TONIGHT, for the first time in Milton Keynes, the mask will go on and the curtain will rise on one of theatre’s most celebrated pieces, writes Sammy Jones.
The Phantom of the Opera will rid the new city of its Autumnal chill, instead dressing us up in an altogether dark romance, with a sumptuous backdrop.
Earl Carpenter has once again taken on the role that he so splendidly delivered to West End audiences, but he admits playing The Phantom in Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of the Lloyd Webber classic will feel like a totally new role.
“For me, it will make the production very interesting, because it is a completely different design, and what I can’t do is that which we did in London – although the music is the same.
“It’ll be great because the bits that weren’t quite right in the London show have been looked at and it and gives us the opportunity to replay.”
And whether you come to the story of The Phantom and Christine (a glorious role taken by Katie Hall) as a passionate lover of the story or a curious newbie, you will still be able to revel in the piece.
“Usually people who have seen it haven’t seen it for years and years – and probably can’t remember what they saw anyway.
“It’s still a great story at the end of the day, and that’s all that matters.
“As long as that storytelling is good, then it’s absolutely fine.”
And with Earl at the helm, the quality is assured: He has more than a few other tasty credits to his name including Evita, Les Miserables, We Will Rock You and The Witches of Eastwick.
When producers need a principal, his name is high on the ‘want’ list.
But Earl, who also boasts a long list of production credits behind that mask of his, never takes his industry standing for granted – although he does admit the role of the Phantom is one of the more exciting roles to adopt.
“I think everything I’ve done has been a pinnacle, because I’m always amazed when I’m asked to do a job, but it is certainly one of the iconic roles,” he tells me.
“I don’t take any job for granted though.
“I’ve had next to 20 years plus in the industry, and to have that type of longevity in this industry is rare.”
Earl mentions the non-stop wheel of talent shows, which turn out new all-singing, all-dancing models quicker than it takes to put an edition of this newspaper to the press.
You know what we mean.
“Fame and fortune isn’t what it’s about though, that’s chasing a false dream.
“I think shows like that have their place but they don’t necessarily communicate what the entire industry is about.
“It just happens to be a very small part of commercial musical theatre.
“A lot of the guys have trained too though – I’ve worked with Lee Mead (Mr Denise Van Outen and Joseph in the Lloyd Webber production), we all know each other.
“Begrudgingly, I hate the fact that they’ve got bigger exposure, because I’ve always fallen foul of not having a profile, so certain producers, regardless of my CV, won’t take a risk because we’re not nationally known.
“I would love millions of people watching me on a Saturday night, because the dividends that would pay for me would be fantastic.
“But the flipside is that there’s something nice in the anonymity of it, of not having that exposure and just being a jobbing actor,” Earl continues.
“At the end of the day, the attitude should be about longevity, apprenticeship...things that people aren’t taught any more, the understanding of the industry, and of being a sole trader in our industry.
“No-one knows what that means. No-one understands the legalities of that, you are not taught it.
“So, from my point of view I would rather have that longevity.”
And when it comes to work, no matter how many people want to utilize your talents, it always pays to be proactive; “I was always taught never, ever rely on anybody getting you work – that was what my agent told me.
“I always have been and always will be, it is worth it, and that helps create longevity.”
Last week, Earl was wowing a slightly more intimate audience at Woburn Abbey with his A Touch of the West End package.
But he has been to the new city before, and appeared at MK Theatre a few years back in Zorro, the Gypsy Kings musical.
His face turns to a grimace: “I played Zorro’s dad to a guy who was only a year younger than me!” he admits.
These days, Earl is comfortable taking strides as The Phantom, but he can recall one particularly hair-raising time when he got shivers himself.
“I was actually already in Phantom of the Opera, but I was a walk-in cover, kind of like the understudy, and they wanted to see me in order to take over the role.
“So, one evening I was stuck on as the Phantom, but unbeknown to me until the beginning of the show, Cameron and Andrew-Lloyd Webber were in the building watching.
“It was the first time in about eight years they had both been in the building together. “That was quite nerve-wracking,” he recalls.
There are other wobbly moments too – the worst happening only recently.
“The most nerve-wracking was earlier this year – the first ever time I auditioned in front of Trevor Nunn.
“I have to say it felt like I was starting all over again.
“It felt like it felt the first time I auditioned for Les Mis back in 1382, or whenever it started!
“Trevor has seen me play Javert in Les Mis, but I’d never auditioned in front of him.
“I said, ‘I’m so sorry but I’m ever so nervous’ and he said ‘How can you be nervous?’ and then reeled off my entire CV which made things worse...and no I didn’t get the job!” he admits with a laugh.
“I was gutted, I really felt like my CV meant nothing.
“But ironically it was kind of a nice thing to feel – there is nothing wrong with exercising a bit of humility and selflessness occasionally and that puts you back in your place.”
This evening, and for the following five weeks, his place will be stage-centre, starring as the Phantom.
Shamed by his physical appearance and widely feared, he melts the heart of his beautiful protégée Christine with the strength of his love…
But to the big question: Are you ready to surrender to the music of the night?
If the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, make contact with the box office on 0844 871 7652.