Bringing in pros also has its cons

The Phantom of the Opera is still making mischief. This week's announcement that professional actors Michael Cormick and Julie Lea Goodwin would be brought in to play the leads in the 2013 Canberra premiere production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical sparked fiery debate on social media.

Some saw it as snubbing Canberra's own theatrical talent while others pointed out the opportunities that would arise for local amateur actors given the chance to work with high-calibre professionals.

Cormick, cast in the title role, played the role of Raoul in the show in London for more than two years and Goodwin toured with the second Australian professional production, playing Christine 200 times. The director, Mark Grentell, was assistant director on the Australian professional premiere of Doctor Zhivago.

Producer Anne Somes, whose company Free-Rain is staging the show, said, ''People will always talk'' - especially in the theatre community - and that sometimes gossip was taken as gospel.

She said social media such as Facebook, while a useful communication tool, could also work to disseminate speculation and rumour. One story doing the rounds was that the casting of professionals in the lead roles was a contractual requirement: Somes said this was not the case.

She pointed out that pro-am shows have been done in Canberra before - Donald Cant played the title role in Canberra Philharmonic Society's Jekyll & Hyde, for example - and said all the elements of the production had to be considered together to give it the best chance of succeeding.


All the supporting and understudy roles will be open for audition next year. And she noted her company had long nurtured local talent, on stage and off.

''The artists whom Free-Rain has engaged for the production have indicated that they are very excited about the prospect of being involved in the production and supporting local and regional practitioners in all aspects of performance. This, in my view, represents an enormous opportunity for all local and regional artists,'' she said, adding that Cormick and Goodwin were committed to the philosophy of helping fellow artists develop and would do so while working on Phantom.

The show's music director, Ian McLean, said while there was a lot of talent in Canberra he thought some Canberra actors might be ''big fish in a small pond'' and that working with professional artists would help lift their performances.

Soren Jensen echoed this. He is a former Canberran who acted here with many companies including Free-Rain and had his first directorial experience with the company. He has since moved to Melbourne to undertake a professional acting career.

Jensen said, ''I think it's a really good opportunity for people to experience the next level of professionalism that is the actual industry. You may miss out on a dream role: if someone is better, it is going to go to them.''

He said people should ''get their notepads and be prepared to learn everything they can'' from professionals taking part in Canberra productions, including Phantom.

''Anne can't be questioned for her contribution to the community,'' he said.

Dave Smith, who has been acting in Canberra for eight years, acknowledged that Somes had the right to cast whoever she thought appropriate since it was her company but expressed some frustration at the lack of professional opportunities available to Canberra actors.

He thought professionals should be sought from within Canberra where possible rather than bringing them from outside, ''or you won't have any professionals here''.

Rodwell Faulkner, who has been acting in Canberra productions for 18 years, said he had been disappointed by what he described as ''a steady decline in the amount of co-operation exhibited by and in various companies in the region''.

'' 'Why are professional interstate artists being favoured over local amateur talent?' might be the wrong question to ask.

''Far better, I think, for all of us to take a look at our own reactions to the news. Are they helping create a supportive, nurturing, environment so that Canberra musical theatre can flourish? Or, is another wave of unco-operative discontent going to win out?

''Now, I'm not suggesting that there shouldn't be some disappointed folk out there. Indeed, playing the roles of Phantom or Christine would look wonderful on a resume. However, is complaining about missing out on such roles going to help any individual or company? I think not.''

Somes said she hoped other companies and the Canberra community would get behind the production - she noted the assistant director, Duncan Ley, is co-director of another company, Everyman Productions - and that this would help more large-scale musicals to be mounted here since touring shows seldom came to Canberra because of prohibitive costs.

''It is not about individuals or particular roles, it's about marrying all of the elements together so that we have a stimulating, sustainable, exciting work of theatre that everyone in Canberra wants to come and see.''

The Phantom of the Opera is on at the Canberra Theatre from from August 9 to 18, 2013.

Tickets $47.50-$81.75.

Bookings: 6275 2700 or canberraticketing.com.au