Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Broadway Stars with Barksdale Roots

Posted by Bruce Miller

I wrote a couple weeks ago about accompanying my daughter and three of her high school friends on a Broadway weekend, and I promised to return to this topic soon to discuss the shows we saw. Tonight’s blog entry is about the first musical of this fall’s trip – The Phantom of the Opera.

Phantom may be the longest running show in Broadway history, but I’d never seen it before last month. I hadn’t even seen the movie. When I go to New York, I almost always choose plays and musicals that I think we may produce one day in Richmond. Because of Phantom’s reliance on a huge production, it never made my list.

So it was a thrill for me to see it with my daughter and her friends, three of whom were also seeing it for the first time. The arrangements of the music and the relative simplicity of the special effects (by 2007 standards) reminded us that the show originally opened in London in 1986. But the classic story, the haunting melodies and the solid production values still captured our imaginations.

The most exciting aspect of our visit with the Phantom, at least for me, was the chance to point out proudly to my four teenage charges the two Phantom cast members who have strong roots with Barksdale and Theatre IV – Kris Koop (pictured below and to the right) and George Lee Andrews.

Kris moved to Richmond immediately after graduating from Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in 1987 to work as a touring actress with Theatre IV. She couldn’t have been nicer or more talented. In 1988, she starred as Cinderella in our first production of that Rodgers and Hammerstein classic—our first major musical in the historic Empire. Later that year, she joined Barksdale’s cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and toured with Joseph when it left the Tavern for other venues around the country.

Since 2001, Kris has understudied Phantom’s female leads, and she's played Christine and Carlotta on several occasions. It’s an ideal, top-of-the-heap Broadway job. When not filling in for one of the two leads, Kris appears in the ensemble.

Kris is perhaps most respected in Broadway circles for the leadership she has provided to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraising efforts. She began volunteering for BC/EFA as soon as she moved to NYC. She and her husband, Steve Ouellette, House Manager at the Neil Simon Theatre, live in Queens. When she finally got the call that she was cast in Phantom, she was working fulltime at BC/EFA, and she still works there today. One of her special projects has been pulling together The Phantom Cooks, Part Deux, the charity cookbook that thus far has earned over $80,000 for BC/EFA.

Everyone in the Theatre IV and Barksdale family should be so proud of Kris and her exceptional Broadway accomplishments both onstage and off.

George Lee Andrews (pictured in his Phantom costume to the right) has been in the cast of Phantom since its Broadway opening in 1988, almost 20 years ago. Guinness, literally, is taking note. Today he plays the role of Monsieur Firmin, one of the two new owner-managers of the Opera House.

Ten years before George began his record-breaking run in Phantom, he played Cole Porter himself in the ill-fated Los Angeles professional premiere of Barksdale’s mega-hit, Red Hot and Cole.

And George’s Barksdale connections don’t end there. Hannah Zold (pictured to the left), who appeared at Barksdale and Theatre IV most recently in Into the Woods, The Wizard of Oz, Mame, and The Full Monty, has been close pals with George and his daughter, Shannon Lee, since Hannah and Shannon worked together in The Lost Colony in 2002. Lee is the actual family name; Andrews was added as a stage name. When Shannon Lee married one of Hannah’s best buds from college, Aaron Galligan-Stierle (who will be playing Papa Who in Broadway’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas once the strike allows him to), papa George Lee officiated at the wedding ceremony and Hannah Zold was the soloist.

The photo to the right is of Hannah Zold (leaning in from the right) and Jennings Whiteway in the Barksdale lobby during Hannah’s visit to Richmond a couple weeks ago. The weekend after this photo was taken, Hannah was back in NYC, hanging with the Lee clan, including her Phantom pal George.

It’s great to be able to remind the teens who are forging their first associations with the Barksdale and Theatre IV families in 2007 that many of the major theatre artists in today's national headlines are also a part of the historic Barksdale and Theatre IV clans.

To view a 2004 video of Kris and George and their Phantom cast mates, visit

All of us have reason to be proud and to celebrate the phenomenal success of two great Barksdale and Theatre IV alum – Kris Koop and George Lee Andrews.

--Bruce Miller

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, "Phantom of the Opera" would be quite beautiful at the Empire. The stage of the Majestic is not much bigger (if not smaller) than the one at the Empire, and there's plenty of ceiling space for rigging a chandelier. With the right cast and creative team, perhaps one day the Phantom will haunt the stalls of Theatre IV.