May 22 2010 12:00 AM

Tim Martin Gleason is the Phantom menace

Courtesy Photo

After more than 2,600 performances as Raoul, the romantic lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” Tim Martin Gleason was ready for a change.

So he stepped into the title role.

By then, he’d already had plenty of preparation. “The whole time I was Raoul, I was the Phantom’s understudy as well,” Gleason said, calling from New York City. “On a two-show day, I could be Raoul at the matinee and then be the Phantom at night. That could be kind of confusing at times, but it was kind of fun, actually.”

“The Phantom of the Opera” settles into the Wharton Center for a three-week run, starting tonight. Wharton audiences saw Gleason as Raoul during the musical’s previous engagement; now, they can see his other side.

“It’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, performing that role eight times a week,” Gleason said. “I had to kick my voice up a notch to build the stamina up. It took a couple of months.”

He’s grateful for the opportunity to star in a production that’s enjoyed continued success for more than 20 years.

“It’s very validating,” he said. “Everybody knows ‘Phantom.’ You could be doing whatever is the next big thing in New York, but it’s nice to be part of something everybody knows about. But they are big shoes to fill: Everyone’s heard the music and has expectations.”

The adage about familiarity breeding contempt certainly doesn’t apply to “Phantom,” which has become the longestrunning show in Broadway history.

“Part of its success is that people are bringing their kids to a show they saw 20 years ago. That’s a pretty phenomenal thing no other show has ever experienced,” Gleason said.

The secret of the show’s success is simple.

“It’s the story, a very simple love story. What the Phantom goes through, being in love and yet not getting the girl — everyone can relate to that. And, of course, there’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music.”

"Phantom" premiered in Londons West End in 1986 and opened on Broadway two years later. It was filmed in 2004 with Gerard Butler as the Phantom.

The “Phantom” tour has continued for 18 years — it will wrap up in November — and it requires 18 tractor trailers full of props, sets, costumes, lights and, of course, that stunning chandelier.

“It’s pretty massive,” Gleason said, with a chuckle. “It’s like the circus is coming to town.”

'The Phantom of the Opera'
Wharton Center
7:30 p.m. Wenesday, May 19; 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 20; 8 p.m. Friday, May 21; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 22; 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 23; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, May 25-June 3; 8 p.m. Friday, May 28 and June 4; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 29 and June 5; 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 30 and June 6