Stories & Cast Interviews
Behind The Mask. Matthew Billman is The Phantom.
We asked Matthew Billman to give us a glimpse of the actor behind his mask... Here is what he shared with us!
To fully credit everyone who led me to where I am would fill a novel (this is probably true for the rest of the cast, as well), and claiming the record to be comprehensive would probably be a lie. I'll do the best I can to keep things short, but IN short - I'm the product of one heck of a village.
I moved around a bit. I was born in San Diego, CA, and lived both there and in La Mesa until my 12th birthday. Then my family moved to Minnesota, where I spent Middle School and the first two years of High School, at which point we moved to Poway, a small city just north of San Diego. College was at Stanford University in Northern California, then I moved to NY!
My mother is a harpist and speech therapist, and my father is the director of medical safety for Rady Children's Hospital and a pediatric pathologist. I was raised with a dual passion for art and science, and have always been actively involved in both. My parents were and are the chief supporters and inspiration behind everything I do.
I began singing at 4 years old as a boy soprano and joined the St. Paul's Cathedral Choristers just before 7 (they had to bend the rules to let me in - thanks Mr. Billups!) - St. Paul's got me involved in the San Diego Opera Children's Chorus, where I got to see what music on a large scale looked like (though honestly at that age I was more interested in the card games we played backstage, and the giant sword the executioner used in Turandot).
When we moved to Minnesota, I joined the Minnesota Boychoir, which toured and collaborated with professional orchestras and choruses around the world. By the time we'd sung in the Lord of the Rings Symphony, I was completely hooked. Around this time I started doing the school musicals, and by the time I moved to Poway I had started singing solo; the musical population in Poway really supported me, and I started singing everywhere around the city - national anthems, graduation, competitions, fireworks displays. The public support there planted the seed that would ultimately lead me to do music in NYC.
At Stanford, I studied Human Biology (concentrating in Bioinformatics and Applied Stem Cell Science); outside of my studies, I joined the A Cappella group Fleet Street. Fleet Street focuses on writing and performing original a cappella music, usually comedic (but not always), as well as performing sketch comedy and producing short films to go with our twice-annual shows. The Fleet Street creative ethos massively transformed the way I saw art, music, and the obligations of creative individuals - I cannot overstate how much they informed who I am as an artist today. I joined the Stanford Ram's Head Theatrical Society, where I was lucky enough to play two awesome roles (Jean Valjean and Che - both under the direction of the incredible Sammi Cannold, who's now doing stuff on- and off-broadway). Sammi's family encouraged me to make the jump cross country to NYC, and... I did!
Besides all of the above who are inspirations, Edgar Billups and Martin Green at St. Paul's and Mark Johnson at the Minnesota Boychoir share the credit for solidifying my passion for singing. Without St. Paul's, I'd have never learned music in the first place, nor been exposed to the grandeur of classical and liturgical music; without the Minnesota Boychoir, I would have never experienced just how much modern classical music has to offer the world, nor the sense of community and purpose a single piece of music can engender in literally thousands of people in one moment.
Fleet Street absolutely was the principal influencer in the purely creative aspects of what I do. One of Fleet Street's music directors, who helmed the group in my Sophomore Year, summarized my credo best: 'Don't just consume resources and then die. MAKE something.'
Wendy Hillhouse was my voice teacher at Stanford, and she pushed me to look beyond my interest in Classical Crossover/Popera music and into some truly great modern composers. She pushed me into the world of competitive singing, which definitely helped convince me to give this whole 'professional singing' thing a shot! She's been the driving force at Stanford behind legitimizing and institutionalizing the (heretofore wholly student-led) musical theater scene, and I'm glad to have worked with someone so devoted to keeping music relevant in today's fast-paced, high-tech world. She's brilliant.
After my Senior year at Stanford, Wendy convinced me to join OperaWorks in LA for their advanced summer program. OperaWorks teaches a hybrid of musical improvisation, classical technique, yoga, and acting. They instilled in me an appreciation for spontaneity in the creative process - in making art, there are no mistakes, just opportunities! Ever since I've incorporated some aspect of improv in what I do - it's amazing how much it can inform pretty much everything.
