- The Washington Times - Monday, July 25, 2016

It’s not just another gig for Jovon Shuck. Rather, theater is his first love.

“I had a ‘Phantom of the Opera’ beach towel stapled to my ceiling when I was a little kid,” the stage manager for the North American tour of “The Phantom of the Opera” said at the Kennedy Center, where the show is running through Aug. 20.

The Michigan State University graduate has previously worked on Broadway productions of “The Lion King,” “Noises Off” and “The Graduate,” as well as national tours of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” and “The Lion King.” Numerous off-Broadway productions dot his CV too.

So what makes “Phantom” different than all those other marquee shows?

Mr. Shuck explained how the redesigned and redirected production takes advantage of theatrical technology, with smoke and pyrotechnics. The stage design, he said, has a darker, more realistic feel, with the turning cylinder allowing the show to move “scene-atically.” Bluetooth automation helps ghostly scenes come to life.

Not everything is easy with a touring production of this size. Once the 18 semi-trailers pull up to the venue, it takes more than two days to load everything inside, including the more than 1,000 costumes and 200 wigs that travel with the show.

These include the handmade, one-of-a-kind creations notably designed by the late Maria Bjornson. Opera diva Carlotta in “Phantom” requires the most costumes. Her dresses — and those for Christine — weigh as much as 40 pounds each.

Donning a dress so formidable seems a challenge in and of itself, but frequent changes require much more. As a central character, Christine is on stage for virtually all of the show, so the actress has to rely on stage tricks, diversions and other cast members to pull off such a feat.

The ballerinas change costumes in an impressive 49 seconds.

Mr. Shuck said the biggest challenges for a touring production are adapting to the various venues in multiple cities and teaching cues to the local stagehands. Those at the Kennedy Center are adept at their jobs, which he said makes his work easier.

This is his third production at the Kennedy Center, “and each time is a treat,” he said, though he finds both advantages and challenges at the vast complex. Its size allows cast and crew to spread out over three floors, with rehearsals upstairs and dressing rooms downstairs, but corralling 100 people to the set takes more time.

As a stage manager, he said, his favorite part of the show is standing with the Phantom behind the magical mirror. As a fan, his favorite part is the emotional ending. Even to this seasoned theater veteran, “The Phantom of the Opera” still touches his heart.

The North American touring production runs through Aug. 20 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. For tickets and more information, visit Kennedy-Center.org.

• Cheryl Danehart can be reached at cdanehart@washingtontimes.com.

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