As the song goes: You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.
Also: You don’t make a play for the Phantom’s mask.
Not that it would make Quentin Oliver Lee particularly upset if you did, necessarily; it’s just that he kind of needs the thing, given that he wears it most nights as the mysterious character who gives the musical “The Phantom of the Opera” its name.
“I’ve had people ask for the mask — you know, ‘Oh, when you’re done, can I have the mask?,’” the actor says with a laugh of his encounters with Phantom-fixated fans. “I mean, it’s not mine!
“They keep those under lock and key. I think they have two or three in rotation, so when one is broken or scratched, they can put in another one.”
Lee may be needing them for a while: The San Bernardino native, who joined the national touring company of “Phantom” in December, is a rising star who will finally get to play the role in his native Southern California starting this week, when the production hits the San Diego Civic Theatre.
“I’m super, super excited about San Diego,” Lee says in his rumbling baritone, by phone from a tour stop in Seattle. “Literally everybody I know is coming to San Diego (to see the show).”
‘The Phantom of the Opera’
When: Opens Thursday (Aug. 23). 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays; plus 2 p.m. Aug. 24. Through Sept. 2.
Where: Broadway/San Diego at the Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown.
Tickets: About $27-$72
Phone: (619/858/760) 570-1100
It will be a relatively rare opportunity for local “Phantom” fanatics: While the Broadway production celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this year, and cemented its hold on the title of longest-running musical there, the show hasn’t been seen here in three years — although its less-heralded sequel, “Love Never Dies,” did visit the Civic in April.
Lee takes on the signature role of the ghostly figure who lives in the catacombs of the Paris opera house, and occasionally causes chaos in the theater above. When he becomes a teacher and protector to the young chorus girl Christine Daaé (played on tour by Eva Tavares), his possessiveness toward her puts them on a path toward tragedy and havoc.
The drama, which showcases one very famous (and treacherous) chandelier, is based on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel. It’s set to a score by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricists Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, one that includes such enduring numbers as “The Music of the Night” and “All I Ask of You.”
There’s one particularly fitting aspect to Lee’s casting as the “Phantom”: The actor was essentially discovered underground, as a busker in the catacombs of the New York subway.
This was only about five years ago, when the graduate of Northern Arizona University, who already had begun to make his mark in opera, had moved to New York to try and make it as an actor.
Lee signed on with the Opera Collective of New York and its MTA Music Under New York program, which sponsors subway-stop performers. And one day, while he was singing at Penn Station — either a Mozart aria or the “Toreador Song” from “Carmen,” Lee can’t remember which — a Broadway casting director approached him about a potential role in the musical “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.”
Not long after, Lee found himself part of that Broadway show’s national tour. And after a series of other projects — not to mention getting married along the way to fellow actor Angie Lee Graham — Lee made his Broadway debut last year in “The Prince of Broadway,” before joining the “Phantom” tour.
The role is one to relish, he says.
“It’s wonderful because there’s so much mystery, and you have to solve that for yourself before you go onstage. I think what makes the Phantom tick, first and foremost, is he’s a genius who doesn’t have much social interaction.
“He’s certainly powerful, and you have to play him in that way. But at the same time, there are so many feelings he doesn’t know how to express.”
Speaking of powerful: The whole production got a refresh in 2012, and Lee says its tech elements make it more of a spectacle than ever.
As he says: “It’s really meant to knock you off your feet.”
- Years on Broadway: 30, as of January 2018
- Number of performances (as of mid-August): 12,710
- Next-closest show: “Chicago,” at almost 22 years and 9,000-plus performances
- Number of previous touring visits to San Diego: Four (1995, 1999, 2008, 2015)
- Number of current productions worldwide: Seven
- Total Broadway grosses: More than $1 billion
- Total Broadway attendance: More than 17 million
- Number of Tony Awards, 1988: Seven, including best musical
- Number of trucks it takes to transport touring production: 20
- Number of costume mustaches the show stocks: 50
About that chandelier
Musical theater’s most famous lighting fixture threatens to plunge onto the audience at every performance (but don’t worry, it hasn’t actually happened yet). A few facts:
- The chandelier is decorated with more than 6,000 beads
- Its total weight: 1 ton
- The latest version of the fixture was designed by Howard Eaton, whose company also created the fiery, levitating rings for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.