It was a night to remember when Eitan Mazia made his entrance in The Phantom of the Opera at a packed auditorium at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, MD, in Young Artists of America’s production of the longest running musical in Broadway history. As he began singing “Music of the Night” the gorgeous voice of this young singer melted the hearts of the audience and drew some of the loudest applause I have ever heard in the theatre.
I’ve been a fan of Eitan’s for a long time and I was thrilled that he had the opportunity to showcase his vocal and acting talents in this demanding role of The Phantom. What audiences saw and heard during those two performances was that Eitan has a wonderful career ahead of him. The possibilities are endless for this humble, talented and gifted artist.
Joel: Why did you want to play The Phantom of the Opera at Young Artists of America?
Eitan: Phantom has always been one of my all time favorite musicals. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webberʼs music is so passionate, and whenever I listen to it, or find myself playing the cast CD in my mind, it never ceases to send chills running down my spine.
How do you relate to The Phantom?
The diverse characters contain an immense amount of emotional depth, both comedic and dramatic, and I must say that I adore every single character in a different way. However, the Phantom himself (Eric) is a character I truly connect with emotionally above all.
He doesnʼt speak often and heʼs a very observant figure. He silently watches every single thing that happens in the opera house, and only acts upon his thoughts after planning his actions thoroughly. He has a clear goal throughout the show, that is to lure his love Christine into his maniacal grasp forever at any cost, even murder.
Minus the insanity he has developed from living in isolation his entire life and his disfigured face, Iʼm similar to The Phantom in the sense that Iʼm very observant as well. Iʼm more of an introvert, and I spend the majority of my time thinking rather than speaking. As a musician, Iʼm completely dedicated to and passionate for music, which has been a key aspect in my portrayal of The Phantomʼs utter adoration for his beautifully demented compositions.
Tell me about your audition.
This has always been one of my dream roles, and I feel so honored to have been given the opportunity to perform it so early in my life. When I first signed up to audition for this show I went in without any expectations whatsoever. I knew that all students from Montgomery County, and the greater DC metropolitan area, were invited to audition, which obviously meant Rolando Sanz would be casting from a population of unbelievably talented individuals. When I went into the audition, I received a hand shake and introduction from Rolando as if we had been friends forever. I was blown away by how friendly and personable this world class opera tenor was. I immediately felt extremely comfortable in the room, and I performed “Music of the Night.” He then checked my range and spent some time actually working with me on the technique and tone he desired for his Phantom. The audition was already a fantastic experience in itself.
When and where were you when you found out that you were the choice to play The Phantom?
The day I found out I got the role of The Phantom, my dad actually couldnʼt wait to find out so he barged into my room that morning while I was sleeping, put the computer with the email open on it, and watched me immediately snap out of my morning daze and stare intently into the screen: I couldnʼt believe it! I was very surprised because I wasnʼt expecting it at all. But of course I accepted the role and got really excited to begin the rehearsal process.
Take us into your rehearsals.
The rehearsal process was one I had never experienced before. Rolando made a big point out of the fact that we were primarily attacking this show musically above anything else. We were to convey our characters utilizing the power and intention of the musical score.
The process of learning the music was made intentionally slow moving by Rolando because it truly is extremely difficult music. Rolando taught us to begin by solely focusing on the precise rhythms and notes, and singing through the score exactly as written. Then, once we knew everything perfectly at home using this incredible program called “Accompanease,” we could slowly begin adding character traits to our singing.
This was one of the most vocally demanding roles I have ever had to play, especially as a baritone singing a tenor part. But Rolando taught me to sing legato through keeping my mouth open wider, and all the technique he and my voice teacher Rosemary Dyer have taught me made singing this role perfectly comfortable, no harm done.
As demanding as the vocals were, portraying this character was a gargantuan task. I especially had to train myself to make much slower movements. My instinct as an actor is to react quickly to everything around me, but as the Phantom I trained to make my movements controlled, precise, and much slower. Aside from his face, he is a very gentle, elegant, classy man, and I had to emit those traits through my posture and movements across the stage.