I was aware that there was another "Phantom" musical out there, yes - because I had accidentally auditioned for the one at Fireside Theatre thinking it was the ALW production! I sang 'Till I Hear You Sing' and everything!
I think both shows are great. I think the music in Yeston's show is much more varied, even more intricate in spots, and on the whole most of the Phantom's numbers (and most of Christine's) hold their own against ALW's, in some cases (here's looking at you, 'My Mother Bore Me') surpassing them. The Operetta format and style (as can be best seen in the opening number(s), the Count's song, the Phantom Fugue, and The Bistro) harken strongly back to older golden age theatre, even Gilbert and Sullivan, which can be refreshing, particularly to my parents' generation. Yet for that same reason, I worried early on that Yeston's Phantom might struggle more than ALW's show to connect with a younger audience. Thus far that's proven unfounded, and I've been surprised how many of my NYC friends already know about the show, and how many have said they even prefer it to other versions, ALW or otherwise!
On the whole, I think the two shows compliment each other. Go see ALW if you want a more mystical, darker, supernatural Phantom; come to OUR Phantom if you really want to get to know the man behind the mask.
As a newcomer to WBT, I can say that the cast, crew, and production team are all amazing! Seriously, this set - and how quickly it's going up - is incredible. The tech team is KILLING the game. I'm blown away by how integrated all aspects of production are here. It's really amazing, and I appreciate so much the work the backstage crew put into the show every day.
My dream role? Short answer: there's no way I could narrow it down! Long, incomplete answer: Notre Dame de Paris (the French-Canadian one, not the Disney one); Sunday in the Park With George; though cliché, Dear Evan Hansen (musically interesting AND a popular feel!) and Hamilton (just plain revolutionary); Eric Whitacre's Paradise Lost; The Great Comet, and more.
I'd love to play ALW's Phantom as well! Also: Gringoire in Notre Dame; Robert Kincaid in Bridges; Pierre in The Great Comet; and if they ever do a Josh Groban Jukebox Musical, I'd like the lead in that. Someday I'll do Sweeney Todd :)
When not on stage, I run an independent production company, CONSTRUCT (@constructnyc), which specializes in producing original music and music videos for up-and-coming artists while eliminating the barrier to creative capital all new artists experience (making art is expensive). I write and perform music through that group, and function as chief technical officer (CTO).
I'm a programmer, and in my spare time (when I have it) I develop machine learning algorithms (popularly known as AI, though the term is misleading) that augment the creative process (currently I'm ideating a project timeline for a music video generating AI).
I'm listening through Anaïs Mitchell's 'Hadestown' and I love it! Other artists on my phone at the moment: Snarky Puppy, Jacob Collier, Becca Stevens, Robert Glasper, BadBadNotGood, Josh Groban, Hiatus Kaiyote, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Radiohead, Nightwish, and Dream Theater.
Maury Yeston On Phantom
Maury Yeston's version of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera never made it to Broadway, and the legendary composer and musicologist couldn't be happier. For over a decade, the show, which he co-wrote with Arthur Kopit (the duo won two Tony Awards for Nine- Yeston has another two for his work on the Titanic musical), has become an international smash, playing regional theatres across the country and abroad, earning raves everywhere it goes. "They nickname it 'the biggest show never to play Broadway,'" Yeston said proudly, "It's succeeded both critically and commercially all over the world. The public has taken this show to its heart and that's a far greater experience than being on Broadway."
Phantom was originally poised to hit the Broadway stage in the late 1980s, but when Andrew Lloyd Webber went public with his intentions for a show of his own (we know how that turned out), financing fell through for Kopit and Yeston's version. While ALW's show became a hit on Broadway, the duo explored other avenues (Yeston went on to make Grand Hotel for Broadway) - that was until 1991 when the show played to raves at Theatre Under the Stars in Houston. That success led to additional productions, notably at Seattle's Fifth Avenue Musical Theatre and the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Chicago.
