Broadway’s Phantom Comes to the Stage in Southwest Orlando for Rosen JCC’s Grand Opening Gala
Grant Norman Talks Broadway, the Rewards and Challenges of Being an Actor and Why It’s So Important for Youth to Have Access to the Arts.
By Abigail Thorpe
The Broadway star – famous for his role as the Phantom in “The Phantom of the Opera” as well as the Beast and Gaston in Disney’s Broadway production of “Beauty and the Beast” – will join Theatre South at Rosen JCC on February 27 to celebrate the opening of the new Rosen Event Center.
Norman shares a bit about his time on Broadway, his motivation when it comes to theater, and an exciting preview of what to expect during the Opening Gala.
Q: Tell me a bit about your story. How did you first get involved with theater and what led you to Broadway?
GN: I got involved in theater in college during a production of “West Side Story.” I found I very much enjoyed the whole creative process of designing, rehearsing and presenting this wonderful form of storytelling. I enjoyed being part of it, behind the scenes as well as in front.
Eddie Gasper – a choreographer who was Bob Fosse’s assistant for ten years – choreographed the “West Side Story” I was in. I subsequently auditioned for his dance company, made it in, and danced with the company for four years.
In 1985 I got involved in a production of “West Side Story” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, and that’s how I got my feet wet as far as being a professional actor. I did regional productions around the country until 1991, when I arrived in New York City and got my first Broadway show, “Miss Saigon.” Up until that point, I wasn’t sure if I was going to commit myself to theater as a profession. I was in the show for about a year, and then I got into Phantom, and that’s when I decided theater would be my profession.
Q: What is your most memorable role?
GN: Probably Phantom, because I came into it after it had already been established and there was such a huge wave of interest in it at that point. Many times, it was the first time the production was coming to a city and there was an enormous buzz about it, so it was really very exciting!
Playing the Phantom was a tremendous honor. Being able to play this character and travel all around the United States was an incredible experience. Venues were redesigning their theaters, putting hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars into the redesign so that the phantom could come.
Q: Who or what is the biggest inspiration for your work?
GN: I think it’s more of a what. I’ve always had a curiosity about why people do what they do, how they feel and what they think about things. That’s why I got into theater. When you take a character, you have to look into the soul and mind of that person to see how they tick.
When I play a role, I like to get rid of any preconceived notion of what the character might be like. You have to come right down to what the author has written, and really allow yourself to get into the skin of the character to understand who that person is. When you add music, it adds a level of difficulty you don’t have in just straight acting. Everybody also has his or her own interpretation of a particular character. I can’t do what Michael Crawford did; I can only understand the Phantom by trying to get inside the skin of that character.
Q: What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your work?
GN: I think the most challenging aspect of the work I do is, if the character is different than I am, then I need to try and grow those parts of myself to interface with that character. For instance, playing Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast.” For me to get inside the skin of someone whose ego is so immense that he believes everybody should do his bidding for him was difficult for me – that was part of the work I needed to do for that character. Because otherwise, if I don’t do my work, then you end up getting a false interpretation of who that character is and a two dimensional portrayal.
The most rewarding aspect of being an actor on stage is the ability to move an audience. When you’re telling a story and the audience can really experience that story, not only in an intellectual capacity, but in an emotional and visceral way, then you have accomplished something. Because in these stories there’s a lot of heart, there’s a lot of passion, there’s a lot of fear. It’s our job as actors to breath life into all these characters in such a way that the audience can experience the storytelling to its full extent.
Q: How are you involved with Theatre South?
GN: I met the Director of Theatre South, Hillary Brook, while doing “Finding Nemo” at Disney World. I wanted to work with her, and what a great reason to do so – with so many theaters closing, what a great thing for a theater to open.
Theatre South is really doing some great productions – and some original productions too, which is an exceptional opportunity for kids to originate a role! Not just mimic what someone else may have done, but really create it yourself! There is a great value in that.
Q: Tell me a bit about your coming performance at JCC’s Opening Gala?
GN: I’ll be performing “If I Can’t Love Her,” which is the Beast song from “Beauty and the Beast.” Interestingly, the feature film doesn’t have this song. In the film the Beast does some incidental singing but doesn’t sing a full song. So in developing it for Broadway, Alan Menken wrote this really beautiful song which ends act I.
Q: Why do you think access to the arts and creating opportunities for kids to grow and develop in these areas is important?
GN: Well, if anyone has an interest in theater at all, the first thing I would say is to experience it. Without an opportunity to experience it, it’s pretty difficult to understand if that’s where your heart is leading you. Having that available down here is immensely valuable for kids.
And the Rosen Theater is opening up in an area South of Orlando where there hasn’t been a theater. It’s an incredible opportunity for kids to experience acting classes and be in productions.
In these acting classes (at Theatre South), all the teachers are professional working actors. They may have an audition that afternoon, and then come in and teach a class. So what you have is a window directly into the professional world of being an actor. I think it’s incredibly smart to have teachers who are not only sharing knowledge of their craft but are continuing to pursue it themselves.
To find out more about Rosen JCC’s Grand Opening Gala and purchase tickets, contact Bonnie Rayman, Executive Director at 407-387-5330