“This is not going to be your father’s Phantom.” – Footlights Magazine
By Peter Finlayson
The breadth of human creation is a derivative of prior moments. Art, all human knowledge is built upon a foundation originally started before the dawn of man and added to by each subsequent generation. Now, after an eight-year absence from Los Angeles, VoxLumiere, (Latin for hear the light,) is re-introducing their version of this continuum.
Utilizing the bare-boned industrial facade of the Los Angeles Theatre Center large stage, Kevin Saunders Hayes, along with the support and participation of his wife Victoria Levy, herself an accomplished composer and performer, are mounting their presentation of Phantom of the Opera.
This is not going to be your father’s Phantom. It is VoxLumiere’s envisioning of an often-told story. Projected on three screens is the 1925 black and white silent film Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney Sr. This in and of itself is a vital piece of art, but what Kevin and company do is add layers of music and dance that then surrounds and integrates with the film in such a manner as to offer a whole new vision of Gaston Leroux’s now famous novel.
Hayes, a composer for film and television, came upon a bin of silent movies in a surplus discount store in NYC, while trying to patch together some essential elements of his wardrobe. This was at a time in his life when Kevin admits the focus was more on surviving than anything else. For some time he had been working on music he knew was beyond the needs of his clients.
Kevin said, “If you’re a tailor, and a client comes in wanting a brown coat, it’s irrelevant that you can envision him in a beautifully made blue coat, perhaps the tailor’s best work ever. The tailor’s job is to create the very best brown coat possible for his client.” While composing for film and television, Kevin knew he had the capacity to create more, a deeper, more colorful rendition of his art.
Watching the silent films was like an epiphany. “light-bulbs started popping”. Inviting friends who he worked with in guerilla theatre, Kevin began putting the elements together. As serendipity would have, a friend suggested his “show” be produced for a film festival. The festival was willing to fly the company to Avignon, France based upon the pitch presented.
When the audience response was overwhelming, and while still basking in the accolades, the festival promoters asked what they would be bringing the following year. By some divine inspiration, Kevin blurted out, “the Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Needless to say, the response was an excited, “C’est ci bon,” and so the dream moved from hope to reality.
Here we are now, more than eight years later, and some presentation of this new art concept has been played to more than 250,000 people in venues worldwide. The repertoire now includes Phantom of the Opera,The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Metropolis, Peter Pan, Silents You Can Hear and are working to and Zorro and Noferatu.
The music too is not of previous generations, not in the sense of an organ track as is often the case with silent films. The music is a mash up of styles appropriate to the scene, new music, which can be heard on the website, voxlumiere.com. Its powerful, raw, complex and reaches into the soul.
The dream is now to build a home, a place where this fusion of old foundations and new art can be offered up on a continuing basis. A place where VoxLumiere’sPhantom will be performed twice a month for three consecutive months at the LATC. If all goes well, we can then expect to see other productions, for years to come.
Artists, by the very nature of what they do, have some perspective on a legacy. It doesn’t mean they create for their legacy, but there is an awareness that what is created leaves a permanent mark, becomes part of the foundation. When Kevin was asked what would he want his legacy to be, his response. “I hope they will come and see that art is a shared opportunity, an opportunity to be involved and to interact, to use what I’ve created as a jumping off point for their own imaginations.”