Interview by Christine Thompson
Rising young Broadway star Meghan Picerno speaks passionately about her role as Christine Daaé, the love interest of the infamous Phantom of The Opera. Picerno, whose second audition for the role was for the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber, said that Webber got up out of his chair and suddenly her audition become a coaching session, all about the characters and the colors. Picerno said her performance has become more “full,” after the 400th tour, and the colors are much deeper now – more vibrant and complete. Like wine, it’s more rich and complex. There are certain relatable aspects for women that are analogous to both eras and that’s reflected in Picerno’s strong, beautiful voice, which raises has raised chills with audiences worldwide. Austin audiences will get a chance to hear her voice in Love Never Dies as it make its premiere in Austin at Bass Concert Hall from November 27 – December 2, 2018.
The Phantom of The Opera is one of the longest running and most beloved plays on Broadway. In this sequel, the year is 1907 – 10 years after the Phantom’s disappearance from the Paris Opera House. He has escaped to a new life in New York where he lives amongst the screaming joy rides and freak shows of Coney Island. In this new world, he has finally found a place for his music to soar, but he has never stopped yearning for his one true love and musical protégée, Christine Daaé.
Now one of the world’s finest sopranos, Christine accepts an invitation to travel from Paris to New York to perform at a renowned opera house. Christine’s marriage to Raoul is suffering at the hands of his drinking and gambling and they desperately need the financial rewards that America can give them. In a final bid to win back Christine’s love, The Phantom lures her, Raoul, and their young son Gustave, from Manhattan to Coney Island.
Picerno said she takes about an hour and a half physically to transform into the role Christine Daae for Love Never Dies, and the longer that she’s lived with the character, the more accepting she’s become. “I understand her more.” Directed by Simon Phillips (Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical) with new set and costume designs by Gabriela Tylesova, choreography by 2011 Astaire Awards winner Graeme Murphy, lighting design by Nick Schlieper and sound design by Mick Potter, the show is one of the few instances of a major West End musical being given a complete makeover for subsequent productions. We spoke about the relationship between the Phantom and Christine as it relates to our modern era, and the #metoo movement.
AMFM: What would you say to aspiring young women who would love to do what you do?
Meghan Picerno: I love that you said “women” by the way because that’s very important. On a little tangent, I tried to perform Christine as strong as possible. I mean she can’t be 2018 Meghan Picerno. The circumstances that were given to her were very difficult so I think that the #metoo movement doesn’t apply to Christine Daaé way back in 1907. It just doesn’t.
I get this question asked a lot at the Stage Door (Backstage Magazine) – you have to keep the fire burning. You need to be hungry. I love what I do, it completes me. When people ask me “what about your personal life?” I tell them that at this moment I’m on a rocket launch. The balance isn’t a balance – my life is my career – my relationship is my career. For me, it has to be. I love it. I can’t live without it. I live, eat and breathe performing – I’m a stage animal!
I think you need that fire, you need that passion, you need that unending complete, utter belief in yourself and that you will be able to eventually access your dream.
Right now, this is just the very exciting beginning, the adventures and all the major challenges are ones that I can’t even imagine yet.
But they will be there and will not be easy. It’s a very hard life. Everyone that’s on the stage, especially the cast members on this tour, I have to admire them because they give us so much, they sacrifice so much. They’re away from their family, they’re away from their spouses, away from their children. It’s a lot – you sacrifice holidays. I mean, I’m not home for the holidays and it’s not a normal life. but that’s okay – your life becomes extraordinary.
Also don’t take no for an answer. People like to put other people into boxes. Well I have some news for you from my own experience and also what I’ve seen from others. A lot of people like to tell you what you can’t do but you should tell yourself what you can do. Be open-minded enough to think that perhaps the door will open to a path that you didn’t realize you ever wanted.
I didn’t really know that the Broadway world was part of my big plan. I mean, the TV world was part of my plan. But it’s about performance. There are some people that are too close-minded, they think “oh I only want to do Broadway” Or “Oh I only want to do Opera.” Why? If you can do more than one why not? If you can communicate to more types of people why not?
And lastly for young women I’d say trust your gut. Your gut is always right…you need a thick skin and a fearlessness and know that you’re going to fall on your face a billion times, but you’re going to get back up. It’s the strength of getting back up that sets those apart from those who will make it and those who will not. It’s that fire and passion. You need it, you need to be consumed by it, and you need to love it.
AMFM: You did touch on something that I was asking about earlier and that is the #metoo movement and the role of Christine Daaé in this movement. In your opinion she’s not so much a victim, can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Meghan Picerno: Of course she is a victim up to a point. To a point we all are. Look at the current situation which is going on in our world. I have to say it is difficult for me sometimes to suppress or succumb to the passions of the Phantom as a woman of 2018, but again this is art and it is the Phantom of the Opera sequel. I do try my best to be as strong as possible -and you also have to understand where the pin drops on all of these characters. It’s extraordinary circumstances for them as well. If you take away the fantasy of the Phantom and the mask, and put it into more normal contemporary terms, it’s a person that’s come back into her life that greatly affected her, and had a primal hold on her. I know what that’s like even as a strong feminist woman.
AMFM: We all do.
Meghan Picerno: Right, it’s human. We all know what it’s like to have a relationship with someone we shouldn’t, and to try to make a relationship work but it doesn’t. What happens when someone disappears on you, then they appear again? These are things that we all understand. It’s just taken to a far grander scale In Love Never Dies. I try to play her with as much strength as I can. I mean she’s a mom, she’s a lion. She will do anything for her son. She’s in a marriage that’s not working – but you have to understand in 1907 people just didn’t divorce, trying to make a marriage work takes strength too. I can’t imagine being forced to stay in a relationship that I don’t want to be in, but I can’t really ever leave. I have been in those situations but not to that extent.
Also, to say no to a person that has power over you, that takes strength. I find Daaé a very, very strong person. She has developed into this world famous opera Diva, a star. I know those kinds of people to some extent, as I’m an opera singer myself. You cannot be meek. You cannot be this wallflower. I mean, people loved her, and to have that kind of hold over people means that there’s great strength, hard work, tenacity and passion in her. The fact that she’s developed into that means that she IS that. I don’t understand how any other kind of personality type can become a diva, to be honest. So she is very strong.
But you also have to realize that she is Dutch, living in France, and of the upper-echelon of society. For example, I’m Italian and Sicilian and very fiery, so I have to suppress that, because Christine Daaé would not lash out the same way I would. So within the constraints of the time and the setting I do try my best to be as strong as possible as Christine Daaé.
LOVE NEVER DIES
Will Play Austin at Bass Concert Hall November 27-December 2, 2018
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Ben Elton
Based on The Phantom of Manhattan By Frederick Forsyth
Additional Lyrics: Charles Hart
Orchestrations: David Cullen & Andrew Lloyd Webber
WHEN: November 27 – December 2, 2018
Tuesday – Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 & 8 pm; Sunday at 1 & 7 pm
WHERE: Bass Concert Hall | 2350 Robert Dedman Drive | Austin, TX 78712
TICKETS: Start at $30. Tickets are available at BroadwayinAustin.com, texasperformingarts.org, the Bass Concert Hall ticket office, all Texas Box Office Outlets, by phone at (512) 477-6060. For groups of 10 or more, call (877) 275-3804 or email Austin.firstname.lastname@example.org