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Maidstone: Actress Hannah Grace joins the cast of The Phantom of the Opera in the West End, now in its 31st year

By Angela Cole

When Hannah Grace leaves the stage door after each night’s performance in the Phantom of the Opera, she’s more than happy to meet young autograph hunters waiting for her – because 18 years ago she was one of them.

Hannah, now 28, has vivid memories of seeing the long-running show and waiting eagerly outside to see the stars.

“I fell in love with musical theatre when I was about seven,” says the performer, who has lived in Maidstone all her life.

Ben Forster and Celinde Schoenmaker in The Phantom of the Opera in the West End

Ben Forster and Celinde Schoenmaker in The Phantom of the Opera in the West End

“I remember going to Phantom and waiting at the stage door and here I am a few years later. I was 10 when I first saw the show and I remember thinking ‘I desperately want to do that.’ Now I am doing something I always wanted to do.”

After growing up in the County Town, attending sixth form at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, and the Hilton Hall Dance Academy in St Peter’s Street, Hannah went into the theatre, touring in shows until this year when she managed to secure her dream role.

“I was ever so excited to be starting,” she said.

“I have been doing this for six years but this is my first West End role. It is what I have been working for for years and years, it is amazing and a wonderful feeling.”

The Phantom of the Opera Picture Johan Persson

The Phantom of the Opera Picture: Johan Persson

Hannah started in the ensemble last month, along with 11 other new cast, joining more experienced members. It’s been a whirlwind of a year for Hannah as she got married in the summer, and her honeymoon at Disneyland Paris coincided with rehearsals for the show.

Besides being in the ensemble, she also plays the Confidante in the opera which is staged within the show, and is understudy to the Italian diva Carlotta.

In Phantom she joins her friend Richard Kent, also from Maidstone, who has been in the show for a year and plays the Firechief.

Hannah may be fresh blood in a long-running show – it opened in 1986 – but don’t think for a second it has got stale.

“It is like a family,” says Hannah, who lives in Senacre in Maidstone.

Maidstone's Hannah Grace has joined the cast of The Phantom of the Opera in the West End

Maidstone's Hannah Grace has joined the cast of The Phantom of the Opera in the West End

“Everybody is happy to be there; everybody wants to go to work. It is a lovely atmosphere. The longest someone has been here is 27 years and the lady I share my dressing room with has been here over 20 years. They know what they are doing so it runs like clockwork.

“But it is also fresh every night. It is amazing that the people who have been here all those years still love it – I think it is a credit to the show. I would like to stay here a while, though maybe not that long.”

Despite the, at times, sinister atmosphere of the show, and some of its less than savoury subject matter (The Phantom commits some terrible acts in his pursuit of the lovely Christine) she doesn’t think it is too scary. “There are some scary bits, I suppose. But I feel really sorry for The Phantom,” she adds.

THE SHOW

Based on Gaston Leroux’s novel, The Phantom of the Opera was turned into dramatic and stirring musical theatre by Andrew Lloyd Webber in1986, with lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe. It went on to be made into a film starring Gerard Butler as The Phantom in 2004.

The London production celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016. When it opened in October 1986 the show starred Michael Crawford as The Phantom and Sarah Brightman as Christine.

It has won more than 70 major theatre awards, including seven Tonys on Broadway and four Olivier Awards in the West End, and worldwide has been seen by more than 140 million people in 37 countries and 172 cities.

Celinde Schoenmaker as Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera

Celinde Schoenmaker as Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera

The cast of the current show features Ben Lewis as The Phantom, Kelly Mathieson as Christine Daaé and Jeremey Taylor as Raoul. It also became the longest running show in Broadway history in 2006 when it celebrated its 7,486th performance, surpassing the previous record holder Cats.

From his hideout beneath a 19th century Paris opera house, The Phantom, wearing a mask to hide his disfigured face, and struggling with bitterness over the cards life has dealt him, schemes to get closer to young singer Christine Daae. Although his plans help her win key roles on the stage, instead of falling for him, as he hopes, Christine falls into the arms of arts benefactor Raoul. Terrified he may lose her forever, The Phantom enacts a plan to keep her by his side.

DETAILS

The Phantom of the Opera is running at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Performance times are Mondays to Saturdays 7.30pm, with Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets are priced from £23.

To book call the box office on 0844 412 2707 or visit thephantomoftheopera.com.

Nadim Namaan with Celinde Schoenmaker in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera Picture Johan Persson

Nadim Namaan with Celinde Schoenmaker in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera Picture: Johan Persson

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