A mysterious number flashes across my phone's screen and I know it must be singer/actor Chris Mann. He's the man behind the mask of Broadway's touring production of The Phantom of the Opera. I'm surprised to find that he sounded like a normal guy on the phone. You'd never know that this was the voice behind one of Broadway's most passionate characters.
For the current Broadway production — at Belk Theater through Feb. 15 — the role of Phantom has been tweaked to portray more human and less supernatural-like qualities. The change is a result of British producer Cameron Mackintosh's 2013 revamping of Andrew Lloyd Webber's production, now celebrating 27 years on Broadway. Part of the more "human" approach to Phantom includes a back story that gives some light to his otherwise unknown past and hurts he's experienced from love.
"It's a more reality-based production," says Mann. "In this production the Phantom is just a guy who had been tormented without love and who had been looking for love and acceptance his whole life and he will do whatever he needs to do to get it, as opposed to the previous production where he's been more mystical and magical. I think that's why people are relating to the Phantom more in this show, because everybody knows what it feels like to feel rejected and everybody wants to be accepted at the end of the day."
Mann, 32, says the Phantom in this touring production is younger than in past shows. He landed the role in November 2014. Prior to the dream job, he had toured for his 2012 debut album Roads. The classically trained musician is still soaking up the success of his 2012 stint on The Voice, where he came in fourth place. While on the television singing competition he was placed on pop songstress Christina Aguilera's team. Aguilera later lent her vocal chords on his solo effort. His music, described as "operatic pop," is heavily influenced by his classical training for musicals and operas.
A longtime fan of The Phantom of the Opera, he admits that his playing the iconic role is one of the greatest opportunities to come his way. But morphing into the role of Phantom night after night takes more than acting and strong vocal chords. Before putting on his staple masks each evening, makeup artists and techies glue a disfigured prosthetic to his face. The mask hides this for most of the show, but for Mann the scars run deeper, fueling his embodiment as the vulnerable and angry recluse of a man.
"It helps me to feel like the Phantom for sure," says Mann. "It's also what makes the dramatic reel at the end so great."
As we wrap up our phone call, a part of me wants to ask Mann to sing a line from "Music of the Night." I don't, mostly because it's hard for me to fathom this friendly guy could bellow such captivating moodiness.