It wasnʼt until two weeks before the show that we actually began the staging process, which I felt comfortable with because it gave me room to do what I wanted with my character through loose staging rather than being micromanaged, which was made clear by our director, Carlos Barillo. He wanted us to have the freedom to mostly do our own creating, which I loved.
How have you grown as a singer and a performer because of this experience?
I have grown immensely as a performer in general throughout this process, from both the mentoring of YAAʼs staff, and also from the experience of working with my incredible castmates. Rolando has taught me how to use the crisp annunciation of my words, volume and intonation of my voice to convey what my character is feeling. A crucial skill that I have gotten to use on stage is being able to stay in character while keeping an eye on “Sanzovision” (the TV in the back of the auditorium where Kristofer Sanz, the conductor, was shown) for musical cues, which took a little bit of getting used to, especially with the mask riding up my eye every few seconds. I actually made it a character choice to pull down my mask every once in a while if anyone noticed.
I attended The National PTA Reflections Ceremony at the Department of Education where you and two of your fellow cast members performed songs from The Phantom of the Opera. What was that experience like for you?
Performing at the National PTA Reflections Ceremony was a fantastic honor. To share the stage with those other amazingly talented young artists was incredible, and the fact that we were doing this in front of such important people at the Department of Education for such a great cause was mind-blowing. Maintaining funds for the arts in youth programs and schools is crucial for future generations, and I am very happy to have been able to be a part of that in this way. (Watch highlights of the ceremony and interviews with Eitan, Haley Abramowitz, Kristofer and Rolkando Sanz and Jane Coyne at the end of this interview).
When did you finally perform an entire run-through of the show?
Tech week wasnʼt stressful per say, but it was a little scary when we hadnʼt run the entire show all the way through with the orchestra until Thursday, the day before opening. That Thursday dress rehearsal went fairly well with only a few pauses, and some blocking adjustments and additions. Then, opening night arrived, and the sense of excitement in the theatre was overwhelming.
How did the large audiences that attended both performances on March 16th and 17th affect your performance?
The feeling of standing on stage in front of over a thousand people was like nothing I have ever felt before. It did nothing but feed more energy into my performance; itʼs incredible how much the presence of an audience can better a performance. I was very satisfied with both performances, although I messed up the lyrics to “Music of the Night” on opening night. Luckily, barely anyone noticed, and as Rolando put it, “no one cares, itʼs live theatre!” (PG version).
You looked so cool and composed when I saw you on Friday night. Were you ever nervous and scared during the two performances?
The scariest thing I had to do in this show was using the “fire ball” contraption that fit over my fingers during the graveyard scene. It was literally a mini cannon strapped perilously to my hand, with two red buttons which when pressed would shoot out a cotton ball of fire into the air, looking as if it would blow off my fingers. Thatdefinitely got some getting used to, and took many test trials because sometimes I would have to press the button for a long period of time, dreadfully waiting for it toshoot out like a jack in the box. Iʼm a chicken when it comes to things that pop out and surprise me, Iʼm not embarrassed to admit that. I donʼt do scary movies with things popping out at me. So that was a fun experience!
I have watched you perform at Musical Theater Center and I know that your family has always been there to support your efforts, and especially during this Phantom experience.
I could not do all of the things that I do without my parents and family. Their support is absolutely unmatched and they are the prime reason I am able to do any of this. Theatre and the performing arts are my passion and it is what I would love to pursue in my life full time. My parents completely support me in whatever I want to do, and are always there for me, although my dad cannot wait until June 3rd when I am hopefully getting my driverʼs license and he wonʼt have to take me all over the place anymore. But, for that unbelievable support, I am eternally grateful.
Was playing your dream character worth all the hard work?
Overall, this was a fantastic experience that has propelled me very far in my theatre experience. It is something I will never forget, and I am so unbelievably grateful to have been given the mere privilege to participate in such a fantastic production. Thank you to everyone involved! Thank you so much for this interview, Joel!!
Young Artists of America’s website.
Watch interviews from the National PTA Reflections Ceremony. Featuring interviews with Eitan Mazia and Hayley Abramowitz, Kristofer and Rolando Sanz, and Jane Coyne. Hosted by Joel Markowitz. Video Produced, Shot, & Edited by Mark Beachy.