Her Phantom – Ben Lewis

by L. Chrystal Dmitrovic

After the release of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Love Never Dies (LND) featuring the Australian cast of the 2011 musical onto DVD, British-born Ben Lewis is now undeniably known the world over as the Phantom. With the musical still on stage, in Japan as of March 2014, and possible mounts or remounts elsewhere internationally in the coming years with regional/other casts, chances are strong that DVD sales will also remain strong or increase as the fan base for LND grows.

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His youth was divided between England and Australia, and Lewis was an enthusiastic competitor in the sports field before eventually switching gears mid-kick to go into acting and vocal training. But the tug of war was apparent, a shifting back and forth as to what career he would permanently choose. As a very young child he “haunted” the opera house at which his parents performed, and he became accustomed to hearing and seeing all the comings and goings of the sounds of music. In his early teens, a serious interest in sports took over, and he seemed on the road to becoming a future major league rugby player for Australia. But having been born into music, surrounded by the music of his opera singer parents, Michael Lewis and Patricia Price, with friends and guests in their lives like Australia’s first Phantom from the original 1990 The Phantom Of The Opera tour, Anthony Warlow, a future in music edged out into the lead. (His brother, Alexander, is also an accomplished singer.) Music it would be; see the list below for Ben's formative years of training for a singing/acting profession.

Ben Lewis is no “teen idol” phantom, although he has a large and loyal fan following that includes a high percentage of young women. He made the role in LND his in every way, and was inspired, as he told much of the Australian press, by some aspects of singer Michael Jackson's life. Seeing a number of parallels, Lewis played the infamous Phantom as a noble man who had been tortured physically and mentally for most of his life and deprived of normal social contact. In Jackson's case his upbringing and environment led him into inappropriate relationships and self destruction through drug abuse. In Lewis ingeniously applying the same causative principals of Jackson's upbringing, his Phantom, however, in line with the novel and films in the past, who had lashed out sometimes murderously in defensive retaliation against society and individuals, became a changed man in LND despite it all, and still retained, after a decade, that pure corner of his heart that held on tightly to a deep and abiding love for Christine.

When Lewis sings in LND, it is an acquaintance with grandeur. The ear perks first at the opulent intonation and the baritone richness. When he delivers his dialogue spoken or in song there is the salacious hint at times of salivating words when emotion thickens, making the Phantom an unpredictable otherworldly entity to be feared, which in turn makes audience hearts beat a little faster. At the time Lewis auditioned for the role of the Phantom for LND, he was also being considered for the role of Raoul. His voice and his training (including the prestigious Estill method) left no doubt Lewis was an exceptionally strong contender for the role of the Phantom. Later described by LND director Simon Phillips speaking to Simon Plant of the Phantom Love Never Dies tumblr, “There’s a fantastic, dark quality to Ben’s voice....In some ways...the high notes sound more thrilling coming out of the big, rich sound Ben delivers.”

Lewis felt that the music was a good and comfortable fit for him aesthetically and for his particular strengths as a tessitura baritone, and he commented as well to Plant, “The music in this is very lush, very rich, and as soon as I sang these songs, they sat really well with me.” (In fact, if his voice were more contained to the bass-baritone range, Lewis would sound very much like Italian opera singer Ruggero Raimondi.)

He also likes to learn his roles “straight off the page”, as he told Pat Cerasaro of broadwayworld.com on March 7, 2012, which is perfect when a singer wants to bring their own unique and original approach to a role without being influenced by the techniques or vocal colorizations of other performers.

Ben Lewis in a fine operatic moment in the de Chagny's Coney Island hotel suite

Lewis can be compared favourably to the “Man of a Thousand Faces” - the monicker of the first big screen phantom Lon Chaney Sr. – and without the overuse of Chaney Sr. style make-up. No matter which profile angle or whether his full front is to the camera, Lewis' face has incredible chameleon qualities when masked as the Phantom. It may be that stage make-up, maybe a practiced alteration of features through muscle control - or simply, he is as much a magician as the Phantom is. Whatever the reason, the camera loves this man. His physical appearance as the title character is so in line with the Leroux novel, and he naturally moves and breathes and sings “within” the artistic concept of LND on stage and in the film.

In the best tradition of early Gothic romances and novels, and thereafter, for example, Barbara Cartland period romances, Lewis veritably embodies the Phantom as a noble, gallant, roguish, brutish, supremely self-confident (but not conceited) and successful man – yet also as a man who could be brought trembling to his knees, in contrast, by one woman. He captured the pathos of the inwardly tortured Phantom who composed the dark and sinister Don Juan Triumphant in the novel which appeared in the Webber 2004 film, and equally as sensitively conveyed a gentled Phantom who was capable of composing the tenderest love letter in song - Long Never Dies – which became an unforgettable keepsake for his character’s heart and soul when Christine Daaé sang it.

The actor-singer also has a commanding physical presence onstage, a man who knows his talent is sure, and he claims his territory the moment he steps foot into a scene. In performance, Lewis is foundational like the rollercoaster in Mr. Y's Phantasma, and the ride he provides is skilled and vividly saturated and rampant, so suggestive of the character he has totally absorbed and become within the era and setting. It is like Olivier or Barrymore taking the stage for Shakespeare, so perfectly suited for their roles and interpretations. Likewise, through song in vocal range and delivery, he interplays many moods with exhilarating frisson and soft sorrow, such as in the opening number. His notable perfect pitch is a treat. There must have been goose bumps aplenty, even in the back rows, whenever he performed 'Til I Hear You Sing. His remarkable ability for also relaying a precise physical movement and perfect timing ranks with the golden greats of Hollywood. He is an intrinsic dynamic in the superbly cast LND Australian production.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Lewis in a press photo taken at the Love Never Dies stage musical premiere afterparty on May 28, 2011.

The man is sports-minded offstage, and skilled in many a game. But forget rugby, even if only for a moment. Ben Lewis was born to act and sing, whether on the stage or feature film, in front of a live microphone or sharing his brilliant voice on CD one day. In LND, his grand moments, arms outspread as the emphatic Phantom sings his highest emotions and feelings, embrace the audience with the character's deepest thrills and heartache, also giving the smallest gestures infinite, equally immense and concise meaning. The artful legerdemain movements in the final chapter of the film to the lyrics “Diamonds never sparkle bright....” become the starting point of the magic spell that casts entrancement upon the audience, and which ends opening the Pandora's box of Meg's final collapse into jealous madness.

Unlike many musicals and films nowadays in which the main antagonist never redeems himself or who never becomes transformed because of a virtue like Love, Leroux's timeless main character in Love Never Dies can be regarded as an heroic figure, thanks to the brave and dedicated visions of Andrew Lloyd Webber and his team. Ben Lewis fit those shoes most astutely and proficiently, with style, grace and eloquent flair. And, oh yes, the devil may wear Prada, but his Phantom performed fabulously in Australian Blundstone boots....

When warm-up routines have been seen to and he's ready for the stage, Lewis once told the press that when the performance begins, he “hits the ground running.” It's a great approach, really, for an actor who's ready for the role, ready in real life, and has had an enchanted journey thus far.



An advance publicity photo of Ben Lewis (the Phantom from Love Never Dies, 2011) as Laurent and Julie Atherton as the title character in Emil Zola's Thérèse Raquin, opening March 25th, 2014 at the Finborough Theatre in London. (Photo: Darren Bell)







Ben Lewis Fact File:

Schools and Arts studies:

Some Career Highlights, on the stage, television and the big screen, between 2006 and 2014: