It was 1985 in the small town of Hancock, Maine when 7-year-old Jason Mills began performing H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance on stage as part of his father’s Gilbert and Sullivan theater troupe. One year later, British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber held the world premiere of his 10th theater production, The Phantom of the Opera, at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London.
More than 20 years and 8,700 shows later, Mills’s life has crossed paths with the longest-running show in Broadway history — he is the newest Phantom to inhabit the catacombs of the famous Paris Opera House. While in the middle of the show’s U.S. Tour, which will reach San Antonio February 27, Mills, 30, spoke with the Current via phone about his time as a Broadway understudy and why he thinks The Phantom of the Opera has stood the test of time.
How did you get interested in musical theater?
I had been acting and singing all my life as a hobby. My dad was a drama teacher and … my family is very musically oriented.
I did a lot of shows in high school and in college. I never thought of `musical theater` as something one could realistically go into as a profession. I actually went to school and studied biology at Harvard University. I was planning on going to medical school but decided to take a few years off and give acting a shot.
You started as a Phantom understudy before being named lead Phantom three months ago. What did you learn on Broadway as the man behind the man behind the mask?
I’ve been playing the Phantom off and on for two-and-a-half years. Being an understudy is usually part of the process, especially in The Phantom. But I was actually on stage quite a lot as an understudy. I performed `as the Phantom` about 60 times. The understudy doesn’t just sit in the back and do nothing. It’s a demanding role.
The Phantom is such an iconic character in musical theater. What does it mean to you to add your name to Broadway history?
It’s wonderful. You go out there and audiences are so excited to see you and see the show. You go everywhere and everyone knows who you are. The theme of the Phantom really means a lot to people. It’s a really gratifying feeling.
What do you think makes The Phantom of the Opera continue to be successful after all these years?
It’s hard to say exactly what it is that keeps people coming back. Some people say it’s the mysterious hero. Some say it’s the love triangle and the beautiful music and the spectacle. I don’t think it’s one thing. I think it’s a combination of factors that has come together and worked really well.
What impresses you the most about the Phantom?
I like the intensity of his emotions. He’s someone who has been isolated and deformed. He’s on a larger emotional spectrum than most characters you’d ever get to play. It’s a lot of fun to play with that and go through that all the time.
After playing this character for so long, do you see any similarities between you and him?
There are little things here and there. Of course, his experience of the world has been much more drastic and different from mine. You can kind of imagine it and have to extrapolate and get yourself ready for that.
How did you make this character your own after so many others have come before you?
I just go out there and try to experience what the Phantom does from my own perspective. I put my own stamp on the role. Also, reacting to a different Christine creates different circumstances. But you’ll also definitely see some similarities. I’ve borrowed some things from other Phantoms as well.
Are you excited to maybe get new generations interested in The Phantom of the Opera and Broadway in general?
I think that is the most fun for me, when I get to see the kids afterwards. Once this 5-year-old girl had drawn me a picture of the Phantom and was waiting to give it to me at the stage door. It’s always fun when I inspire young people that way. •
The Phantom of the Opera
Through March 23
224 E. Houston