The Phantom Lives Here
Heading upstream toward Broadway
by Tom Small
Habitues of the Maplewood train station may recall that several years ago, a mural was pamted on the walls of pedestrian underpass that leads from the village side of the tracks to the park side. Written across one of the walls was 'The Phantom lives here'. Some might have mistaken this for the signature of a graffiti artist; others recognized it for its truth. Mad Jacoby, who was the phantom in Th Phantom of the Opera, for two-plus years, moved here in 1991.
Underneath the Phantomís prosthetic make up, which could take up to two and a half hours to apply, lies Tennessean who first made it to Broadway in 1986. He debuted as Vitorio Vidal in Sweet Charity and has consistently appeared in starring roles that include: Hermon Von Preysing in Grand Hotel, The Phantom of the Operaís Phantom, Gaylord Ravenal in Showboat, the Father in Ragtime, Padre Perez in Man of La Mancha and currently Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd. An impressive rťsumť by any measure, it is all the more striking since he was 38 when he made his Broadway debut. "Late by any standard," Jacoby admits. It is especially remarkable since he didnít plan to be a performer.
Growing up, he always had a strong interest in theater and music. But he never had an epiphany, as many actors or musicians claim, when he realized that he would or could make his living in theater. After college he went to law school and became a lawyer. "It was the path of least resistance," he explains. During college and afterwards, when seeking summer jobs, he always looked towards the theater, "just to make money Ė because it was more fun than other jobs".
At a certain point, when others may become bored with their lifeís work, Jacobyís commitment to acting became total. "There are no alternatives for me." He finds his dedication to performing waxing rather than waning and some day he would like to play Harold in The Music Man.
In addition to his Broadway credits, he has had parts in three films; his daytime television credits include One Life to Live and Loving. He has been on Ed, a drama/sitcom that lasted four years and has performed in several episodes of Law and Order.
"Doing Law and Order was a lot of fun. Itís all filmed in and around New York. The interior sets are all at the Chelsea Piers, with the court rooms, the apartment interiors, the squad rooms and crime scenes all next to each other, like offices." That sounds convenient.
What wasnít convenient, however, was "trying to raise children in the city. It is very time consuming and requires a lot of strategizing." It was after the birth of their second child that Jacoby and his wife Deborah realized they had to leave Manhattan for the suburbs. "[Here] you can just open the door and let them play in the yard." Their children have grown though: Evelyn is a freshman at Columbia High School. Their son Ben, who presently attends Dennison College, has shown strong signs of inheriting his fatherís talent. When at Columbia, he played Daddy Warbucks in Annie and Captain Hook in Peter Pan.
"Maplewood was the only town that Deborah and I considered." They live in a gorgeous 1927 Colonial Revival on a quiet street. "Both this house and Maplewood have been a great place to raise children."
His life as a Broadway actor has had a cost. Several years ago, before the mid-town direct, the commute was complicated by having to go through Hoboken. Leaving Maplewood in the late afternoon, he would head into Manhattan from Hoboken at the same time most commuters were headed the other way. One afternoon, like a salmon heading upstream, Jacoby was the only individual heading down the stairs to the PATH as everyone else was headed up. He overheard a woman say to another, "I donít know why heís going the wrong way."
"Working evenings is almost an unnatural way to live, everything is backwards. You spend the mornings waiting to go to work and get home after everyone is in bed. Itís as if your bio rhythms are off. Childrenís activities are all in the afternoons and evenings as well as weekends; all the times Iím at work." Lamentably, he has rarely had the chance to attend any of his childrenís activities.
The awkward schedule of a busy actor makes many aspects of life difficult. It seems hard to believe, but Jacoby says, "Actors donít get to see much theater. Itís also hard to socialize with other actors who on their day off are reluctant to travel to New Jersey." There was one occasion when some actor friends from the city did drop by and were incredulous to find Jacoby finishing some yard chores. "Yes," he admits, "the Phantom mows his own lawn."
Tom Small was raised by wolves in northern New England.
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