What’s behind that mask? Years of pure and simple experience, given freely to the audience at Casella Theatre last Thursday, Jan. 28.
After a rousing performance of the love song “Come What May” from the chick flick Moulin-Rouge!, David Gaschen, former Phantom of the Opera on Broadway said, “Well, it’s great to be in Vermont. I’ve never been to Vermont before. It’s now my 44th state.”
Gaschen told us a little about his life.
I grew up in a “very strict Catholic household in Texas,” he said.
Six weeks before getting married, he auditioned in Switzerland for The Phantom of the Opera in German. Ironically, the last class Gaschen took at Texas Tech was a class in German.
When asked what it was like to sing in German, Gaschen seriously replied: “It involved lots of spitting. The front row had to protect themselves.”
“Half of it was luck, and half was to be prepared. If you’re prepared, the nerves go away,” he said.
There are many walls that you have to break through in musical theatre. According to Gaschen, “The fourth wall that you have to break through is that you have to be what they’re looking for. Preparedness, opportunity, timing.” He spoke the words as if reciting a triune. “My thing worked out and thank God for that, because I can’t do anything else. I was 26 when I got cast as the Phantom of the Opera.”
And then, Gaschen announced he would take “Music of the Night” and strip it down, peel it apart, word by word, and examine it to see what each part means, and what it means as a whole.
Gaschen advised that we should see the entirety of a song as if it were a big monologue. This, he said, is how we should approach every song.
It was from Tony Prince that Gaschen learned about the paramount importance of words, “Every word counts,” he said. “Every word matters.”
Gaschen continued explaining this song to us. “This is a very sexual song,” he says. “It’s all about introducing the Phantom to Christine. He’s using language that is very, very, very, for lack of a better word, sexy.”
There actually are other words to describe the Phantom’s song: romantic, longing, tender, erotic, smooth, intimate, warm and sensual. However, it seems like Gaschen did not think of those at the time.
To bring enough emotion to the song, Gaschen advises us to look for similarities between ourselves and the character we are playing onstage. This makes it difficult for the youthful and inexperienced author, who cannot bring deep emotions or vivid memories to the stage.
“If you can’t find commonalities, make them up,” said Gaschen bluntly. “I’m not kidding.”
The flow of surprising advice didn’t stop. Gaschen remarked that he took a class in economics and business at Texas Tech. He said that it was actually one of the most valuable courses he ever took. “You train so hard to be creative that you’re handed money, you don’t know what to do. How do I plan for this? How do I save for retirement? How do I invest this? How do I put it in a bank?”
People left the theatre with food for thought in proportion to the depth of their thinking. I had certainly been surprised, but what really struck me was the idea of thinking of every song as a monologue-and the importance of making every word matter, making each word mean something, ensuring that each word persuade the audience to believe what you re expressing. May could apply that to other art forms.
Every word matters. That’s food for thought.