Ben Lewis has joined an impressive list of musical theatre actors who have worn London theatre’s most iconic mask. The Australian performer follows Michael Crawford, John Owen-Jones, Ramin Karimloo and Ben Forster in taking the title role in The Phantom Of The Opera.
But unlike those performers, Lewis has an additional insight into the character of the murderous musician. He, like the Phantom, grew up in and around an opera house. But that, we hope, is where the similarity ends.
Ben Lewis tells us more:
For anyone who doesn’t know the show, how would you describe The Phantom Of The Opera?
I’m not sure there’s anyone out there who doesn’t have some sense of what Phantom is about, such is its iconic status, but you’d say it’s a love story at its heart. Love of music, romantic love, friendship, betrayal and redemption.
Why did you want to appear in it?
The Phantom is one of the most recognisable characters in theatre and has been played by some amazing actors over the years. To have the opportunity to put my stamp on such a role was the driving force behind my decision.
How would you describe The Phantom?
He is a survivor. Brutalised physically and emotionally from childhood, he has had to fend for himself for his entire life. Intellectually, he is a genius. Emotionally, he is childlike in his better moments and psychotic in his worst.
You’ve played him before, in the Australian production of the “sequel”, Love Never Dies. How is he different in the original show?
Maturity is the greatest difference. In this show we meet a man who is a complete recluse in every way. We watch his first clumsy and adolescent attempts at human interaction and ultimately the blossoming of love for the first time in his life. In Love Never Dies, we find him older, wiser, more world-weary. He is then a man capable of more complex human interaction but broken inside.
How long does it take to prepare for a show and what do you do while the prosthetics are applied?
It takes my amazing make-up artist, Tanya, about 45 minutes to complete the transformation. I make sure I do an hour of physical and vocal warm-up prior to jumping in the make-up chair. I tend to get lots of visits from colleagues during my time in make-up, which is always nice, as the Phantom plot can be quite isolating.
Why do you think the show has stood the test of time?
First and foremost, it is an outstanding piece of theatre, from the magnificent music and language to the iconic design and direction. The story is a universal one. The characters are relatable and at its heart it is a love story. And who doesn’t love a love story?!
What was your first experience of theatre?
Watching my parents from the side of the stage at the Sydney Opera House. They are both opera singers and the Opera House was kind of my playground growing up.
Why is live performance so special?
In an age when people live their lives through computer screens, an opportunity to let your imagination run wild is more important than ever. People find it increasingly difficult to sit still and focus on one thing for a period of time and theatre provides that opportunity. Life is about how we as human beings interact with each other and the environment around us. Theatre holds up a mirror to that life and hopefully offers people understanding and insight in their daily lives.
Apart from Her Majesty’s Theatre, what’s your favourite London theatre?
The National Theatre, closely followed by the Young Vic. I love how open and welcoming the National Theatre is, and the Young Vic reminds me of a number of our great theatres back in Australia.
What one piece of advice would you give aspiring performers?
Be brave. Be fierce. Be generous to your fellow performers. And place your trust in your director – theirs is the only voice that matters, not who said what on Twitter. And for God’s sake, put your phone away when you are at work!
What’s your top tip for a trip to the theatre?
I’ve heard Follies is fantastic at the National. I’m going to try and sneak in on a Sunday for sure.