The Phantastic Jordan Craig
February 24, 2019
The first time that Jordan Craig appears on stage, he’s been aged. He is an old man attending an auction, and he bids on remaining props from the Paris Populaire Opera House’s old productions and is stopped by a papier-mâché monkey playing the symbols. It’s the first time we hear him sing, and his voice rings through the Benedum Center. When he finishes, the auctioneer points to the ceiling, “Lot 666, then, a chandelier in pieces.” And all eyes go to the cloth-covered chandelier dangling above the first few rows of the audience. The anticipation in the room is palpable, and the auctioneer says, “Perhaps we may frighten away the ghost of so many years ago with a little illumination, gentlemen?” The cloth around the chandelier disappears as the lights flash on, strobe lights making the crystals glitter, and the sound of crackling electricity rises above the powerful overture. As Craig stands on stage, lost in memories, dancers begin to circle him, background drops slowly lower in behind him, and the Opera Populaire springs to life, sweeping Craig back into the past until he finally emerges as a young playboy with dark coiffed hair and bright green eyes.
Craig plays Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, in the National Tour of The Phantom of the Opera. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom, now in its 31st year on Broadway, tells the famous story of the Opera Ghost, a disfigured man who lives in a candlelit lair beneath the Opera Populaire. The new patron, Raoul, falls in love with an old childhood friend, the upcoming opera star Christine Daaé, who is under the tutelage of the Opera Ghost, the Phantom. He has to battle the Phantom to save Christine and save the rest of the opera cast and crew from the clutches of the crazed man.
Craig was born and raised in Houston, Texas, a far distance from Paris. He began acting at a young age and began performing as a professional at ten years old with the Houston Grand Opera’s Child Chorus.
The opera gave him most of his musical training and gave him the opportunity to work with and learn from professionals. He performed in professional shows through high school and, encouraged by his parents to explore other options due to the difficult nature of being a performer, he attended Tennessee Sewanee: University of the South when he graduated. He was originally an English major planning to become a lawyer but quickly realized that he was meant to do theater and added a theater degree as well.
He moved to Atlanta, Georgia and had earned his Equity card six months after he graduated from college. He worked with Alliance Theater, a major theater that often tests shows on their way to Broadway. During his time in Georgia, he performed in Next to Normal and The Wizard of Oz at Alliance Theater, Legally Blonde at the Lyric Theater, and Xanadu and Spring Awakening at Actors’ Express.
After Atlanta, he moved to New York City and performed there before joining Royal Caribbean Productions. “I worked on a cruise ship for seven months and I met my wife doing that. I was in the Caribbean for six months, and that was pretty great. We did Europe and it was awesome getting to travel doing what you love and getting paid for it.”
After his run with the cruise ship ended, he joined Phantom. He’s been on the Phantom tour for three years now, marking his three-year anniversary while he’s here in Pittsburgh. He’s been all across the country and into Canada. He loved Alberta and Ottawa and performing at the Kennedy Center in D.C. He’s looking forward to Honolulu in August but was happy to come to Pittsburgh after freezing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His sister went to Robert Morris University here in Pittsburgh so he’s excited to come back.
“I enjoy the ‘land touring’ a little bit more because there’s a little more freedom,” he says. “The people are great, and during the day we’re a little freer. We can go explore where we want and then do the show at night. It took me a while to get used to touring, but I love it. What’s amazing is learning how different people can be just a couple hours apart. When you get to see the country in totality, it broadens your horizons and makes you understand why people and places are different. It helps you to love this place that we live in.
“I’ve been on tour for three years and I’m not tired of it. Some people burn out, but I haven’t. I think it’s because we’re always getting notes and always improving ourselves and our craft as actors and singers. Cameron Mackintosh, the producer, puts a lot of effort into maintaining very high standards. We’re always trying to make it better, so it never gets stale or stagnant. I’ve been with the show for three years so I know it like the back of my hand, but there’s a freedom there that you can play around with tiny little moments in the show. As long as you’re being truthful, you can do something fun every night and make the reality for you as an actor completely different every single night. That comes with a familiarity that you rarely get.”
Craig’s time with the show is evident when he steps on stage. He fully embodies the cocky swagger of Raoul in the first act, “having fun at the opera and laughing my ass off at Il Muto [a scene in the show] – can I say laughing my ass off?” and grows more and more desperate over the course of the show until he finally reaches his breaking point and declares war against the Phantom. When singing the love ballad with Christine, “All I Ask of You,” he is gentle and has fully shed the young playboy in favor of a dedicated lover. His voice shines in the scene atop the opera house, his clear tenor voice filling the 2,800 seat Benedum.
