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‘Phantom’ mulls musical theater school in China
By Zhang Qian

Brad Little has played the Phantom in “The Phantom of the Opera” more than 2,000 times and says he never tires of donning the mask for the hit musical.

But when the day comes that he’s no longer singing and acting on stage, he just might open a musical theater school in China.

“One of my dreams is to bring my own academy of musical theater to China. I see the passion for doing musicals here,” the 49-year-old American baritone said last Tuesday at an interview to promote “The Phantom.” It opens December 3 and runs through January 26 at Shanghai Culture Square.

“I am going to start a school for not only acting, but also directing, choreography and writing,” Little said. “I may look somewhere ... among Shanghai, Beijing and Korea, since I am known in these cities, I haven’t decided yet.”

Little is one of the only four men who have played the Phantom more than 2,000 times, but he acknowledges he won’t be playing roles forever.

“But I don’t want to leave, so I started to think how I can stay here and still have influence in musical theater. Starting an academy of musical theater is one of my options.”

This will be Little’s first return with a musical to the Shanghai stage in 10 years.

Little began his career in musical theater in 1984 and has performed in “West Side Story,” “Les Miserable” and “Beauty and Beast,” among other shows. But he is best known for his interpretation of the Phantom.

He said the Phantom was his favorite character. The pain of hidden deformity touched him when he first saw the musical, he recalled. Little has said in other interviews that he felt connected with the character because of his own dyslexia.

He talked with reporters about the character Phantom and his passion for musical theater.

Q: Will this “Phantom” be different from other versions?

A: The music and set will be pretty much the same, but it will be different in some aspects with a different cast, of course. We bring our own interpretation to Shanghai. Another difference is the audience. They have seen many musicals in the past 10 years ...They are 10 years more knowledgeable about musical theater ... They do make a difference to what we do on stage. I encourage those who saw the musical 10 years ago to see it again, as they will see it very differently.

Q: Is musical theater your dream career?

A: My father is a music teacher, and I have been doing theater since I was a child. I started my professional musical theater career in 1984. As for dreams, I think it may be something unattainable. Theater has always been a part of my life, but there were times I didn’t want to do theater because that’s what my family was doing. I was rebelling. I wanted to be a basketball player at the time. But my high notes are better than my jump shot, so I became a singer.

Q: In musicals do you enjoy singing or acting more?

A: I would like to go with the acting part. The beautiful thing about musical theater is that you really have to do both equally — the singing and the acting. That makes it different from opera ... I have worked for opera companies. As a musical theater performer, I was really frustrated. They don’t care much about the story, but only the quality of singing. When I was hired to do a musical for an opera company, they didn’t like my performance which gave considerable focus to the acting ... And in other countries, especially here in Asia, if you don’t convey the emotion, I just don’t think it will connect the audiences at all with music alone. You have to give them the emotion and feeling.

Q: Do you interpret characters differently in different regions?

A: One thing I am going to do is to bring “Jekyll and Hyde” around in Asia. I would tailor it and make slight changes in every country just because the audiences will be a little different. I think I am going to make it really sexy, almost dirty in Korea, because that’s what they like. I don’t think I will go that far in China, yet it would still be sexy. I definitely will not do that (sexy) in Singapore, with an older audience that’s much more conservative.

Q: Is the role of the Phantom special?

A: Yes, the Phantom is my favorite role, that’s why I keep playing it for so long. The role gives you so many different options within just one evening. It is written beautifully. I can be funny, scary and pitiful. You don’t get all that opportunities with other characters. It’s really fun to dress as a monster every night. It’s a little boy’s dream. When I was a child, my favorite holiday was Halloween. And now I can be the best Halloween character every night.

Q: What are your plans after this tour?

A: I am going to present a live concert in Korea in October, and then have some rest.

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