The Phantom of the Opera: An Interview with Lead Actor, Storm Lineberger

Tickets for 'The Phantom of the Opera' are on sale now.
The Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco
Prices range from $50-$210
Suitable for kids ages 6+

Storm Lineberger plays Raoul, the French nobleman who unwittingly becomes the rival of a mysterious Phantom who haunts the Paris Opera House for the love of the beautiful young singer, Christine. I recently sat down with Lineberger to talk about how a sports injury led to to the discovery of his talents and insight into the 25th Anniversary Tour of 'The Phantom of the Opera.'

What is your background in musical theater? 
I had no connection to theater in my younger years. I was completely into sports but I tore my ACL playing soccer. My friend suggested I audition for the school musical, 'Oklahoma,' just to have something to do while I was recovering. I did and never looked back. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma and right out of school I went straight onto this show. It’s been a wild ride. 

Did your parents or teachers encourage you talent?
My theater director had a talk with my parents letting them know I can do this for a living. My mom is an attorney and dad is an engineer so it was a small battle but they didn't need much convincing once they saw me onstage. It wasn't a career I ever considered growing up. A lot of people in this industry have spent their whole lives on stage. I was a football and soccer star in my hometown. 



Did you like musicals growing up?
The first musical I saw was 'Fame' at school but I barely remember it. When I was eleven, my grandmother took me to my first professional show which happened to be 'Phantom of the Opera' at The Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. She tells the story that I was at the edge of my chair, leaning forward, and completely glued to the show. Apparently, I turned to her and said, "I'm going to be up there some day.” Sure enough the first show I was booked for is Phantom. I'm performing at that same theater right after San Francisco and my grandmother will be in the audience.

You landed this role shortly after graduating from University of Oklahoma. Can you tell me more about that? 
I moved to New York in July and immediately got an agent which was instrumental to getting seen for this show. This was my first audition in New York. The associate director for the show was present when I went through the audition process. After some tense waiting, in September, I found out I got the part. I started rehearsals and was on the road by November. I'm reminded countless times how crazy the story is. Trust me, I know I’m so fortunate and have come so far as a person from a year ago when all this began. 

Would you say that Raoul is a role that runs parallel to your life?
Yes, there’s definitely a parallel. We’re both in our 20’s and placed in an extraordinary circumstance that is seemingly impossible but can be done. There’s also that invincible nature at this age, like I can handle any situation if you give me the chance. Raoul has to face this intelligent magician, the Phantom, and I have this challenging career I am facing. The anticipation, energy, and anxiety I was feeling at the beginning of the process, I channel and use it as a driving force in the creation of my character. That “parallel" you mention has been there from the beginning. 

This is ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ 25th Anniversary Tour and I heard this production is “bigger and better than ever before.” 
"Bigger and better" is not our goal with this production. Our goal is to tell the story as specifically as possible, and, in turn, it's formed a darker and grittier version that is specific in who the Phantom is, why he is that way, who Raoul is, and why he is that way. This gives Christine the power to choose between the two. Traditionally, it hasn’t been Christine’s choice, it was the Phantom’s choice. But we really wanted to tell the story that Christine is making these choices, and, without knowing the repercussions, she ultimately decides who she wants to be with in the end.

The “bigger and better” is probably referring to Paul Brown’s extraordinary set. Each scene has a very specific feel and pays homage to the Paris Opera House. When you see the set for the backstage, the Phantom's lair, or managers office, you feel like the scene is truly there. We wanted to refresh the show. The best way to do that was to be as specific as possible because we can and we use technology that wasn’t available 25 years ago. Everyone always look for the chandelier falling but I remind people that’s a significant part of the story, of course that has to happen because it really happened at the Paris Opera House. It’s because of the chandelier falling that the Phantom myth occurred. 

Katie Travis as Christine Daaé and Storm Lineberger as Raoul.  PHOTO BY: MATTHEW MURPHY

Katie Travis as Christine Daaé and Storm Lineberger as Raoul. PHOTO BY: MATTHEW MURPHY

You mentioned this is a grittier version but it says the play is for ages 6+. What is the appeal for a kid seeing this show?
As heavy as it can be for adults, it's like a Disney film. Disney has the ability to transcend generation gaps, there’s something for everyone. I was eleven when I first saw Phantom. At the time, I didn't understand why the Phantom had the plight he had but I understood that he felt alone. Kids understand that everyone is loved in some way and they're never alone. That message we are sending can be understood by any generation.

Of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is brilliant and a huge draw for kids. Every day, I hear children singing this music. We don’t give kids enough credit and then when you see it happen you realize how Andrew Lloyd Webber has created something amazing that everyone is moved by and singing to. 

Every time I see it, it feels like a different story. What is it about this show that keeps people coming back, time and time again? 
I think honestly it's the music. Andrew Lloyd Webber grew up listening to his father play organ in church and that had a tremendous influence on the music he writes. Church hymns create sound emanating from the heart and faith. He has created a score that transcends the story and touches everyone in a different way. The music is at the heart of it all, the story is about the music and why the Phantom is healed by Christine’s ability to sing and express herself musically as he does. That’s what touches everyone. Because of the music, you will have a different experience every time. Much like any song you hear. The fifth time you hear it will be different then the first.

Are there any moments in the show you look forward to as Raoul?
Yes, my favorite moment in the show, although I am on stage, doesn't involve me at all. It’s seeing Chris Mann as the Phantom portray the choice that he makes at the end to be selfless and have compassion for others. It's a beautiful moment I look forward to every night. 

The Bay Area has some of the most amazing community theater brimming with talented kids who dream of performing on stage. What advice would you give to a kid who aspires to be a theater actor? 
My advice about auditioning, be prepared. When you go into a room and you’re sure of what you’re doing, then it's so much easier to express yourself as an individual. That’s what they're looking for. They’re not looking for how well you can learn the material; you're already expect to know that. If you don't know it then you’re distracting them from you. If you do know it then they can just see you. That is the most important thing. Express your personality in a room and you’re far ahead of so many people.

In general, I would say, always work on your craft, whether it’s acting lessons at a local theater, dance classes, acting camp, or voice lessons. I’m so fortunate to get this role but I still spent time in acting classes and taking voice lessons. The work doesn’t stop when you get a job, it begins. I'm still perfecting my role as Raoul. You’re not only going set yourself up for success but you’re going to know where your heart is. If your hearts not in it, then it’s in something else for you to discover.

Don't miss this brilliant and lavish performance of ‘Phantom of the Opera' Playing at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco from August 19 thru October 4. Tickets can be purchased on their website, or find them on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for more details and a peek behind the scenes.