Behind the Mask: An Interview with Phantom of the Opera’s Julia Udine & Storm Lineberger

In sleep it sang to me, in dreams it came— dream no further for The Phantom of the Opera has arrived at last on the Opera House stage of The John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center for a six-week summer engagement. In a TheatreBloom exclusive interview, we have taken a moment to talk with Storm Lineberger and Julia Udine, playing Raoul, Vicomte de Changy and Christine Daae respectively, about the Phantom experience.

Thank you both for lending us your time this morning, if we could just get a quick introduction, I’ve got a few questions for you and we’ll get going!

Julia Udine: I’m Julia Udine, I’ve been doing Christine for about three years now. I started off with this tour about three years back. I did that for about a year and then I moved to the Broadway production. I started in the Broadway production in December of 2015 and was in that until just two weeks ago. Now I’m back here on the tour.

Storm Lineberger, curently playing Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera US Tour
Storm Lineberger, curently playing Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera US Tour Amanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom

Storm Lineberger: I’m Storm Lineberger and I play Raoul, Vicomte de Changy in Phantom of the Opera. I’ve been playing Raoul for about 21 months now, close to two years, and it’s been a terrific ride.

Julia, what is it like adapting your version of Christine to this version of The Phantom of the Opera?

Julia: I’ve had such a special experience because I was able to originate this part three years ago. I was able to create this character in the room with our Director, Laurence Connor, and it was such a collaboration. As an actor that’s so rare, you don’t get experiences like that very often. It was really such an honor to take on such an iconic role and also kind of daunting. It was really amazing because I was able to find new things and bring myself into it because of this new production. And then I had the experience of being able to go to the Broadway production, where there’s been many, many, many Christine’s before me— and I had to bring what I’d learned here, try and forget it a little bit but not too much and then move into something totally different. I feel like I’m very informed as Christine and the past three years have been such an incredible experience for me.

Storm, would you say this reimagined tour is Phantom 2.0?

Storm: Now I wouldn’t say this is Phantom 2.0 but I would say this is Phantom: Version Two. It’s a different take on the text and the music while maintaining those two very important pillars.

How do you think that reads to people who are dedicated fans to the original production, or the one currently housed on Broadway?

Storm: I would say that you are going to find people who are disappointed that we didn’t have the staircase or certain other elements of the original production that were so impactful for them. But I think on the whole, people are actually pleasantly surprised because they understand more parts of the show. We’re much more specific in our story telling. That is always very gratifying.

You’ve been living with Raoul for almost two years now, and Julia, you’ve been with Christine for three. What has taking that amount of time in this single character track has taught you about yourself as a performer and as a human being?

Storm: Wow! That’s actually a really loaded question. The first thing I would say about this whole experience is that I’ve learned so much about myself as a performer as far as what I’m capable of and what I need to work on, as a vocalist, as an actor, as a general performer. There are things that Raoul represents that I don’t, this overconfidence and this sense of entitlement, they have really sort of allowed me to use that in my everyday life in the sense that “I am supposed to be here” and things of that nature. You become so connected with it, I feel like sometimes I stand a certain way and suddenly I feel the emotions in the way that Raoul would feel them and react to them, how can you not when you’ve done it 600+ times?

TheatreBloom reporter Amanda N. Gunther (left) with Julia Udine (right) currently playing Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera US Tour
TheatreBloom reporter Amanda N. Gunther (left) with Julia Udine (right) currently playing Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera US Tour

Julia: Well, I’m capable of doing things that I didn’t think I was capable of doing. Things like being sick and still being able to perform through it. I had a stomach virus and I was vomiting and had to do the show— you know the show must go on. But I did it, and I discovered that my body is capable of things I didn’t even know. This show has definitely taught me that. Just as a person, I’m sort of growing into a woman as I’m playing this part and Christine grows into a woman during the show. There’s some sort of funny parallel there. She’s been a part of me these last three years and it’s going to be very sad when I have to say goodbye to her.

What would you say is the moment that defines the show for you?

Storm: I love this question. For me, while I really love singing “All I Ask of You” and “Prima Dona” and some of the classics of the show like “Masquerade”, the biggest moment for me is definitely the end of the show. I’m on stage but I’m this passive observer of what’s going on between The Phantom and Christine. For the first time, The Phantom experiences compassion. Chris Mann, our Phantom, really does a fantastic job of portraying that.

Julia: I would say “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and the mausoleum scene. It’s the one song in the show that sort of stands alone outside of the show. There’s such an incredible journey in it. That’s the moment in the show for me, where I believe Christine grows into a woman. She says goodbye to her father, she lets go of that, she makes decisions and starts to stand up for herself. All of those things happen there and they are just so very important to the role. Without that number and that moment in that scene you lose all of that.  

