Ciaran Sheehan is taking off his mask. As the former Phantom of the Opera, the Irish-born tenor/actor played a role of a lifetime, and it’s one that he was born to play. Celebrity Parents spoke with Ciaran about being the Phantom, coming to terms with his difficult past, and his newfound outlook on life.
We were speaking earlier about your childhood and how it prepared you to play the Phantom of the Opera.
My father was a very restless soul. If you’ve ever read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, well, that looked like a picnic to how he grew up. Kids were killed by horses, people drowned, babies fell out of windows. I think that his own childhood fed his need to not stay still. So we moved a lot. I was born in Dublin but when I was 4, my parents sent me to live with my grandmother. Every summer, until I was 10, I would go to Ireland for the summers. I loved spending time there; my grandmother and I were very close. The whole street was full of kids my age, and when I was 10 we moved back there. But we moved again after that; I think by the time I was in high school I had been in 11 different schools.
How did that affect you?
You guard yourself from making connections to other people. I didn’t realize until later how it affected my personal relationships.
Did you always like to sing?
I sang when I was kid in a boys’ choir. I loved doing it. I often thought about running away and joining the Vienna’s Boy Choir. The other dream was that I wanted to be Paul Robeson, because all I wanted to sing was “Old Man River.” But that didn’t work out because I didn’t turn out to be a base or black.
But I know that you’re a huge metal fan, too, and that you sing that as well.
That’s true. I became very good friends with a kid and sang in a high school rock band. That’s when I became interested in metal. We would play the Jersey Shore during the summer. I was living a bit of the mad man life; lots of drinking, recreational stuff. I was an angry young man. I had been sexually abused for about 3-4 years by a priest, and I had blocked all of it, and didn’t remember it until I was 30. But then I was in a horrific car accident and my back was broken in three places. So I thought, “What am I doing with my life?” I had broken up with a girlfriend, and I thought, “Where can I meet girls? Acting class! Girls will be pretty, for the most part, and the guys won’t care, for the most part! I like my numbers!” [laughs]
So initally it wasn’t like you wanted to be this major thespian.
Not at all. I took a class on a whim, with this amazing teacher, and studied for two years with her. In her class, I was the rock and roll guy, and I was surrounded by all these thespians. One day, I was working on a scene and I had a real connection with it, so then I became voracious about acting.
I bumped into an Irish actor on the subway one day, who connected me with Hal Prince, who is this huge theatrical producer and director. I had to sing “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms” but I didn’t know the song; I didn’t even know who Hal Prince was! So I called my mom and asked her if she knew the song and she said, “Of course I do, you egit!” So I had her call me back and sing the song on my answering machine, and that’s how I learned the song, by playing her singing it on my machine.
That’s amazing. What a good mom.
When I met Hal, he told me if I had seen Phantom Of the Opera and I said no. Honestly, I didn’t even like musicals then. But I saw it and then I said, “I’ve got to play that role.” Hal told me to play Raoul first. The producers didn’t want to hire me because I had never done a musical before, so there was a lot of warring between the producers and Hal, but he believed in me. Then I got a call to audition to sing for Les Miz, and then got cast. We had a great time. Then I did a national tour of Phantom, and then Hal asked me to come into the Broadway company. So I did the show in NY for a couple of years and then in Toronto.
The theater in Toronto was stunning; it has 500 more seats than in NY. And it seemed to be more of a vocal show than NY. It was fun to pour it on in the more dramatic moments. We had a lot of fun, too. Sometimes too much fun. The conductor was a good friend of mine and we would start playing Name That Tune…during the show.
How did you do that?
After “Music of the Night”, Christine wakes up in the boat, and the Phantom is at the organ, composing. So we would pick different song themes, and I would act them out, but I would still have to stay in character. And then it got really bad, so much so that the entire cast was in the wings, figuring out what the song was. One day, he said, “Let’s do disco!” So I did Y-M-C-A with the arm motions and he fell in the pit!
See, that’s something only an Irishman could pull off.
My mother has a sketch of me as the Phantom and underneath it, the artist wrote, “Wouldn’t you know it would take a crazy Irishman to play an insane Frenchman?” [laughs]
When did you decide to leave the show?
I played Phantom for two years. I was in the middle of a divorce and I would fly back down every weekend to see my son, Kyle. It was getting tough to see him and I needed to be with him. After awhile, I then got a call to play Raoul.
Which role did you like better?
The Phantom, for sure.
I was a good Raoul. But in terms of the Phantom, there was no acting needed. It was so me. Because where I came from as a child, and the abuse, by the time I played Phantom it had all come back. You tap into certain things, and it was very easy for me to feel the feeling of being unwanted. After all, my parents shipped me off to Ireland, and that feeling that you didn’t belong since we moved around so much. As a child you look for reasons why these things are happening to you. Is it because you’re stupid, or ugly? You build a lot of rage. So playing him was a piece of cake for me.
Was it cathartic in a way?
It was a great role for me, and much needed, because I was really able to let it all out, all the things that had been building in me for years.
What are you working on now?
Right now, in addition to my show, From Galway to Broadway, we are thrilled to be working on “Awaken,” a Sound Healing show featuring performers from my newest television project. In an effort to finance the television production we are also about to launch an exciting program through Kickstarter called “Ciarán ~ An Evening With Friends” where people can get copies our newest products and at the same time be a co-producer of the show.
Now, as a busy working dad, how do you balance it all?
Balancing work and family is something everyone struggles with, not just performers. For myself I try to keep my family’s spiritual growth and enjoying the journey through life paramount. As long as I make sure love and not ego are driving my ship I feel I’m in good shape. My family knows they’re the priority in my life and when I’m occasionally out of town for work they know it’s about their welfare – ie. a roof over their heads, healthy food on the table, and helping to provide the fun things in their lives that bring them joy.