This Week in Theater
by Rose Desena
Q and A with creator/composer Kevin Saunders Hayes
Vox Lumiere–The Phantom of the Opera
Recently I received a press release that definitely got my attention. It’s for a show that is opening this coming weekend at the Los Angeles Theatre Center downtown. To make it easier I’m going to copy the publicist’s synopsis because I’m not sure I would get it right. “An explosive mash-up of music, dance, technology and silent film, Vox Lumiere–The Phantom of the Opera offers a fresh take on a timeless tale. Singers, dancers and musicians give voice to the silent film projected behind them, playing off each other, the audience and the onscreen story to create a magical exchange.”
The show sounds awesome! I was very curious about it, so I went to the show’s creator, Kevin Saunders Hayes and asked some questions.
Rose: Hi, Kevin. Your show sounds fascinating. I am very excited about it.
Kevin: Thanks Rose, so are we! We’ve been touring North America and Europe for the past 7 years, and we’re thrilled to be doing this new production here at home.
Rose: Will you share a little more about your baby? You know, whet our appetites a little.
Kevin: A dangerous question for sure. It’s a bit like saying, “Hey, show me some more pictures of your kids.” Vox Lumiere is a crazy fun blend of old movies, new songs and killer live performances in which singers, dancers and musicians play off each other, the audience and the onscreen story in a very magical exchange of light and sound. It’s a whole new kind of storytelling that breaks down the walls between stage and screen.
I like to think of Vox Lumiere as a time machine that bridges time and space to propel you deeper into the heart of timeless stories. With Phantom of the Opera, we use multiple wrap-around screens that envelop you in the film. There’s very cool, cutting-edge multimedia that makes it feel as though a magical portal has opened and our Steampunk-inspired singers, dancers and musicians are leading you on an ”up close and personal” backstage tour of the opera house. The songs are a mash-up of rock, pop, alternative, techno, dance, EDM, opera and classic Hollywood film scoring, and they add a layer of detail, insight and emotion to the story. There’s also a 21st century ”story-within-a-story” that complements and juxtaposes the film. And we do all that while having a lot of fun, creating a little bit of mischief and injecting a healthy dose of anarchy.
Rose: What was the inspiration?
Kevin: Underwear. Honestly. Underwear is the reason we have Vox Lumiere.
A few years ago, I was writing commercials, film and TV music by day and doing guerilla theater by night. My friends and I would find these crazy little VERY CHEAP theater spaces (with “theater space” being a very generous description). We would think up an idea, then write and produce full-blown musicals for about… $1.37. We’d beg, borrow and… borrow whatever we needed and, like Mickey and Judy, “put on a show.” Hell, if we broke even, we thought it was a huge success.
Anyway, between writing and producing music all day and producing our shows at night, who has time for laundry? So, I was hustling my way to a rehearsal one afternoon, when I spotted a sign for a Big Lots store. Knowing that the pair of underwear on my person was “the last,” and that laundry was definitely *not* on the horizon, I ducked in and started searching for the Jockeys.
Well as fate (or luck) would have it, as I made my way to the back of the store, my eye caught a sign that read, “Silent Movies $1.00.” It stopped me in my tracks.
I’m a composer and a songwriter, but I never get to do both in the same movie. I had this idea percolating about developing themes for films, and, when it was appropriate, writing lyrics for those themes. The combination would work to enhance the storytelling and increase the emotional impact of the experience. I also knew that no director in their right mind was going to let me experiment with this in their film, so I had pretty much scrapped the idea until I saw that sign – “Silent Movies $1.00.”
I thought, “Well, they are ‘silent’ movies, and these folks probably aren’t around anymore, so who can get mad at me?” I then did the mature, grown up thing and took the last 5 bucks in my pocket and went home with 5 silent movie tapes (your younger readers can Google VHS tape). When I got home, I popped one into my VCR, and my jaw dropped. I was completely blown away by what I saw. The movies were amazing and absolutely perfect for my “experiment.”
Rose: I notice you’re not doing a straight run of 5 or 6 weekends in a row, but rather 2 performances every month for 4 months. What is the reason for that?