Julia, why do you love Phantom of the Opera?

Julia: Oh my goodness, I think it’s the story. The story of unrequited love and this love triangle that’s going on is just so relatable for audiences of all ages of any generation. Anyone who comes to see the show falls in love with it because they relate to that— to loving someone more than you love yourself. It’s also hard not to consider the music here. The music is so lush and so romantic. You walk away constantly singing the songs, you can’t get them out of your head once you leave the show. The combination of those two things is really magical.

What has been the overall audience response when they leave the theatre after a performance of Phantom?

Storm: First of all, I think once The Phantom finishes his final note there’s just this sigh of catharsis. The next thing you’ll hear in the audience is people singing the songs. It’s like a greatest hits album. Every single song everyone’s heard before and they don’t know why, but that’s the brilliance of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

When you come off of the stage after an evening’s performance of Phantom, what are you feeling?

Storm: I’m on stage for a long time in this show and I experience so much of the story. It’s this rush of adrenaline because I’m now finally slowing down, and this feeling of “I did it, I was there, I saw it.” When you’ve done this show so many times, you’re not thinking about how would Raoul experience the show anymore because you’ve become so connected to the character and it’s become so much of you. That catharsis that the audience feels? I feel that as well. I think that it’s really important for the actors on stage— me, Julia (playing Christine Daae Julia Udine), Chris (Phantom of the Opera Chris Mann)— to have all that, especially if we want the audience to feel that way. I definitely do. I come around the corner, off the stage, and I sort of look at Julia and we both sigh and sort have that moment of “Okay, we did it.” It’s this really fantastic feeling of accomplishment.

Julia: I’m feeling the same thing the audience is feeling— I’m walking away feeling all the feels. Then you sort of have to try and leave that behind. You have to go be yourself, go live your daily life, and not feel traumatized. All of the things that Christine has gone through in the show, you have to leave that behind in order to go and be a human again. There’s some crazy balance that has to happen as an actor in order to be able to do that. I’ve definitely had trouble doing that in the past, leaving the show. Now doing it year after year it’s become a little bit more easy.

What does it mean to you to be taken by the music of the night?

Storm:  The music of the night in the sense of the scope of the show? Well this is the first show I ever saw. It was sort of the springboard to me wanting to be a performer. I didn’t know this was the way I was going to be a performer, but it’s definitely what I wanted to do. It was so all encompassing, the way Webber has written this score. The range of it— from happy in “Masquerade” to the darkest of dark in the “Final Trio”— to be taken by the music of the night, for me, is to run the full spectrum of emotions that you feel when you listen to this entire score every day. Like I said earlier about catharsis, you really feel it. I remember listening to this album on my long drives to and from college and my hometown. You had to take a moment after every single time you would listen to it.

Julia: Oh my goodness, that’s a great question. Personally for me, I feel like my whole life I’ve been searching for love. Well everyone has been searching for true love and trying to find that. When I first started singing I fell in love with this show. I went to go see it when I was nine years old. I was sitting in the balcony with my family and I fell in love with it. Then I started singing these songs in my voice lessons when I was 11 years old. Now to be here is so insane. I never in a million years would have imagined that. There’s a weird fate that has brought me here. I feel so lucky that it’s this show.

Why should people come out to see this tour of Phantom of the Opera?

TheatreBloom Reporter Amanda N. Gunther (left) with Storm Lineberger (right) currently playing Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera US Tour
TheatreBloom Reporter Amanda N. Gunther (left) with Storm Lineberger (right) currently playing Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera US Tour

Storm: You know, if you’ve seen the original production you’ve seen a magnificent production but what you’re going to get when you see ours is something different. With our show we use the moniker spectacular and with the other show they use brilliant. I think that’s a really, really good adjective for the show. That creates the difference between the two shows. Our show is bigger, there are more explosions, it’s more fantastic in the sense that it really wows the audience and blows back your hair. We’ve made it darker, we’ve really emphasized the text and the music. With that darkness we’ve made light a character. With the Phantom, who lives under the Paris Opera House, life is a very specific and important theme throughout the show and throughout the atmosphere, which is really cool. While we’ve made it a darker production, it’s still definitely something for all ages. It transcends generations as far as the message is concerned, which is compassion, which I know everyone identifies with from five years old to 75.

Julia: This is a brand new experience for audiences. It’s something they’ve never seen before. It’s brand new staging, it’s new choreography, it’s new set design, it’s new technology. It’s iconic in its own way. This is a stand-alone show. We’ve been able to take this script and do it like it’s never been done before and not feel the need to imitate any other production. That has been so special and it’s really important that people see that.

The Phantom of the Opera plays through August 20, 2016 on the Opera House Stage of The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts— 2700 F Street NW in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or purchase them online.

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