to Tin Pan Alley to Tinseltown, you just love it. It has such an enormous array of music from different decades.”