Kevin: Our goal is to grow Vox Lumiere into an ongoing event here in Los Angeles. We’ve announced the dates for our initial four months, but our plan is to build and grow the shows in an open-ended run. We’re opening with Phantom, and in six or nine months or so we’ll mount the other shows. We currently have four full productions — Phantom, Metropolis, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Peter Pan — and I’m writing two new ones now: Nosferatu, the first and best vampire movie, and Zorro, which I’d like to do in Spanish.
Los Angeles is an amazingly inspiring and creative place to live. People are looking for something new. They want to have fun and they want more than what the traditional theater, concert and movie experience has to offer. And we can give them that. So, we’re taking all our touring experience and “putting the show on the road” here in town. VOX is also a word of mouth show. After seeing the show, people want to tell their friends about us. So, we want to build slowly and give folks an opportunity to do that.
Rose: The Los Angeles Theatre Center has a good-sized stage. Was that a major requirement for a production like this?
Kevin: It’s not the main requirement, but it’s certainly a consideration. Vox Lumiere is a big show. Okay, it’s a really big show, and Theater One at the LATC is a great home for us. We’re thrilled to be working with folks at The Latino Theater Company who run the LATC. They really see our vision for an ongoing event, and they have been very helpful and welcoming.
Rose: How did you choose the crew for such a technically complex show?
Kevin: Good question. First and foremost it comes down to finding people who love what they do and like pushing the envelope. VOX is not a show for anyone who is set in their ways. We are constantly poking at the box. Our first tagline is “Silents you can hear,” and I’d have to say our second tagline is, “What… if we did it this way?” And you have to like to laugh a lot.
Rose: Is there anything you want to add about the production?
Kevin: It’s a great evening. A fun time, a great night out to share with your friends and a place to make new friends. Great music, amazing performances – you really should come out and see us.
Rose: When I was 8, my mom took me to Radio City Music Hall. I spent the next 6 years dreaming about being a Rockette. I danced all over the house and wore tap shoes to school. What attracted you to the theater world?
Kevin: I love the Rockettes. My mom did the same thing for my sister and me. I think I almost jumped out of my seat when that amazing organ appeared magically from under the stage. That magic is what we strive to create with every show.
I’m also excited about this new production of Phantom because we are able to add even more magic than usual. As I mentioned, we’ve been on the road touring around the world these past few years. Which has been amazing. However, you can’t always tour with all the “bits and pieces” you’d like. It’s just cost prohibitive and usually too big to fit in the overhead compartment. So we’re really excited about having the “hometown” advantage and getting to add a bunch of the elements we’ve been dreaming of for a while.
Rose: What’s your ultimate goal for the show?
Kevin: To keep pushing the envelope, to keep expanding the boundaries of what’s possible and to keep telling great stories. We’d love for Vox Lumiere to run here in Los Angeles every month from now on. We’d also like to share what we’re doing with others, and we think there’s a home for us in New York City, the West End and back on the road. There are a whole lot more pins I’d like to put on the Vox Lumiere tour map before we’re through. Our ultimate goal? To rock the world – to change it, and make it a better and more interesting place to live in. I want Vox Lumiere to inspire and delight anyone that comes within shouting distance of us.
Rose: Kevin, thank you so much for your time. Break a leg, and I will see you at the show.
Vox Lumiere–The Phantom of the Opera
Music and lyrics by Kevin Saunders Hayes
Adapted from the novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux
Featuring the 1925 silent film The Phantom of the Opera directed by Rupert Julian and starring Lon Chaney
Vocalists: Julie Brody, Marisa Johnson, Victoria Levy, James Lynch, Chris Marcos, Danielle Skalsky, D. Valentine
Dancers: Siân Dakin, Cameron Evans, Carolyn Pampalone, Jamie Pfaff, Dustin Ripkens, Jason Sensation, Shayna Weintraub
Musicians: Christopher Allis on drums; Zac Matthews on bass; Jeff Miley on guitar
Produced by Rick Culbertson, Gregory Franklin and Victoria Levy in association with Franklin Theatrical Investors
Presented by Stage 28 LLC
Fridays at 8 p.m: Sept. 19; Oct. 10; Nov. 21; Dec. 12
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 20; Oct. 11; Nov. 22; Dec. 13