Westchester Broadway Theatre brought Phantom to its stage for the first time in July 1992. The show broke records and became WBT's longest-running show in its 33-year history. The show returned in 1996 and 2007 and found similar results. With that said, it's no wonder why the production is back at WBT now through Jan 27, 2019.
Maury Yeston on PHANTOM
Phantom opens at WBT on September 13th. What do you think about The venue?
"It is one of the great jewels in the crown of American Theatre. They draw upon world-class talent from New York and locally. They draw brilliant directors and have a tradition of starting brilliant young people who can say they got their start at Westchester Broadway Theatre. They’re one of the first ones and one of the best in the world. And, I’ve traveled all over the world. They’re right up there with the top: Chicago, Boston, Houston, Silicon Valley…The Westchester community should be extremely honored to have them. I saw all three productions of Phantom [at WBT]. With the combination of their design, use of hydraulics, and use of space, there’s a fluidity and theatricality to it that’s really unparalleled. The cast is just extraordinary."
Your show is labeled the "other" Phantom, but many critics seem to point out how much better it is than Andrew Lloyd Webber's version. What do you make of the success Phantom has had despite not being on Broadway?
"It's earned its right with audiences all over America. It used to be you'd do a show on Broadway, it gets the attention of the whole world, and maybe you win a Tony Award. [If you couldn't get the show on Broadway], you'd rent it out to regional theatre. Broadway was where you'd see cutting-edge new shows, and regional theatre was where you'd see yet another Guys and Dolls or Oklahoma. There's been a massive shift. Now, very much what you see on Broadway is - 50-to-75 percent revival and regional theatre is where you see an exciting new show. My show Phantom travels around the country from [large to small venues.] The production of our Phantom had a way of uniting all theatres around the world for what was a massive hit. This is a unique show. Arthur and I worked very hard. We did it out of the love of the subject matter long before Andrew Lloyd Webber."
Have you seen Andrew Lloyd Webber's version on Broadway?
" I've never seen the show, and I'm sure he's never seen mine, but I have tremendous respect for him. The only thing I did the same way Cameron Mackintosh did was, I invested in logo design for the show and made it available. We're also very fortunate to have done an album. Anywhere the show is, people can buy the cast album. It has an all-world marketing effect without having to be on Broadway."
If the opportunity came along for your Phantom to be on Broadway would you consider it?
"Never say never, but I have no interest in doing it at all. There's already a Phantom on Broadway, why would you want to see two? There's one Phantom on Broadway, but my Phantom's been everywhere - twice in Japan. It wouldn't make sense."
WBT IS PROUD TO PRESENT "PHANTOM"
Phantom book by Arthur Kopit. Music & lyrics by Maury Yeston
Based on the novel "Phantom of the Opera" by Gaston Leroux.
Directed and Choreographed by Tom Polum & Music Direction by Bob Bray.
Arthur Kopit/ Maury Yeston's "Phantom" made its New York Premiere here at WBT in 1992. During our record-breaking nine-month run, over 120,000 people attended. Night after night, audiences rose to their feet for the stunning musical thriller. The original production was directed by William Pullinsi and starred Robert Cuccioli as the Phantom and Glory Crampton as Christine Daee. "Phantom" returned to our stage in 1996 and 2007 directed and choreographed by Tom Polum, who had been in the original production. William Stutler, Robert Funking, and the entire staff of WBT are very excited that this extraordinary piece, once again directed and choreographed by Tom Polum, will grace our stage.
"PHANTOM" was written by Arthur Kopit, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston who were the Tony Award-winning collaborators for the Broadway Musical "Nine". "Phantom" is not to be confused with Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera", which is currently running on Broadway. Both shows are based on the same Gaston LeRoux novel, with the Webber extravaganza being more like an opera, completely sung. The Yeston/Kopit "Phantom" is more of a traditional Broadway Musical with dialogue and songs throughout.
