Heading home to relive Phantom
THE opportunity to revisit the Phantom of the Opera has enticed Grant Wolf Whitfield back to where he began an international career in musical theatre.
He left behind A-list clients, including Bryan Adams, John Cleese, Robbie Williams and the Middletons, to co-direct Rockhampton Music Union’s upcoming production.
Wolf Whitfield was “11 going on 12” when he was cast in the titular role of RMU’s production of Oliver in 1983.
“It was the biggest eye-opener,” he said.
“That was when I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”
The fourth-generation Rockhampton resident studied performing arts in Brisbane after he finished high school at Emmaus College.
His first professional gig was with the Australian Opera ballet corps and then the chorus in productions such as Fiddler on the Roof, Hansel and Gretel, and Rigoletto.
Then it was on to the Andrew Lloyd Webber show Aspects of Love in Melbourne followed by Phantom of the Opera in Sydney.
“I turned 21 when we began that show in 1992 and I stayed with the show until 1995,” he said.
“That was about 800 shows altogether, performing in the chorus and occasionally standing in as understudy.”
He even had his own custom-fitted white mask, which his parents keep safe at their Glendale home, for the scenes in which he doubled as the Phantom.
The self-confessed sports fanatic, who stills competes at the occasional lifesaving Masters tournament, took a break from musical theatre after he had his teeth fitted with braces.
He was working as a script editor on Australian TV shows when he realised, for the first time, that he was burning out.
“All those years dealing with medical jargon on All Saints, and I was the one who was getting stressed,” he said.
“Luckily a friend introduced me to yoga and meditation... and then I was hooked.”
Wolf-Whitfield said his Mum had practised yoga when he was young and he loved copying her moves.
But it took six years of intensive yoga training, on top of fitness and massage qualifications, to reach the point where he could turn it into a full-time career.
He settled for a while in Rockhampton, running gymnasium and spa facilities in Rockhampton and the Capricorn Coast, during which time Wolf-Whitfield made a new legion of fans for his performances in such Pilbeam Theatre shows as Chicago, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.
“People still come up and ask me if those pants were spray-painted on,” he said of his turn as the scantily-clad Pontius Pilate “with abs”.
But it was as the narrator of Evita that Wolf Whitfield fell back in love with storytelling on the stage.
“I could have played the role of Che Guevara for years,” he said.
“He’s a slight villain, he’s a devil’s advocate, he’s a political commentator, he has lots of singing and dancing.
“It’s the best role I’ve ever played.”
Then, four years ago, Wolf Whitfield was invited to work on the private island of Mustique for just one week, and stay on for a six-week holiday.
Mustique, which lies in the St Vincent and Grenadines west of Barbados, is renowned as the playground of multi-millionaires - and billionaires - including the British royals.
He stills lives and works there, driving his dune buggy between his yoga platform on the beach and the locals’ villas.
He offers yoga, gym, fitness and beach training as well as swim, surfing and snorkel lessons, meditation and massage.
“It’s hard work but it’s the most beautiful office I could hope for,” he said.
“You’ve got the rolling Atlantic surf on one side and the Caribbean lake on the other... sunrises and sunsets.
“The billionaires just put on their tank tops and flip-flops and hang out in their villas.”
But when he heard RMU was producing The Phantom of the Opera, Wolf-Whitfield said he was willing to fight for the opportunity to get involved.
“Luckily it didn’t come to that; Joy (Phillipi, the director) and I have worked together since way back in the Oliver days, so she was happy to have me on board.”
Wolf Whitfield said he is using his longheld love of Phantom to inspire a new approach, rather than attempting an imitation of previous productions.
“The Phantom has existed as a trickster in the shadows all these years,” he said.
“He’s a creator but also a murderer, a lover and a snivelling child.
“He’s such a multi-layered character and Lachlan Scheuber is going to do an amazing job bringing him to the Pilbeam Theatre in November.”
Phantom of the Opera
The Pilbeam Theatre
Friday November 1 at 7.30pm
Saturday November 2 at 1.30pm
Saturday November 2 at 7.30pm
Sunday November 3 at 1.30pm
Purchase tickets at seeitlive.com or the Pilbeam Theatre box office