Geronimo Rauch not only has one of the best names on the West End, but the Argentinian actor has also had two of the best jobs. He first played Jean Valjean in Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre before shifting British mega-musicals to take on the equally iconic part of the lovesick anti-hero of the title in The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, where he is signed through August 2015. Broadway.com caught up with the charming recruit to the ranks of London leading men to talk musical mainstays, wearing a mask and his dream of originating a major role one day.
You’ve only been resident in London a few years and already you have played two of the defining roles in musical theater.
It still amazes me when I look at the journey I have been through. I came here to do Les Miz and ideally they wanted me to stay another year as Jean Valjean, but I was interested in auditioning for the Phantom. Thank God they gave me the chance. I’ve got the best job in the world!
Do the two r make similar demands on you as a performer, or do they feel quite different?
They’re completely different. I can speak mainly about my characters but the challenges are completely opposite: Valjean reflects more of my own personality, even as far as the vocal range and how it’s written, whereas the Phantom is a total challenge because I’m playing a murderer, so I’ve got to go to that place every night.
They have certain themes in common.
They share one topic, which is love. The Phantom of the Opera is, of course, a love story about a person who’s rejected and how Christine makes him who he is, and Les Miserables is all about love and redemption. Love is what makes Jean Valjean change his life.
Is it frustrating coming into long-running shows and perhaps not encountering the original creative team?
Except that I have! I had the privilege on Les Miz to work with [co-director] John Caird, and we had [Phantom director] Hal Prince over for the tech run, which was just amazing.
What about Hal Prince’s time with you was especially helpful?
He really helped me understand the Phantom’s movements, which themselves are so iconic. Before I met him, I found myself not being sure why I was doing this or that movement, but of course [Prince] has a reason for everything that’s on that stage—which in turn frees you up as a performer so that you’re not just copying someone or doing something you’ve been asked to do.
Jean Valjean is a far larger role, though, in terms of actual stage time.
Valjean is just incredible and you need to be completely trained and prepared; the role challenges you in every way. But with the Phantom, I feel as though I never stop even though I may not be on stage. Waiting for my appearance or getting ready to go on is a lot of work and you need to be in the zone, so it’s not like you can be backstage hiding or reading the newspaper [laughs]. The last half hour of the Phantom is like doing three of Jean Valjean’s “Soliloquy.” It’s exhausting and demands all your attention.
When you exit the stage door at Phantom, do people sometimes not recognize you without your mask?
Yes, that happens many times! I say to them, "Hello, I was the Phantom; did you enjoy the show?" In fact, it feels like a complete freedom for me to play a part where you don’t see yourself reflected back at you because it means you can do anything you want.
What does that mean in practice?
It means that my performance depends on my mood and on how I’m feeling. Sometimes he’s a more aggressive Phantom and sometimes more melancholic—and sometimes I cry like a baby!
Would you like to play Broadway?
Absolutely, though I am the first to realize that I am a bit limited there and in London because of my accent, so I cannot dream high. I would need to find someone who could ignore the fact that I’m not fully British or American but I hope that happens because I would really love to create a role or do a revival that I start.
There seem to be quite a few prime musical opportunities for Latino performers from whatever their background—one thinks of Nine and Kiss of the Spider Woman, just for starters.
Yes, I could do those. And the funny thing is that I visited New York before I ever came to London. My first and only trip to New York was in 2000 when I was 21 or 22 and it was there that I first saw the legendary Phantom of the Opera, though I couldn’t imagine myself playing the Phantom at that point—just maybe Raoul.
What else did you see on that trip?
Oh, all my favorite musicals: Les Miserables and Jekyll and Hyde, which I would love to do, and Miss Saigon, Rent, Contact, the original Aida with Heather Headley—that was incredible.
You now seem pretty settled in London.
I am! My wife had a business in Spain, where she is from and where we met doing Jesus Christ Superstar, but now we have fully moved to the U.K. and our son, Gael, was born here. He’s now two.
I have to ask about your fabulous name: it sounds like something out of an adventure movie.
[Laughs] It’s real, I can tell you that, and not made up! When I was a kid I hated it because it was so strange and unique and I didn’t want to be unique. No kid does. But now I love it. It’s very theatrical.