Ciarán Sheehan: “Phantom” Star to Sing Local Christmas Concert

Irish-born singer and actor Ciarán Sheehan may have played one of the most iconic characters in Broadway history—the titular role of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera”—but make no mistake: the man is not that into musicals.

Sheehan, who will be performing the concert “A Very Broadway Christmas” at St. John the Baptist Church in Hillsdale, New Jersey on Tuesday, December 19 alongside an assortment of artists and friends, was quick to clarify to RCT how much he appreciates the artform. However, the talented and equally self-effacing performer identifies as a “metalhead,” one who feels more at home singing hits from bands like Judas Priest over musical theatre giants like Stephen Sondheim. In other words, starring in a Broadway hit was not part of Sheehan’s original plan. Regardless, it’s an experience he is deeply grateful for.

“I’ve been so blessed,” Sheehan said, a note of wonder in his voice. “I was an engineering college drop-out, heavy metal-singing guy who eventually got to play the most iconic role in musical theatre history. I feel very blessed with where my life has taken me.”

Sheehan’s early life did not involve much of the spotlight. Born in Dublin in 1961 as the eldest of three children, his family moved between Ireland and New York City for years, eventually settling in central New Jersey. Though Sheehan had sung in the boys’ choir of his Upper West Side Catholic elementary school, even touring with a specialized section of the group for a time, he abandoned the hobby while living in Ireland at age 10 in favor of rugby. It was only after moving back to the States in early high school that Sheehan again picked up the mic.

“The fellow who became my best friend played guitar in a rock and roll band,” Sheehan explained. “I was over at his house one day and he said, ‘Can you sing?’ I said, ‘Not really, but what do you need?’ He was trying to learn this song and asked if I could sing along, so I did. He put the guitar down, went to his sister’s room and said, ‘Brenda, you’re not the lead singer anymore!’ So Brenda was a little annoyed at me for a month or so. But such is life,’ Sheehan added, laughing.

Becoming The Phantom

After dropping out of the engineering program at Rutgers University at 18 years-old and getting noticed by a Philadelphia theatre professional while singing at a bar with his band Jun Horde, Sheehan’s life went in an unexpected direction. Having been persuaded to study acting in New York City with Meisner technique disciple Kathryn Gately on another pro’s recommendation, he became obsessed with the art, developing a passion for especially complex characters. Sheehan worked so hard to perfect his craft that he almost abandoned singing altogether.

Fortunately, legendary Broadway director and producer Hal Prince led Sheehan back to music. Thrilled by his rich tenor during the opening song at a 1991 reading of Prince’s play “Grandchild of Kings” at the Irish Repertory Theatre, Prince eventually asked the actor if he had ever seen “The Phantom of the Opera.” Having grown friendly with Prince, Sheehan confessed that he hadn’t, relaying his general distaste for musicals.

“Hal said to me, ‘You’ve got a new baby who’s not even a year old,’” Sheehan recalled. “‘Get your rear end to the Majestic and take a look at that show. I think you’d be a good Raoul.’ So I went to see it, called him that night and said, ‘I’ve got to play the Phantom—that guy is a mess!’”

While Prince did not deem Sheehan ready to play the titular role just yet, he arranged his audition for the part of Raoul, the secondary protagonist of the show. Producers were wary of casting Sheehan—the only musicals he’d sung in at this point were a high school production of “Godspell” and an amateur showing of “Pirates of Penzance”—but after a successful performance in the 1992 Broadway company of Les Misérables, they decided to give him a chance. Two years later, Sheehan would finally transition to playing the iconic Phantom full time, singing the role for over 1,000 performances over a two-and-a-half year span both on Broadway and in Toronto.

The experience, he emphasized to RCT, was like no other.

“The show gives you a chance to run the full gamut emotionally,” Sheehan explained. “It allowed me to explore things as an actor that you wouldn’t typically get to work on. Most of the roles I have played, whether on stage, film or TV—they’re usually pretty normal sorts of cats. The Phantom is anything but. So to get to dive into that level of anger and pain, to wield that kind of power, was great fun as an actor to explore.”

“A Very Broadway Christmas”

Though his “Phantom” days may be behind him, Ciarán Sheehan’s career is far from stagnant. Having appeared in a steady stream of musicals, plays, PBS specials, TV episodes and films for the last two decades, accomplishments the artist remains most proud of include producing the sold-out productions of “The Molly MaGuires” (directed by Tony-nominated director Sheryl Kaller at FM Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 2007) and selling out Carnegie Hall four times. Though he initially transitioned to concert-based work to spend more time with his family, the musical versatility it allows—not to mention opportunities for storytelling between songs—continues to draw Sheehan to the medium.

“Sometimes I need to be told to shut up and sing because I’ll just start talking to the audience,” Sheehan admitted, referring to his easy demeanor while performing concerts. “There’s a very relaxed, off-the-cuff feeling. That’s fun for me, and it seems to be fun for the audience.”

One such concert, titled “A Very Broadway Christmas,” will be held at St. John the Baptist Church in Hillsdale, New Jersey on Tuesday, December 19 at 7 p.m., providing an opportunity for locals to enjoy Sheehan’s talents. The large church will also feature four of his fellow artists and friends—Sue Anderson (piano), Craig Schulman (vocalist), Kaley Ann Voorhees (vocalist) and Heather Bixler (classical violinist and Irish fiddler). Music for the night will include a variety of musical theatre tunes and holiday hits interspersed with storytelling, as most of the performers have worked together before and know each other well.

While an exact set of songs is yet unknown, Sheehan promises a wonderful evening filled with love, Christmas magic and cheer—even if no heavy metal is on the list.

“It’s so great to make music with your friends,” Sheehan said, smiling. “That’s the beautiful thing about making live music: it’s so communal…To me, whatever you’re doing—whether it’s acting or singing—is really secondary to making a connection on a human level with somebody else. It’s the common ground between yourself and everyone around you that’s beautiful. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy it.”

Tickets for “A Very Christmas” are $40 for general admission and can be purchased at For any ticket inquiries or offers of assistance, please contact Cathy Williamson at 201-664-3131. For sponsorship inquiries, contact Williamson or Diane Donato at 201-264-6771.

Sheehan in a Paul McCartney tribute concert

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