Making the most of his 42 minutes
For 27 years, he's been thrilling audiences worldwide, and yet the Phantom of the Opera only appears on stage for 42 minutes each night. It matters not – he's ever-present in the smash-hit show which has won countless awards, millions of fans and been seen from Hungary to Taiwan, Japan to Mexico, with translations into no fewer than 13 languages.
The show returns to Birmingham Hippodrome next month for the end of its UK tour. Regular Phantom fans, however, will be in for a surprise.
"It's not the same as the London show. It was completely reworked for this tour," says Earl Carpenter, who plays The Phantom.
"Birmingham will be the last venue before it heads off to America, not least because there aren't any more theatres big enough to take it in the UK.
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"It's a massive tour – it takes 22 40ft containers to move it around the country. There's 10 tonnes of set on the stage and another 27 tonnes which gets flown in from above.
"But it's a very different show, there is a completely different design.
"It's not as melodramatic, which loses some of the magic, but it's much truer to the novel and shows you more of the nuts and bolts of what's going on, which gives you more emotional impact.
"Visually, you certainly get your money's worth."
Earl is no stranger to the two biggest musicals in theatreland, having been involved with Phantom since joining as an understudy to the title role in 2003 and starting his involvement with Les Miserables in 1996.
With Phantom, he's performed in the show in London, on tour, at the Royal Albert Hall, as well as masterminding the popular Three Phantoms tour.
As for Les Mis, his involvement has included playing Javert, five concert versions, a Norwegian tour and the O2 concert. He hasn't seen the film, however.
"I have no desire to," he says. "I can't think of anything worse than seeing a load of your mates in a film of something you know so well."
However, he did respond to criticism of how little the Phantom is on stage.
"I got so fed up with jibes about not doing much that one night in London I asked my dresser to use a stopwatch and time it when I was visible to the audience. It was 42 minutes.
"But that in itself is a challenge and a responsibility because the audience has to believe he's always watching in the shadows.
"It's one of the most economical roles in musical theatre yet you can't afford to rest on your laurels – you're working for the biggest producer in the business on a flagship show for which the audience has high expectations and you can't afford to let any of them down."
"But that's why it's fantastic to be out touring. I love it. I don't like the repetition of being in London – it can be really monotonous, same journey in and out every day, same theatre, same dressing room.
"Being able to see different parts of the country, stay in different places, play different venues and enjoy different surroundings helps keep you fresh."
The Phantom of the Opera is at Birmingham Hippodrome from March 13 to May 4. Phone 0844 338 5000 or see: