Last month, new casting was announced for the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera. Holly-Anne Hull, who had been the production’s Christine Daaé alternate for the past two years, has stepped up into playing the role full-time. Recently, I had the chance to speak with Holly–Anne about her journey with Phantom. We discussed the stresses of being an alternate, her past experiences in Les Mis, and even the show’s WhatsOnStage nomination!
Kat: How did you first get involved with Phantom of the Opera?
Holly-Anne: So I auditioned for the UK tour in 2019. I think my process was something like five or six rounds, and then I got the job of Christine. We did a whopping 13 shows and then COVID hit us hard. And yeah, the tour never came back, which is very sad. I do wonder if they’ll ever bring it back, but I don’t know. And then during COVID, they decided to start putting up the auditions for the London cast and I was cast as the alternate. A year and a half later, I’m back in the role! [Laughs] So that’s my very long journey. It’s been a long time.
Kat: What has it been like returning to the show, especially after the break during the pandemic and then going on as an alternate?
Holly-Anne: If I’m honest, I found the the last year or so kind of tricky. There’s a really difficult thing about doing such a big role once or twice a week. It’s so hard to explain, but you end up putting it on a bit of a pedestal. I myself suffered with a little bit of anxiety with the build up of, “Right, it’s Wednesday, so in two days, I’ve got to do the show.” It’s wild. And there’s pros and cons to this. But I was an at-home alternate, so I was in my house, just living my life with my dogs, and then I randomly get a call saying, “Oh, darling, you’re on as Christine tonight!” And I’m like “Okay, no way I’m mentally prepared for that!” [Laughs] So I did struggle with the idea of the alternate. Some people absolutely thrive off of it – They love it. But that was something that I found very difficult. I was convinced that if I were to ever do it full-time again, I would find it easier. I mean, I’m on week two of playing it full time so it’s hard to judge yet but so far, I’m literally having the time of my life. And I think it’s just a little thing like having a routine and having the stability of knowing what I’m doing with my week. Because I’m such an organized person that just likes to know what’s ahead of me. I’m not great with that spontaneous, “You’re on!”
Holly-Anne: I’ve been a cover for years. I was covering Fantine and Cosette in Les Mis, and I loved that. I loved coming in and going “Oh, I’m on as Fantine tonight, that’s amazing!” But I know I’m already in the show that evening. It’s a really shocking feeling when you’re like, “I’m gonna have a Netflix evening!” And then all of a sudden you’re leading one of the biggest West End shows in the country! [Laughs] It’s just an alarming thing to have over you. But yes, in a nutshell, I’m having the time of my life. And I’m incredibly grateful to be playing Christine.
Kat: What has it been like taking on such an iconic character?
Holly-Anne: If you’d asked me this back when I got the role in the tour, I was so overwhelmed. I had such impostor syndrome – I could not believe I was doing it. I just couldn’t believe it was me. I was one of those people that was convinced, every time I’d come into the rehearsal room, that maybe they were re-auditioning my part.
Kat: Oh no! [Laughs]
Holly-Anne: Because I just couldn’t believe it! I’ve always looked at Christine and thought “I’ll do it one day,” but I don’t know when that day will be and it will most likely be, “I’m the cover and I’ll do it five times in my run.” So to be given it full-time, it’s something that I’ve only ever dreamed of – It’s just a dream that would never really exist. So it’s just amazing. Sometimes I do have to remind myself that I’m actually doing it because we get carried away with doing however many shows a week and we’re used to the costumes and stuff . . . Sometimes I just get a bit overwhelmed in the bows because I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, I’m actually here doing it and I can’t believe it!”
Kat: Were you a fan of Phantom when you were growing up?
Holly-Anne: Yes. I am the biggest Sierra [Boggess] fan on this earth – I just think she’s incredible. I’ve watched the Royal Albert Hall production [25th Anniversary Gala Performance] probably over 100 times. I’ve seen quite a few Christine’s. I’ve seen it over in Toronto, which is a slightly different version, which I also love. The answer is yes, in a nutshell.
Kat: What is it about Phantom of the Opera that makes it such a special show?
Holly-Anne: I just think there’s something for everyone. It’s so romantic. It’s a spectacle, there’s so much to look at! My favorite scene is “Masquerade.” So “Masquerade” opens Act Two for anyone that doesn’t know, and we all congregate on a big staircase in that scene. Before the song, we all just sit and chat. And sometimes I’m just looking around and I’m like, “What are you all wearing?” [Laughs]
Holly-Anne: The costumes are absolutely amazing and everyone is so individual – Every single costume has an individual name. I couldn’t tell you what some of them are! I know there’s a butterfly, there’s a slave master, there’s all sorts of names. And I see something new every time! I’m like, “Oh, my God, I didn’t know you were dressed as a jester in this!” And so yes, there’s so much to look at. It’s such a spectacle. It’s romantic, it’s emotional, it’s funny . . . There’s just everything in there. And I think that’s why it’s lasted so long – Because it’s timeless. Everyone’s a fan of it! The coolest thing ever is when I meet people that have seen it for the first time, because it’s been running for, I think 36 years now, and I can’t believe there are still people that haven’t seen it and are seeing it for the first time. They’re the coolest people to meet. So I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, what did you think? How was it?” There are still people out there that haven’t seen it and still come to to London to come and see the show. Hopefully, they leave wanting to see it again!
Kat: So is “Masquerade” your favorite to perform in and to watch if you’re seeing the show?
Holly-Anne: It’s my favorite to watch. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite to perform just because I love the rooftop scene with Raoul. It’s always been my favorite with every Raoul I’ve ever had. I just love it. But as an audience member, I think “Masquerade” is is my favorite. And it was my grandmother’s favorite. She died before she got to ever even know I was a singer. Phantom was her favorite show in the entire world and she always used to say that “Masquerade” was her favorite scene. So I think there’s a little bit of an attachment with that as well. As soon as the lights come up and everyone’s on the staircase . . . I know it makes my dad emotional as well! So I just adore it. I absolutely love it.
Kat: What has it been like playing with different Raouls and casts over the years?
Holly-Anne: I’m so lucky that I have just had such an amazing connection with both of the Raouls, Rhys Whitfield and now Matt Blaker. I never thought anyone could come in and replace Rhys because he was like a brother to me, and here I have found another brother! [Laughs] Matt is just . . . I don’t know what I’d do without him. I’m so lucky. And I could say that about absolutely everyone in this cast – Everyone is so supportive. When I was the alternate, I had many a time where I was so stressed and nervous to get on stage because of all of that fear I’d managed to put into my head of having all the time off and coming in and stuff – I created all sorts of anxiety. And I honestly have everyone in that building – the cast, the crew, the company – to thank for their support. I think that they’re amazing. Everyone is amazing. Everyone in this industry is so supportive because we all have been in those moments where we’re feeling not quite right for a show. What we do is so wild – We come out on stage and we perform for thousands of people. We have to put whatever we’ve dealt with in that day to the back of our minds and sometimes it’s not that easy to do. It is really one big family. And I know everyone does that “PHamily” thing – I get it now! Makes sense.
Kat: What is it been like to be in the show now that it’s nominated for a WhatsOnStage Award for Best West End Show?
Holly-Anne: Oh, it’s so cool! I was in Les Mis for a really long time and it was always nominated for that kind of thing as well. It’s just amazing to be a part of something that’s loved by so many people. Like I said before, it’s a timeless musical, and it’s loved by so many. And to think I’m any part of it is honestly the coolest thing. And you forget! You do forget. Sometimes I’ll be in the cab home from the show and the cab driver will say, “What do you do?” And I’m like, “Oh, I’m an actor.” And they’re like, “Oh, you in anything?” And I’m like, “Phantom of the Opera, do you know it?” And they’re like, “NO WAY!” [Laughs] You really do forget! But it’s just the coolest show.
Kat: And finally, how would you describe Phantom of the Opera in one word?
Holly-Anne: I feel like I’ve said it a million times in this interview, but it’s timeless. I think that’s the word of the of the day for me.
Thank you to Holly-Anne for the wonderful interview and to Emily Webb for arranging it!
Tickets for Phantom of the Opera can be bought here.