Interview with Las Vegas Theater Star Kristen Hertzenberg

by Marc Jay
10.08.2010

Marc Jay: So, I don’t often start these interviews with “wow,” but, WOW—this theater is amazing! I’m sitting in the Venetian Hotel at the beautiful Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular theatre, with one of the leading cast members, Kristen Hertzenberg. So tell us, for people who don’t know about Phantom of the Opera, and I’m sure there aren’t that many because the show is a phenomenon, tell us a bit about the show.

Kristen Hertzenberg: Well it’s been around for a little over 20 years now, so it’s the longest running show in Broadway history. It’s still running on Broadway, but there are other companies around the world that put on the show too. Because it opened in the late eighties it hasn’t changed since then. When we opened our production here in Vegas they were able to bring the original creative team back together including Andrew Lloyd Webber to bring it into this millennium, so it makes our show in Las Vegas really special.

Marc Jay: Now when you perform in Las Vegas, do you perform in other cities? And if so, how does the show change and does your role change in the show?

Kristen Hertzenberg: We are a sit-down company here in Las Vegas. We don’t move anywhere else, they built a special theatre here for us here. But there is a national tour that travels around the country and there is a Broadway company as well.

Marc Jay: Cool. Now, I remember as a kid, we would have school outings to the West End – I’m from London as you can tell – and we’d go to the West End and they’d take us to see shows and I think I went two or three times to see Phantom, this must have been 15 years ago when you probably first started. I think it’s a fantastic show and I’ve seen it here a few times. Tell us, what is your character and your role in the show here.

Kristen Hertzenberg: I play Christine Daae and she is the love interest, if not obsession, of the Phantom. So he chooses her out of the ballet chorus, becomes rather interested in her, begins writing music for her and becomes her voice teacher. And she isn’t sure all along if she is studying with a real person or if it’s a ghost or an angel that her father told her he would send her one day when he passed away. So she’s just kind of mesmerized by this otherworldly experience that she’s having. And then she has another love interest, Raoul, so it becomes a triangle and the whole show is kind of “what choice is she going to make?”

Marc Jay: Now you perform in the show almost every night. How often are you in it exactly?

Kristen Hertzenberg: Well, I’m here Wednesdays and Thursdays, that’s my usual schedule every week. And every once in a while if the other Christine goes on vacation – there are two of us that split the role – then I do her shows. But for the most part, I’m here every week, two nights and we don’t have dark periods at Phantom, we’ve been going non-stop since June of 2006.

Marc Jay: Now I do have a question and it’s kind of a bizarre one. Everywhere else you have intermissions and breaks where you go to the bar, you have a cocktail and you come back to your seat. You don’t get that in Vegas, is that because they’re scared that people are going to run into the casino?

Kristen Hertzenberg: I’m not sure why. You know the precedent was just kind of set at one point that it worked best to have the Broadway shows in Vegas brought down to 90 minutes. It’s worked well for us. When you go to see a Broadway show and you have your cocktail at intermission, you can’t bring it in the theatre with you afterwards, you’ve got to dump it if you’re not finished with it. Not the case in Las Vegas. Just like, buy three or four and bring them into the theatre with you to last throughout the whole show [laughs].

Marc Jay: Now we’ve actually just made it down to your dressing room and I see an array of wonderful outfits. Tell us, you obviously have different costume changes. How many do you have? Who made these costumes?

Kristen Hertzenberg: I can’t remember exactly how many changes there are, but I think it’s 11 or 12 total. Sometimes it’s just a skirt or something that changes, but this is my favorite part of anytime that I give a tour to somebody because the costumes are absolutely amazing in this show and they stay very true to the way that they would have been made in the late 1800s when the show takes place. So it’s a lot of labor and a lot of cost and they’re all made at the same house – they call it a house – in New York. So they flew all of us there to have our fittings, you know, multiple times to make sure everything was fit to us just right. They’ve got scouts that go all over the world scouting out specific fabrics if something’s discontinued or something. It’s really fascinating.

Marc Jay: Now tell us a bit about your background, because obviously you’re theatrically trained. Did you do drama at school, how did you fall into this profession?

