How does an actor who plays the title role in "The Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway resemble an astronaut?

They're both members of a rather exclusive group. Not many people have done what they've done. A little more than a dozen actors have starred on Broadway as the mad and tragic genius in Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running musical.

A trio of them is coming Sunday to Wells Fargo Center for "Three Phantoms in Concert," featuring songs from the show, as part of the Santa Rosa Symphony Pops Series.

"It is a singular kind of a role," said Mark Jacoby, who starred in "Phantom" on Broadway in the early 1990s. "But there's not an alumni association that I know of."

Onstage in Santa Rosa, Jacoby will be joined by Gary Mauer and Ted Keegan, who each have played the role for long stintson Broadway and on national tour.

All three spoke by phone from their homes in New York and New Jersey about their coming concert here. They also have performed in the "Three Phantoms in Concert" show before, in rotation with other former Phantoms.

The concert format is built on a mock rivalry between the three actors, each vying for the chance to sing the show's most famous song, "Music of the Night."

"We play on the fact that we have all played the Phantom," Mauer said. "We joke around. There's a running gag based on who gets to sing the big 'Phantom of the Opera' number."

The face behind the Phantom's mask might not seem to matter from the back row, but each actor hopes to make the role his own.

For each actor coming into the role, Broadway producer and director Hal Prince allows some latitude and freedom, Keegan said.

"He gives you a skeleton of who the character is and you put yourself into it," Keegan added. "The character has gone through so much in his life. The Phantom is an extremely intelligent man."

Disfigured and alienated, the Phantom of the Opera is a classic tragic hero, but there is room for interpretation, Mauer said.

"The performances are pretty different," Mauer said. "Everyone is going to bring something new and unique, based on their own life experience, and based on their own feelings about the character. I dealt with his pain and self-loathing, and went from there."

Playing the Phantom is a serious responsibility, Jacoby said.

"The show was such a hot ticket that people made their plans a year in advance, and there was always great anticipation out in the audience," he explained.

But the audience often welcomes different interpretations of the character, Mauer said.

"Most people have seen it multiple times, so they're interested in what the character is going to do differently," Mauer said.

<em>You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.</em>