“Our show is different from the other productions,” he says. “Our interpretation of Raoul is very different from the original interpretation because we approach the production as you would a play rather than a Victorian melodrama, which is how Hal Prince directed the brilliant original show. The production on Broadway is wonderful and really dramatic, but in this version of the show, we try to see how these characters would really behave in this theater if you knew that someone who worked and lived in this theater is trying to kill you. That’s what’s happening in Phantom.”
As Craig talks, it’s obvious how much he loves the show and what he’s doing. He has stories for every question, and talking with him is more like talking with an old friend than doing an interview. His friendliness and good-humor immediately puts you at ease.
“In our version, he’s not a specter; he’s a stagehand. He’s disfigured, he’s been ostracized, and he’s lashing out. We approach this show from a very different point of view, which is really fun. So for Raoul, when he asks Christine to perform in the Phantom’s Don Juan, he’s thinking, ‘You have to do this or he is going to kill everybody here.’ The stakes are so high. If he doesn’t push her to do it, people will die.”
Even old Phantom fans who think they know the show won’t be ready for this production. From the incredible actors to the mind-blowing set to the pyrotechnics to the projections, the show is a feast for the eyes and a true reinvention of the classic musical.
After the Friday night show, we meet in person for the backstage tour he has graciously offered. Craig has the routine down perfectly, navigating the crowded wings while sharing fun facts about the show and sets and peppering personal anecdotes. Craig had five hours of rehearsal before the demanding show, but it is impossible to tell. He is so energetic and upbeat, and even just walking around the stage out of costume, he commands it. He knows everything about the show from the intricacies of the set, how it’s loaded, the weight of the pieces, to the history of Henry, the show’s stuffed peacock. He talks about the pyrotechnics, including a wall of fire that burns and can be felt from the audience. “I have to get out of the way fast. If I’m a little slow, I can feel it on the back of my neck!” he says.
Craig is not only an actor but also an adventurer and a Padi-Certified Open Water Diver. He just got back from a trip to Mexico where he and his wife went cave diving in rain forests. He’s currently going through his GoPro footage and uploading gorgeous videos to Instagram. While cave diving, he says, he was reminded of Phantom’s final scene where Raoul has to wade across a lake to the Phantom’s lair to rescue the kidnapped Christine. The scene, “Final Lair,” is Craig’s favorite, though he admits that it used to be the Mausoleum scene, where he and the Phantom confront each other over the grave of Christine’s father.
“It used to be the Mausoleum scene because the tension is really high, the stakes are really high, and we’re all coming at each other from different perspectives. But now I think that my favorite is “Final Lair” because everybody, from an analytical and physical standpoint, is stripped down to their bare essence. The Phantom is fully animalistic, and the façade of the mysterious masked man is gone and he is fully visible to everyone. Christine has been stripped out of her costume and put into a wedding dress, and Raoul – I’m in a lace shirt, okay. Everyone is literally stripped down. It’s so raw, unlike the Mausoleum scene where we’re all very refined.”
When watching Final Lair, it’s easy to understand why it’s Craig’s favorite scene. Craig and his scene mates, the towering and powerful Quentin Oliver Lee as the Phantom and the beautiful and talented Eva Tavares as Christine Daaé, throw themselves into the scene, leaving everything on the stage. The Phantom has been stripped of his showmanship, Christine of her grace and poise, and Raoul of his regal elegance. Craig, Lee, and Tavares have such chemistry on stage that it’s impossible not to be fully invested in the story and empathize with each of their characters. At the very end, when Craig and Tavares’ voice haunt the Benedum with a short “All I Ask Of You” Reprise, the people in the audience are sniffling.
“In this scene, it’s just barebones rawness. We’re all just clawing at each other, and there’s something amazing about that. We’ve all been pushed to this limit. You can’t not love this scene. In the Victorian era, everyone was cinched up. In this moment, all the strings come off and you’re just seeing three people as close to animals as they can be, throwing each other onto the ground and diving after them. It’s great. It’s physically very taxing, but you build a stamina for it over time.”
At the end of the night, Craig’s portrayal of Raoul and the Phantom’s plight will follow you, the music of the night calling you back to the theater to see it again. Whether you’re a new Phantom fan or a diehard, Team Raoul or Team Phantom, don’t miss Craig and this “phantastic” cast in the last week of the show’s run here in Pittsburgh!
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