The Phantom of the Opera, the current longest running musical on Broadway, has a world renowned legacy that many have helped create. Jeremy Stolle has played the role of Passarino in the Broadway company for the past eight years and also understudies as both Raoul and the Phantom, a job that requires constant rehearsal to ensure he is always ready to give a perfect performance.
Somewhere in between rehearsing, performing, and being a father and a husband, Stolle found the time to record his first album titled In The Moment. Stolle hand picked songs that mirror his life and career and transcends any genre by featuring Pavarotti, Broadway and The Muppets.
Stolle, who once wrote the column Inbox 5 for Stage Door Dish, met to sit on the other side of the table and discuss the process of creating his new album, his recent experience in the highly-acclaimed Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and being part of The Phantom of the Opera legacy.
Welcome back to Stage Door Dish, but this time on the other side! I read your columns; the story of how you met your in-laws is hilarious!
Oh man, I wrote those years ago!
You’ve now been married for quite some time, do they ever have you dress up as the Phantom and sing?
No. They try, but no. It was one and done, that’s it.
How does it feel to be a part of the current longest running musical on Broadway? What is the legacy of being in this show?
It’s really exciting to be a part of this show because it’s probably the most recognizable show. Hamilton may soon take that over, I wonder, but we have 28 and a half years so it’s the most recognized icon in theatre. So it’s neat, it’s very cool to be a part of that because there’s an expectation- people know what it is, and to be a part of that is exciting- it’s rock star status. Norm Lewis actually commented on it; he’s won awards, he’s met every writer, he’s done so many cool things that are dream jobs for actors. And then he says, ‘I’ve appeared in Phantom’ and people say ‘ You were in Phantom!?’ So, that’s the card.
We’re a destination in itself. People come to the city and they go to the Statue of Liberty, they go to Top of the Rock, and they come see Phantom.
What is your favorite part about being in the cast of Phantom, do you have a favorite song or scene?
I love to do ‘Music of the Night’ but my favorite scene in the show is the ending scene- everybody’s going at it, it’s the climax of the show.
What’s some advice for aspiring actors?
Go to school. Education. Hands down. You cannot succeed without proper training and education.
What’s you favorite NYC thing to do with your family?
With my family?! Where do I start? We don’t generally dictate that, the kids do. We love the water, the ferryboats and the taxis. We like to go to Dumbo because of the water. One of the things that we’ve been doing lately is the Lobster Boat on 41st street. You set sail for 45 minutes and there’s a lobster restaurant on board. It’s pretty cool. We love the parks, biking, hiking, exploring. We make our kids go outdoors. They want to stay indoors and put on plays in the living room. They’re hysterical, my son wanted to convert our apartment into a stage, he wants lights and gels.
Many fans were disappointed that Hunchback of Notre Dame didn’t transfer to Broadway from the Paper Mill. Would you ever consider joining another regional cast for that show if the opportunity arose? Any chance for an off Broadway or NYC concert version of it?
Yeah! All of those things have been thrown around actually. I know the higher ups were talking about having a CD release party, or doing a concert, like Carnegie. But everyone is working on the Beauty and the Beast movie, so they have to do that first. And Disney is all hands on deck with Frozen, so we’re kind of an afterthought. I think that we will see some sort of concert at some point. But everyone on that cast is doing something; so reining them in is going to be hard.
Truthfully, it was so big and so majestic that it’s better this way. There was a 24-person choir that was on stage with us the entire time, and all those people have to be paid. And just the amount of money to run that show would be astronomical.
There were probably several reasons why it didn’t transfer. They’re smart; they don’t want to lose money. Alan [Menken] and Stephen [Schwartz] both had such passion for the show and loved it so much, and we did too. They never shared their reasons with us, so it’s all speculation on our part, but I know that it was too expensive to run. The reason I’m glad it didn’t come to Broadway is because now that the rights are out, every community gets to do it. Because it’s written with a choir, and there’s also a cast, each community has to come together and participate to make it work. So I think that’s going to be pretty special. And I was thinking for myself, would I rather have seen Hunchback on Broadway as a kid or would I like to be in the chorus? Because you never forget that, and that’s kind of magical.
With anyone who takes a role in a long running show, do you get much opportunity to make the character your own? How do you not naturally mimic what you’ve seen and heard for so many times?
I always joke, I say they want it to be your own exactly like they tell you to do it. The deal with Phantom is that we have so many people coming in and out that we try to keep the show very consistent. We have our own things that we bring to the parts, because you just have to. Larry Mackintosh is a smaller guy, and he’s really cool and creepy when he’s the Phantom, and I’m really tall and laid back, so I have to bring what is the best part of me into that. But with that said, everything that we do is on purpose and specific and they like to keep it that way.
In a normal rotation we have two Christines – they know exactly what to expect all the time. We can put somebody in the show, and we try to keep her moments the same, while making them organic. It’s such a difficult thing to do, which is why we rehearse so much. Nobody copies each other, but there are specific moments that are on purpose. Our director is very specific about how those moments have to play out and what the audience is supposed to feel. And it’s our jobs to make that happen. They want everyone who walks in that building to have a great experience every time. They want the understudies to be really good, they don’t want anybody disappointed.
