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The Phantom of the Opera - Broadway

This haunting love story is Broadway's longest-running show!

Hugh Panaro on His Amazing Run in Phantom, a Double Dose of Les Miz and More

Hugh Panaro on His Amazing Run in Phantom, a Double Dose of Les Miz and More
Hugh Panaro
Hugh Panaro has done double duty as Raoul and the Phantom & Marius and Jean Valjean.

When it comes to classic roles in musical theater, nobody does it better than Hugh Panaro. Although he insists that he thinks of himself as a character actor, Panaro possesses the rich tenor and stage presence necessary to embody leading men ranging from Bobby in Company and Ravenal in Show Boat to Raoul and the title role in The Phantom of the Opera, which he rejoined two years ago to thrilling effect. For his Broadway.com Role Call, Panaro concentrated on five big shows, including two in which he moved up from young hero to lead.

Role Fans Ask Me About Most
“I’ve lost track of how many performances I’ve done in The Phantom of the Opera [more than 1,800 in three engagements as the Phantom, plus more than 900 performances as Raoul]. I get defiant when people use the word ‘spectacle’ with Phantom, because it touches on something very real to me: bullying. The character is basically shunned from birth because of the way he looks. I was a chunky child and was tortured about my weight, so I am able to personalize the role. I’ve realized that teenagers identify with the Phantom because he is seen as unlovable; that’s a huge message that a lot of people miss. I feel like I’m finally the right age to play this character. When I was younger, I always thought, ‘Not quite there yet.’ Now, I have come into my own, and the role feels like a perfect fit—it feels like it was written for me.”

Role I Looked the Best In
“I was in the best shape of my life when I played the title role in Lestat [2006]. I was at about 5% body fat! Being a vampire, you want to feel sexy, and it was the sexiest I’ve ever felt in a role. I also got to be blond again. When I was a baby, I was blond and then my mom cut my hair and it was dark ever since. One of the many things I loved about Lestat is that Elton John wrote a song for me, ‘Right Before My Eyes.’ He saw me play the part and decided the song would be a good addition to the show. How many people can say that?”

Role That Was Both Rewarding and Disappointing
“I poured my heart and soul into Sunday in the Park With George [2009, as Seurat and George; 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle], but it also one of the most disappointing experiences, because a lot of the audience just didn’t seem to get it. The first month or so, the Sondheim lovers came, but after that, you could feel that people didn’t quite understand. This was the identical production that ran on Broadway [in 2008], directed by Sam Buntrock, so we had his fabulous green screen effects, with eight of me onstage moving and talking. With Sam’s help, I felt like I created something that was mine and not Mandy Patinkin’s or anyone else. But it was challenging. We’d be onstage giving blood and feeling fulfilled, and the people were like, ‘What the hell is this?’”

Role That Was My Big Break
“I originated the role of Marius in the first national tour of Les Miserables [in 1988] before joining the Broadway company. It was one of those things where I was Marius: I was 23 years old, wide-eyed and innocent, and it was my first big show and my Broadway debut. It was an amazing part because I got to grow up on stage. Marius starts out as a boy and becomes a man, and that was a perfect fit at that time in my life.”

Role With Special Personal Meaning
“Jean Valjean in Les Miz [2008, Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia] has sentimental value for many reasons. My mom and dad got to see me do it in my hometown, and it was a bookend of my first big break, Marius. But the role itself has special meaning. One of the best Valjeans I ever worked with early in my career was an actor named J.C. Sheets, who carried me through the sewers of Paris many a night on Broadway. Years later, he lost his voice and became my dresser in The Phantom of the Opera. J.C. passed away in 2007. I sang at his memorial, and within a couple of months, I got cast as Jean Valjean twice: in a concert version in California and at Walnut Street. J.C. was my role model as Valjean, and every night I took him on stage with me.”

Role That Was the Most Fun
“I’ve always felt like a character actor trapped in a leading man’s body, so playing Fagin in Oliver! [2009, Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia] was without a doubt the most fun I’ve ever had. It was so nice not to have to sound ‘pretty.’ I could go out and party with my friends after the show and if I sounded horrible the next day, it was better for the character. I also had 40 kids—two casts of 20—and we had the best time; I felt like they were my children. On opening night, my GPS was stolen, and a week later, the kids gave me a new one with a poem they had written. The entire experience was wonderful.”

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