TAMPA — When it comes to touring theater, The Phantom of the Opera is like a luxury liner. Just ask the Phantom himself.
"When you get a job like this in this business you ride it as long as you possibly can, as long as you have your sanity,'' said Richard Todd Adams, who plays the man in the half mask in the national tour. "There's nothing really like it out there anymore.''
Phantom is the rare road show that has long runs — playing for almost a month at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, where it concludes its engagement with two shows today. What that means is that the actors, crew members and orchestra musicians can choose to make themselves a home away from home, rather than simply staying in a hotel near the theater.
How these touring actors live holds lessons for all travelers, and those who host them.
"The hotels that the company finds for us can be nice, but I like to get out in the community, to be in a neighborhood,'' said D.C. Anderson, who plays Andre, one of the Paris Opera House managers, in the show. He has been staying at a friend's townhouse in the Town 'N Country area of Tampa.
For Adams, the ability to settle down a bit is especially important, because he is traveling with his wife, Maria Eberline, also an actor, and their baby, Nate, born on Sept. 4. They joined Adams midway through the Tampa run at the one-bedroom place he is renting, at the Grand Key Condominiums on S Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.
"So far, so good,'' Adams said after a few days with mom and baby aboard. "I think the trick is going to be getting Nate on some sort of sleep schedule as quick as possible.''
After a break over the holidays, the family plans to hit the road for a long haul with Phantom, like an old Judy Garland movie in which baby takes naps in a vaudevillian's trunk backstage. It's nothing new for the long-running show, which has always had quite a few children in tow on the tour.
"People in the company love it because it gives you this sense of family,'' Adams said. "When you're on the road, it's a sort of fantasy land. It's not the real world. You're with the same people every day, traveling the country. So whenever somebody's out here and they have their family with them, it gives you a dose of reality.''
Comforts of home
Actors in Phantom are well paid by theater standards. Salaries under the Actors Equity contract start at $1,400 a week, but many in the cast make more. Anderson, 54, is paid $2,400 a week to play Andre, a role he has had since 2001. Each actor receives a per diem allowance for expenses of about $825 a week.
"The per diem works great if you're staying with a friend, because you can help him out with the mortgage that month, and still have money left over,'' Anderson said. "If you stay in a hotel, you're out of pocket.''
Anderson is staying with Bruce Hardin, whom he met through a photography Web site. The actor is an avid photographer, and he got to know Hardin on a previous Phantom stop in Tampa. "It's nice to live in a home on the road,'' Anderson said. "He works during the day, I work at night, so I'm never in his hair.''
The actor also likes having a kitchen to cook in. "I need a good kitchen, with pots and pans and plates and a nice big refrigerator,'' he said. "I'm a nuts and berries and produce kind of guy. I know a million different ways to cook a chicken breast. I try not to eat out very much.''
In the community
In Tampa, the company offered accommodations in two hotels right by TBPAC, a Howard Johnson and Residence Inn. Adams, however, prefers to be farther away. "I try to stay 10 or 15 minutes away so I'm not right by the theater every day,'' he said. "In Seattle and Portland, I had apartments within walking distance. In Tampa, Tulsa and Spokane, I stay a bit away from the theater and rent a car.''
Adams often rents apartments through the Oakwood corporate housing Web site (oakwood.com), which is how he found his place in Tampa. It is fully furnished, including a washer and dryer in the 750-square-foot unit. The actor has become accustomed to the corporate design and decor.
"It's almost a joke with Oakwood,'' said Adams, 34, who owns an apartment in New York that he sublets when he's on the road. "Each one has the same furniture, the same pictures, the same setup. You pay between $2,500 and $3,000 for four weeks.''
Adams likes things to be consistent. He always puts his laptop and a calendar on the coffee table in the living room. He arranges his clothes the same way in the closet of every apartment. He has Cracklin' Oats breakfast cereal and Keebler Chips Deluxe Rainbow Cookies in the kitchen.
"The bizarre part about staying in corporate apartments is that you're always looking about three or four months ahead,'' said Adams, who can usually find online reviews of places he's considering. But sometimes he has landed in less than stellar accommodations.
"The worst was in Nashville about 10 years ago,'' said the actor, who was then playing Raoul on the Phantom tour. "I was in this old railroad station that had been converted to apartments, and it was right across the train tracks from a penitentiary.''
First the basics
Anderson researches possible places to stay through Craigslist and other online sites. He has certain basic requirements.
"First I need the Internet,'' he said. "It's how I stay connected and do a lot of business. Wireless or land, but not phone, and it has to be included. Those places that charge $8 a day for the wireless — they've got to be out of their mind. Then I need a bed that I can put at an angle, because of my acid reflux. I have to have a bed that I can put one end up, so I can sleep with my head above my feet.''
Anderson owns a condo in Portland, Ore., but he is almost never there. "I've been home maybe 10 days in eight years,'' he said.
Anderson is single, and has found it hard to have a relationship while on the road.
"I was in a relationship for the first two years of this show. But you can't keep it up. Both of us just realized that, you know, I was never home. And I'm not a hook-up kind of guy. I can't really go into a town and just be with somebody for a couple of weeks. So that's the downside of being on the road.''
Anderson has recorded eight CDs (available through his Web site dcanderson.net), and writes songs during his time off. Occasionally, he'll organize cabaret shows by cast members to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and other causes.
Actors tend to be gregarious people, and Anderson said that the Phantom road company has good esprit de corps. He and four others in the cast and crew have a photography club and go on outings to take pictures.
"There are some karaoke lovers,'' he said. "Some of the dancers are the best little rock 'n' roll singers. Carli Millen knocks Hit Me With Your Best Shot right out of the park. Bruce Winant (who plays Firmin) is always looking for a good cigar bar.''
But for all the raffish pleasures of a life on the road, the priority for Anderson is always the show. "During the day, I feel like I'm in uncharted territory,'' he said. "But then I go to the theater, and when I walk on the stage, it's like coming home.''
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.