KISS Of The Phantom

By Ben Rayner (Toronto Star Pop Music Critic)

From KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park to Phantom Of The Opera.

There's actually a fair amount of continuity between Paul Stanley's best-known role as the double-entendre-spewing lead vocalist for enduring rock cartoons KISS and his latest endeavour, playing (as of tonight) the title character in Andew Lloyd Webber's equally enduring theatrical spectacle at the Pantages Theatre.

Both ventures, after all, jibe nicely with Stanley's personal philosophy of ``entertainment in capital letters,'' favouring grandness and pyrotechnic flash over, say, subtlety and evocative minimalism.

KISS and Phantom, too, have both weathered years of critical abuse to amass millions in album and ticket sales.

Those same critics and Phantom die-hards are no doubt itching to take a few shots at Stanley's first foray into musical theatre.

But the budding thespian, who got the part after a ``full-on'' audition in New York in January, is throwing everything into his new gig to ensure he has the last laugh.

``I'm not one who ventures into areas I don't plan on winning,'' says the surprisingly soft-spoken Stanley, 47, pausing for a chat at a downtown hotel between rehearsals, voice lessons and all-important mask fittings.

``No guts, no glory. The philosophy that will get you the farthest in life is the one that dares you the most.

``I think we're innately fully aware of what we're capable of doing, and that it's up to us to confirm our gut instinct.''

Stanley's gut instinct has told him he could do musical theatre since he first caught a production of Phantom in London 11 years ago, an experience he compares to seeing The Beatles for the first time.

``I felt like `Mmm, I can do that,' '' he recalls. ``I see it as a stretch, but not something that's so shocking. Musically, I'm a singer who sings rock, not a rock singer. So with some adjustments and some modifications, it's a perfect role . . . KISS is my vehicle, but it's not the only car on the road or the only car I want to drive.''

Stanley, an avid theatre-goer, has cast feelers in Phantom's direction before, but band commitments meant the time was never available to do it.

Opportunity knocked earlier this year, when the search began for guest actors to take on the Phantom's role until the show wraps up its 10-year run in September (Quebec chanteur Rene Simard already donned the mask and actor Jeff Hyslop will be next.)

The singer jetted up to Toronto the moment he had a break in KISS's Psycho Circus tour (``I literally finished a show in Mexico City, went backstage and cut my hair off, flew to Los Angeles for a day and a half and moved here,'' he says) and has now been in rehearsals and voice lessons six days a week for about a month.

KISS hits the road again in October, but Stanley says he has ``no thoughts of stopping'' his burgeoning second career if the right outlet presents itself.

He's also pleased at the thought that having Paul Stanley on the marquee might lure a few KISS Army members into the theatre for the first time.

``It's a great vehicle for me,'' he says. ``But also for those who haven't been exposed to theatre, it's a great first step.''