"It was a total life-changer for me," says Chris Mann, veteran of The Voice's Team X-Tina. After years of hard-fought battles with the record industry, season 2 of the NBC singing competition ushered the classically trained Wichita native into his long-awaited spotlight. "It lit a fire under the career that I had been trying to have for ten years," he says looking back on the experience. "Now I'm lucky that I am able to take a break from that and do something else that I have always wanted to do."
This "break" has been spent lending his operatic voice to the role of the Phantom in the national touring company of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera — though the career move has been the furthest thing from a break."It's been a ton of work. More than I ever imagined," says Mann, who has been with the company since November.
Now in his seventh month with the show, he gets a brief respite from road life with the production's seven-week stint at the Pantages Theatre in his home base of Los Angeles. It's where his wife of two years has been holding the fort ever since The Voice launched Mann's world travels ("It's definitely been an unusual start to a marriage," he admits). Even so, while he revels in the comforts of his sunny L.A. abode, he's keeping one eye firmly locked on Broadway.
As a solo artist by trade, how did The Phantom of the Opera come into your life?
It's something I've had my eye on. I was on the road for like a year and a half with my album and promoting my PBS special. That finished and I had a conversation with my agent that I'd really love to get back onstage doing musical theater, specifically Phantom, and about two weeks later they announced auditions. I auditioned in L.A. and went in for callbacks in New York and here we are.
Do you have a background in musical theater?
Yeah, I do. I grew up doing musical theater. I'm from Wichita and we have a really reputable regional theater, so I did that for two seasons and grew up doing it in high school. Then in college I was acting and singing onstage doing more operatic stuff and the last ten years have been doing the recording industry, so it's sort of like a coming home. I'm going back to doing what I grew up doing and it's really fun to perform in this capacity.
What was the first Broadway show you ever saw? Growing up in Kansas, trips to New York must have been few and far between.
My mom took me when I was in high school. That was the first time I went. She took me to see Aida with Heather Headley, and Heather and I, all this time later, are friends. We recorded a duet together called "Because You Need Me" and she just referred me for a job the other day. It's so weird. I remember going to see her as a fan in high school, and now, as an adult, we're peers and collaborators and friends. It's just really cool.
What made you change courses from musical theater to the recording industry?
My dream was always to be a recording artist. That's what I always wanted to do and I still do. Now it's really fun to be taking a break from that and be part of a company — a bigger group of people who come together to make this performance happen. It's a really nice change. It's less lonely for sure. [laughs]
When was your first introduction to The Phantom of the Opera?
I saw it on Broadway a few times growing up [and] my family listened to Phantom all the time. We had the double cassette, and my sister always had it memorized. The type of voice that I have and the type of music that I've studied is more classically based, so this was always something that seemed like a really great fit. I was actually doing a concert in Canada and Hugh Panaro was in it with me, who at the time was the Phantom on Broadway, and that really kind of inspired me to pursue this. About a month after that, I was cast. So it was all very strange how Phantom sort of came strongly into my life all at once.
What has it been like performing this role?
Wonderfully challenging. He's such a fun, complex character. I've really enjoyed getting to go there every night and the fact that people know and love these songs, and have such deep relationships with the music and this character in particular, it's a real honor to get to portray him. I've been me for so long that it's a really nice opportunity to play somebody else. I don't really hold back, so you sort of get to lose control with this guy and that's pretty nice. But the amount of work that has gone into this job is more than I ever imagined, which makes it all the more rewarding.
Has this experience made Broadway your next goal?
Obviously I would dream to play the Phantom on Broadway someday. Brad Oscar, who was just nominated for a Tony for Something Rotten!, was in this tour's company last year. Right after we joined he was replaced and now he's Tony-nominated, so that's very exciting how quickly things change. And [it shows that] the level of talent in this company is pretty amazing.
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