Kristen Hertzenberg: Actually, I studied opera in school. I was a classical singer in my undergraduate work and then studied opera in grad school. And then, as soon as I finished graduate school, planning on being an opera singer, I got cast in a play called Master Class, which is all about Maria Callas, the famous Greek opera singer. And so I played one of her students and I got my union card when I did that show. That just kind of opens up a whole new world for you in terms of theater, especially auditioning, so I started doing more theater and realized I liked the people a lot better. Nothing against opera people, but it’s definitely a more uptight world.

Marc Jay: Now we don’t have much – like there’s not many operas in Vegas or like a ballet season here, why is that you think, people don’t understand or because it’s such a tourist market?

Kristen Hertzenberg: Well I think for one thing, there hasn’t really been a proper venue for them to perform. There is a ballet here, and there is an opera company, but they’re not as big as they are in other major cities. But they’re building a new performance art center, the Smith Center, downtown that already is – you know, quite a bit of accomplishment has been made on that. And they’re opening in Spring of 2012. So that’ll be the new home for the ballet and the opera and hopefully things will become more prevalent.

Marc Jay: Now being an opera singer – I like to sing in the shower myself, but I’m probably not as good as you – how do you keep your voice trained to be, because obviously you have to perform twice a week, how do you make sure your voice is as good as it can always be?

Kristen Hertzenberg: Well, I used to practice a lot more often than I do now. But, I have a two year old, so she takes a lot of my time. And I’ve also found because of how dry it is in Las Vegas, in the desert, resting my voice in between shows does a lot more good than doing a lot of singing. That’s what I’ve found, I always feel better - I do the Wednesday and Thursday and Wednesdays always feel better than Thursday because I’ve just had a week off. But, you know, a lot of us in Phantom do other projects outside of this show, whether it’s a reading or a benefit concert or something like that. So, you know, I usually have something else that I’m singing during the week.

Marc Jay: Now I’m sure you know about this but, Phantom of the Opera almost ‘two’ or whatever it’s called at the moment is an almost remodel of a new Phantom, I think it’s called “Love Never Dies.” What do you know about that show? Is it coming to Las Vegas?

Kristen Hertzenberg: I don’t know what their plans are for it. It’s been open in London for a while now and actually, one of our original “Christines” in this production is playing Christine in that production now. And this was definitely a stepping stone for her to get there. So that’s the most exciting thing about it to me, is that I’ve got a friend that’s a part of it and she’s lovely. I think it’ll come to the United States at some point.

Marc Jay: Now Andrew’s company – and it always makes me laugh, he’s cool – it’s The Really Useful Group, if I’m not mistaken. I mean in London, he’s our God when it comes to theatre, he has so many shows. Have you performed in any of them, or have you seen them at all?

Kristen Hertzenberg: I’ve seen other productions of his, but this is my first Andrew Lloyd Webber show, yeah. But I’ve been familiar with it my whole life, you know.

Marc Jay: Cool. So I do hear, if you’re a Las Vegas local, you do get some incredible offers here, so tell us a bit about what you’re doing here at Phantom.

Kristen Hertzenberg: Yeah, we love our locals. So we have a couple specials going on right now, one is that the Golden Circle seats, which are the best seats in the house, are $65 off and the other orchestra seats are Two-for-One, which is a huge deal. You can go to phantomlocalsoffer.com for all the details.

Marc Jay: Now is this anytime, or just certain days of the week?

Kristen Hertzenberg: Any day, through the winter.

Marc Jay: Through the winter, wonderful. So locals, bring your ID down, and come and see Phantom.

Kristen Hertzenberg: Yeah, absolutely, it’s a great date night.

Marc Jay: You’re living in Vegas but your job could almost take you anywhere in the world. When your contract runs out, do you look for other jobs in other cities? And if you do, how do you get them and where do you decide where you go? Because you’re originally from New York, is that correct?

Kristen Hertzenberg: I moved here from New York. I’m originally a Houston girl. Before I booked Phantom I was on a European tour for almost two years and I was married at the time, so it’s really taxing on a marriage. So when this came up and the chance to sit down and be together came along, we jumped on it. So now, I have a two year old as well, so you know, things have changed. I would consider you know, going around the country to different places, if I could bring them along, but I think my days of touring have passed.

Marc Jay: Now is that touring with Phantom? Or was it another show?

Kristen Hertzenberg: No, it was a production of Hair. So, totally different, rock ‘n’ roll –

Marc Jay: That’s not really opera.

Kristen Hertzenberg: No, not at all. Actually, it was a lot of fun for me to step outside the box and just do something crazy and different, I loved it. 

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