The show opened here at WBT on July 16th, 1992 to rave reviews. Jacques LeSourd critic from Gannett Suburban Newspapers stated... "There is also a gripping story, richly drawn characters, and music that can break your heart with its beauty... You'll find none of that in the Broadway 'Phantom'... The rich orchestrations bring to mind 'Sweeney Todd' and even the propulsive sounds of Philip Glass. This is a score in the grand manner". Howard Kissel, the critic from the New York Daily News said: "The first Genuine Broadway Musical I've seen in years and the most genuinely exciting Broadway Musical I've seen in years"…"Capturing the genuine 'Phantom"…" Despite all its masquerading, the real thing isn't on West 44th Street; it's playing here in Westchester". He was referring to our wonderful production of "Phantom"!
The story revolves around the central character of a man named Erik, (also known as the Phantom) who was born and raised in the catacombs under the Paris Opera House. Through a series of circumstances, he takes on as a pupil a young woman named Christine, who has been a street singer. She has a natural talent and a beautiful voice, but she lacks the special training to perform in an Opera company. He agrees to take her on as a student with certain conditions, the main one being that she will never see his face. After a lot of hard work, she eventually auditions for the company and is not only accepted but is given the opportunity to play a principal part in an Opera. Without realizing it, they fall in love with each other. The relationship becomes obsessive and impossible, leading to a stunning conclusion which can only be experienced by attending a performance here at the Westchester Broadway Theatre.
The music and the drama of this piece are extraordinary and should not be missed! From our show that was seen by many members of The Alliance for Musical Theatre Producers, came scores of productions around the country. After seeing our production of "PHANTOM", RCA Victor produced a CD recording of the show. including WBT cast members, Glory Crampton who played Christine, Meg Bussert who played Carlotta, and most of our ensemble. For those of you who have already seen "PHANTOM" we will be adding a few surprises, and if you have only seen it once, it is definitely worth seeing a second time
The Cast Features: Matthew Billman (as Erik; The Phantom), Kayleen Seidl (Christine Daaé), James Van Treuren (Gérard Carrière), Larry Luck (Count Philippe de Chandon), Sandy Rosenberg (Carlotta), Kilty Reidy (Alaine Cholet), Stuart Marland (Inspector Ledoux) Ryan Alexander Jacobs (Joseph Buquet) and Roger Preston Smith (Jean Claude).
The multi-talented Ensemble: Christopher Brand, Julia Louise Hosack, Alec James, Caroline Kane, Melissa Maricich, Corey Joseph Masklee, Alison Rose Munn, Andrew Norlen, Monica Owen, Jose Plaza, Don Rey, and Kelsey Self.
Associate Choreographer is Erica Mansfield. Set Design by Steve Loftus, Lighting Design by Andrew Gmoser, Sound Design by Mark Zuckerman. The Costume Designer is Keith Nielsen, Wig/Hair Design by Gerard Kelly, the Production Stage Manager is Victor Lukas, and Properties are by Grumpy’s Props. Lisa Tiso is the Associate Producer.
Kayleen Seidl is Christine Daee in Phantom
Originally from the good ol’ Midwest town of Joplin, Missouri, Kayleen attended St. Olaf College where she trained classically and earned a BM in Vocal Performance with Distinction as well as a BA in Spanish porque le encanta hablar español!
After graduation and a summer season at the Woodstock Playhouse in Woodstock, NY, Kayleen moved directly to the Big Apple to pursue a career in musical theatre. Described as an actress with “natural charm,” she was acknowledged for her “transformative vocal performance” as Sarah Brown in the Guys and Dolls National Tour.
Some of Kayleen’s other favorite credits include: It Shoulda Been You (Rebecca Steinberg), *Eddie and the Palaceades (Mary Doyle), Show Boat (Magnolia), Oklahoma! (Laurey), Les Misérables (Cosette), TOMMY (Mrs. Walker). She also enjoys traveling the world, playing board games with friends, being Auntie to her adorable niece and nephew, and living city life with her wonderful husband Brett!
Kayleen is currently performing in Fidler Afn Dakh (Fiddler on the Roof) under the direction of Tony and Oscar-winning Joel Grey at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene in New York City. This production is making history as it is the first time the work has been done in Yiddish in the US and the first time it has been performed in this language since its premiere 50 years ago in Israel.
Yeston & Kopit's Phantom opens 9/13/18! Kayleen stars as Christine Daee.