To see the wirings and power lines crisscrossing all over the stage floor at the National Theater is to find it hard to believe that in just a matter of days everything will fall into place for the spectacular staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera."
"The labyrinth underground scene is the most complicated to set up," revealed Richard Martin, who is in charge of the technical management of the touring production. "But it is the most magical for the audience. Everything has to work at the right time."
While pointing to the added layer of stage flooring, he remarked: "There are so many machine components underneath for the special effects in the different scenes."
No less than 52 special effects are going to be introduced with the help of computer technology. The candles, the footlights, the angel, the chandelier and the balcony boxes in the musical are all wired and programmed for easy control. One technician is responsible for their appearance and disappearance on cue. Another is responsible for the sound system. The entire setup has built-in features against power outage.
Martin explained that the candelabra, for example, is pushed manually into a slot on the stage in one scene before computerized automation takes over. Local stage hands are learning a lot on the job about breathing life into the hit musical.
Most people who have seen "The Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway tend to remember the chandelier - made of plastic and steel, hence weighing a ton - dropping dangerously low in one scene.
"The chandelier looking like it's made of crystals will drop just above the heads of the spectators," said Martin. "But it is going to be just a bit out of reach even to somebody standing and reaching out."
He added with a smile: "We don't want to frighten away the spectators. We simply want them to be scared by the experience."
With safety as prime consideration, the production's preparation has included reinforcing the theater with steelwork, according to Martin. No part of the theater's interior, however, is going to be removed or replaced even though it looks like the venue is being turned upside down.
Martin described the Taipei venue for the full-scale production as a "good size theater." He appreciated the fact that "the stage area is quite flexible."
This particular touring production of "The Phantom of the Opera" was first put together in Australia back in 1990. Martin even went to New York to study the technical aspects of the musical.
Some 80 people are now putting everything in place and getting the National Theater ready. They work from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week.
The proscenium with the top piece said to weigh some three tons has gone up. The figurines and gargoyles made of fiberglass have been copied from designs decorating the actual Paris Opera House.
Martin's team includes sound technicians, who must install 64 speakers not to mention the countless wires and cables. The sound experts see no problem in the acoustics of the theater.
Some 22 big cargo containers filled with sets and props of different sizes as well as costumes have been unloaded at the National Theater. The grand staircase for the masquerade ball scene - pushed temporarily to one side of the stage - can probably be cited as one of the biggest pieces.
"Tricky changes take place in the dark," said Martin. "The stage management team makes sure accidents are avoided. There are six cameras and 20 monitors at various points to look after everyone's safety."
The lead cast of the musical will be arriving on January 10. Replacements as well as understudies in the touring production are already in Taipei. The local musicians to join the production are already rehearsing in the run up to opening night.
The touring production's entire cast met composer Andrew Lloyd Webber for the first time when they were in Shanghai. After watching the show, he met everyone in the touring musical.
When asked to pinpoint the best place to be when watching "The Phantom of the Opera," Martin replied: "I personally prefer to sit a bit at the back and up to see everything and to even truly feel the atmosphere."
"The Phantom of the Opera" tells the story of a mysterious genius with a mutilated face, who terrorizes everyone at the Paris Opera House while living underneath it. He falls in love with the beautiful soprano Christine and takes her under his wing.
Songs in the musical include "Think of Me," "Angel of Music," "All I Ask of You" and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again."
The musical will open to the general public starting on January 18.