So now, let’s transition to your album, In The Moment which is absolutely beautiful. What was your decision making process on choosing these songs?
My life. Most of the songs represent certain points in my career. ‘Nessun Dorma’ was something I did in concert, ‘Music of the Night’ is obviously a reflection of my job. There are actually some cut tracks, I recorded more than I was able to put on there. ‘This Is The Moment’ is on there because the person who financed it loves it. He loves it when I sing it every time and had to have it on there. ‘Besame Mucho’ I put on there because I actually studied Spanish guitar since I was 17 and I’ve never performed it- ever. Except for Hunchback, I played the guitar on one of the tracks for them fir the first time. They all represent something that I’ve done.
‘The Rainbow Connection’ was the only one that wasn’t pre-thought of. We were sitting in the studio and needed a song. There are all these songs I wanted to do and change and make different and I’ve always loved that song. It has some Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in there; we put all these things in it. It became so fun, we’d say, ‘let’s do this, let’s do that.’ That one was literally on the spot created, which was so cool. It took us a few days to come up with it and then about a week and a half to record all the different parts, which was neat.
Have you ever written your own songs, or considered doing so?
I’m pretty terrible at it. I can write music for days and create melodies but not lyrics. It’s not my jam. I’m trying, and it’s getting better. But I’m also my own worst critic.
If you give me a song I can tell you what I want it to do and where I want it to go, but just coming up with it in the air… that doesn’t work.
How is the mindset and/or preparation different from live theatre to a recording your own album?
Interesting. Theatre you live in the moment and whatever happens, happens.
An album is so exposed and everything you do can be a potential mistake. Theatre is living in the moment and just being there no matter what happens. In the studio, it’s like living in a microscope and trying to make it perfect.
There were two songs I did in one take; ‘If I Loved You’ and ‘What is it About Her’ was on take two.
You sing songs in multiple languages- are you bilingual? Or just when it comes to singing?
I speak German, not fluently but I can understand it, I studied it in college. Also, I have a classical background; I studied Latin, Italian, and French. I am horrible at French, which is why it isn’t on the album. I grew up in California, so, I know some Spanish.
Was classical your first love and then musical theatre? Or vice versa?
Musical Theatre is probably my first love. I’m like many of the other kids in that I found Phantom and Les Mis, and I never looked back. A lot of people are about the words, and what they mean and what the song is about, I am about the music. It always meant more to me how things flourished and how you painted those feelings with music. That was always my drive, which fits classical music.
You’ve been with the Phantom company for a long time now, which is an amazing accomplishment. How does the show stay fresh for you after all this time?
I have, over eight years, performed well over 3,000 shows. It’s work, it’s a job. But I still study, so when I go to class, I learn new tools, so I take them to work and apply them. Sometimes it’s very successful and sometimes it gets me into a bit of trouble. You don’t deviate from what they tell you to do. So even if you say, ‘but I found this moment..’ it doesn’t work like that.
You’ve been a long-term understudy, without going on as either Raoul or the Phantom for months at a time- so you rehearse constantly, even if you aren’t planning to go on?
Yes. We have to. Like last night, one Christine was doing a concert, the other was ill and if anything were to occur with our understudy, Rachel [Eskenazi-Gold], we would’ve been scrambling. So we all have to be ready.
Who was the first Phantom that you understudied on Broadway? What was that like?
Howard McGillin. It was like watching something majestic. That guy is leagues above people. He’s so good. I was watching him thinking, ‘oh man, that’s a lot to live up to.’ That was a hard one to understudy. He is so good.
Broadway has been buzzing about diversity and now Phantom is welcoming Ali Ewoldt as its first Asian-American Christine and its first African-American Raoul, Jordan Donica! What is your opinion on the diversity on Broadway?
It’s so great! And blind casting has been going on for a decade in California. Broadway is all of the original shows, and the original shows are written for whatever part, and for a hundred years it’s written for specific actors. It’s so fantastic that it’s changing. It is just actors telling stories. Phantom has a Japanese cast, so it’s not like it’s the first time. There are decades and decades of roles written for only white people. I hate to reference it all the time, because everyone references it all the time, but in Hamilton, when you see all those actors specifically cast, it is genius.
When I’m not on stage and I’m not at home, I am:
Am I ever? Probably taking my children somewhere. With my family I think.
Had I never been introduced to the world of Musical Theatre I probably would’ve ended up:
Driving a forklift. I probably would’ve been a computer engineer. That’s what my dad does, I enjoy it too.
Each night, right before I walk I stage for the first time, I:
Say ‘good show’ to my cast members.
My favorite post two show day meal is:
This is a good one! What night are we talking about? I love eating a quesadilla at night, I just love it. Or whatever’s in the fridge. I also love chips.
My favorite NYC hangout spot is:
Day or night? During the day I actually like to hang out at the pier, because it’s on the water. At night, it would be any 9th avenue restaurant.
Going on as the Phantom is:
Epic. You can’t just go, ‘oh, it’s no big deal’, well, you can say that, but you don’t think it.