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May 15, 2014

Actor keeps it all in the family

May 15, 2014

Greenville Journal, Cindy Landrum - May 15, 2014

Ben Jacoby follows in father's footsteps with role in Broadway classic.

"The Phantom of the Opera" is more than a Broadway classic to actor Ben Jacoby. It's a family affair.

Jacoby's father, Mark, gave more than 800 performances on Broadway as the lead character in the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic.

Now Jacoby has one of the lead roles in the grittier, more realistic, reconceived "Phantom" national tour that is in Greenville through next weekend. 

"It's an important show for my family," Jacoby said in a telephone interview last week before the show arrived for it's Peace Center run. "Being able to have a role in a musical that my father played the lead role in for so many years is a testament to the show. It has lasted this long for a reason."

The musical is based on the French novel "Le Fantome de l'Opera" by Gaston Leroux. The central plot revolves around a beautiful soprano, Christine Daae', who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius named Erik, known throughout the production as "The Phantom of the Opera" or Opera Ghost. 

The musical opened in London's West End in 1986 and on Broadway in 1988. It is still running on Broadway, making it the longest-running show on Broadway by a wide margin over shows such as "Cats," "Chicago," "The Lion King" and "Les Miserables."

Jacoby plays Raoul, the aristocratic rival to the Phantom.

"It's the same basic love triangle as in 'Cyrano de Bergerac,'" Jacoby said. "Raoul is the third piece of a love triangle. I think Raoul, if you really think about it, is just a man who is in love. He's in love with Christine as much as the Phantom is."

Although Jacoby grew up around the theatre and he had performed in some shows in high school, he didn't think about it as a career for himself until he went to Denison University in Ohio. He majored in English literature and theatre. Then he decided to go to UC-Irvine to persue an MFA in acting.

"It was always a hobby," he said. "It was a slow transition from hobby to potential career."

His decision to audition for "Phantom" was more profession than personal, he said.

"When you're an actor, you go to any audition you can get, especially when it's a large national tour," he said. "While it is an important show to my family, it was important to me professionally because of the artistic merit of the show."

His father has offered some advice, but it was more broad than specific to "Phantom," Jacoby said. "He's a proud dad." he said. "But with 'Phantom,' it's a different role and a different production. It's a new staging that puts different values, different takes on things."

But, make no mistake, it is still "Phantom."

"The score is the same. The story is the same," he said. "But it looks completely different. It's a redesigned set. It has redesigned costumes. The original could be classified as stylized. Ours, it's more realistic."

Since the musical is set in the Paris Opera House before electricity, the lighting casts intense shadows reminiscent of what it would have looked like before electricity and the even lighting it helps produce, he said.

The score is still luscious, sweeping and romantic, Jacoby said. The story is still one of unrequited love. 

"There's a huge theme of not being good enough to be loved. I think people can relate to that," Jacoby said. "There's something at the core of the story that relates to so many people."

Jacoby said Raoul is a challenging role. 

"Raoul is a large role with lots of stage time. It can be exhausting physically," he said. "At the end of the week when we've done eight shows, I'm tired. Stamina is a challenge. The show is almost entirely scored through and sung. And people forget that when they see a character in an upper level set that the actor has had to climb several sets of stairs offstage to get there."

Jacoby said his father and his college professors taught him several lessons that have helped him in his career in musical theater. The most important, he said, nis not to overspecialize.

"I tell young theater students not to close themselves off to musical theater. In this role, I do a lot of singing and acting and some dancing," he said. "I think if you overspecialize too early, you're essentially taking yourself out of consideration for hundreds of possible jobs. Versatility is the most important thing to an actor."

"The Phantom of the Opera"

When: Friday, May 16, 8p.m.; Saturday, May 17, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 18, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.; Tuesday, May 20, 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday, May 21, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, May 23, 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 24, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 25, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Where: Peace Center Concert Hall, 300 S. Main St., Greenville

Tickets: Starting at $50

Information: or 864-467-3000.

Note: The Phantom of the Opera is suggested for ages 6 and up.