Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, May 11, 2001

No holding back
on Broadway tunes

Veteran of opera, 'Phantom' and
'Les Miz,' Craig Schulman joins the
Symphony Pops for a medley of
songs from his favorite musicals

By Tim Ryan

When singer hopeful Craig Schulman was a senior in college he found himself alone one afternoon in a practice room. He decided to test his range.

"I was doing a (college) production of 'HMS Pinafore' and really had no idea if I had any real vocal power," said Schulman, 45.

So the Long Island native "reared back" and sang like an opera singer.

"There was this huge voice booming out," Schulman said during a telephone interview from his New York home. "I was very embarrassed by it.

So embarrassed that Schulman didn't tell anybody about his self-discovery for some time because "I didn't know how to relate to the sound and the power. None of my friends were into that kind of music," he said. "And I had no idea what vocal technique was or how I was supposed to go about developing one."

But Schulman, who returns to Hawaii this weekend for two performances with the Honolulu Symphony Pops to sing Broadway favorites, understood "I had something" and has gone on to succeed in opera and Broadway productions.

He's the only American artist to perform the leading roles in both "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Miserables." He's portrayed Jean Valjean in four different companies in three countries in more than 1,900 performances.

Schulman also is widely recognized from the PBS broadcast of "The 10th Anniversary: Les Miserables in Concert." He's also played Che in "Evita," Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," and Archibald in "The Secret Garden." He most recently appeared in the Broadway cast of "Jekyll & Hyde."

Schulman slides easily between the worlds of Broadway, opera and symphonic pops programs appearing with opera companies around the United States, singing leading tenor roles in "The Tales of Hoffman," "Tosca," "Madame Butterfly," "Carmen," "Die Fledermaus," "La Boheme," "La Traviata," "The Crucible" and "Manon."

"Switching between Pops and Broadway stuff isn't tough, but going from Broadway and Pop to the opera world is hard" because of the distinctly different techniques involved, he said.

Interestingly, solo concerts used to be Schulman's least favorite, dreading "all the focus on me."

"In a Broadway show you're in costume and there are other singers, and a framework that you become part of," he said. "Solo, you have to be in better voice and realize there's nothing to distract the audience's attention; no one to help you when things go wrong."

As a pops artist, Schulman is the creator and producer of the "Broadway Nights" concert series, recently singing for the 40th Anniversary Gala for Opera Memphis.

Schulman began singing professionally in 1979; his first "public" singing was as a senior in high school in "a terrible musical" called "Forever Saturday."

"We all thought we were going to Broadway," said Schulman, who had begun taking voice lessons.

"When you sing you can touch people in a more visceral way than in other artistic venues I think," Schulman said. "I know that I sing well and people enjoy it and feel it. Getting paid for this is great."

For the moment anyway, Schulman's favorite music is "the Broadway stuff."

"The hallmark in my singing is taking each song and creating a character, making each piece my own and a little bit different," he said.

Of all the roles Schulman's played his favorite is "Phantom" because of the "great acting challenge."

"Les Miz's" "Valjean is a straight ahead guy and a lot like my own personality," Schulman said. "I understand right off what Valjean is about.

"But Phantom is not a real person, he's a figment. It's up to the actor to create this caricature and appeal as a real person. I want the audience to feel sorry for the Phantom."

In the Hawaii show, Schulman mostly will sing songs from shows that had some bearing on his career, beginning with "Something's Coming" from "West Side Story."

"That was the song I sang in my first audition for a high school musical," he said. " 'Something's Coming' was a bit prophetic for me."

Many of the songs will come from his just released CD "Craig Schulman on Broadway" including Stephen Sondheim's "Being Alive," Cole Porter's "Night and Day," "Ya Got Trouble" from "The Music Man," "Stranger in Paradise" from "Kismet," "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miz", and, of course, "Phantom's" "Music of the Night."

On stage

What: Craig Schulman performs with the Honolulu Symphony
When: 7:30 p.m. today and tomorrow
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $16.50 to $50
Call: 792-2000

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