- The Magazine
“It was pathetic, honestly. It was bullshit.”
Chris Mann may portray a feared character on stage, but he’s not fearful of voicing his own opinion. And on this particular day, he’s launching a counterattack at a Washington Post review of the touring production of The Phantom of the Opera, in which he has played the titular role for two years. Rather than merely have longtime critic Nelson Pressley review the show, the Post also hurled classical music critic Anne Midgette and art and architecture critic Philip Kennicott at the most popular musical of all time. It was akin to throwing red meat at (absurdly erudite) wolves and Midgette and Kennicott, in particular, tore into the show with disdain.
“It’s a musical,” says Mann, audibly annoyed. “It’s a bunch of opera snobs. And I was an opera major, so I have no problem calling an opera snob an opera snob. All three admitted to not liking Andrew Lloyd Webber coming into it. Then don’t come and don’t review us.
“This is our life,” he continues. “We work really hard. We also look at the response — we have 2,200 people on their feet at the end of the night. If three bitter, angry people want to stay in their seats, then they’re the minority.”
He’s got a point. Audiences don’t care. They’re still flocking to Phantom 30 years after its London premiere. The musical has grossed over $5.5 billion worldwide, making it the most successful ever. Prior to taking on the role, Mann gained national attention as a finalist on NBC’s The Voice, where he was mentored by Christina Aguilera. He believes part of the show’s appeal goes beyond its romantic aspects, which reach deeply into the trenches of unrequited love, and touches on chords of feeling isolated and being bullied.
“We have people that travel and see us throughout the whole year, because they feel so deeply connected with the Phantom,” says the 34-year-old singer. “People who feel injured, feel rejected, feel hurt, and feel unloved. This guy is bullied to the point of murder, which we see frequently in our world. That story resonates deeply. To pair that with some gorgeous music and a beautiful night out — that’s why it’s the highest grossing show ever.”
After he was cast, Mann felt some pressure about wearing “the mask of arguably the most iconic male role in music theater.” After some talk about the touring production’s new sets — including a mammoth, multi-faceted turret that comes complete with a few ingenious surprises — and his recent bout with an appendectomy, which delayed the Kennedy Center’s press opening for a week (“I do a very physical Phantom and I still can’t reach the level I want to because I have three incisions”), the talk turns back to the Post‘s slaughterhouse trio.
“I’m not going to say people can’t not like our show,” he says. “But when you’re so negative in a ‘Mean Girl’ way, you lose all credibility. You’re not actually trying to do an objective review. You’re just being mean.”
Chris Mann stars in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera through Aug. 20 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets are $25 to $149. Visit kennedycenter.org.
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