From Humble: The Woman Who's Played Phantom's Diva More Than Anyone

The longest running Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera, a woman with more than 4,500 Phantom performances as the diva outdone by the young upstart Christine, is Kim Stengel who originally hails from Humble, Texas.

Stengel will be returning home as part of the national tour of Phantom brought to the Hobby Center by Broadway Across America It plays here July 8 through August 2.

Her parents still live in Humble and Stengel says her daughter, Kendra, 10 ("She was born in the show") stays with them from time to time when road life gets too long and when she wants to get back to see her kittens and friends.

So how does someone from Humble make it to Broadway, to tours across the United States, Canada and Asia? Stengel says it's because unlike some other states, Texas has always valued the arts and supported performers even at the youngest ages.

Ask Stengel what's to like about a diva, and she can defend Carlotta on two fronts: sympathy and the fact she makes for great theater.

"There's a lot to like about Carlotta. Here she is at the top of her game; she's paid her price and there's this little nobody climbing the ladder who thumps her out of the way. A lot of her frustrations are due to the sheer injustice of this."

Reason two? "I think her antics are very, very funny's enjoyable to watch as this very frustrated woman has the ultimate meltdown."

In fact, Stengel believes divas have unfairly been given a bad name. "I would hope the good aspect is someone who seeks excellence and holds others to the same high standards; the person who's worked hard for excellence."

The one "tragic" part of playing a diva, Stengel says, is that sometimes people believe that is the actor's character as well.

The rest of her group is not especially looking forward to the heat in Houston, although Stengel says it's just how you operate. Those in the know, know "You go from air to air," Stengel says.

When she gets off the plane she plans to get her fix at Pappasito's and later on make her way to what she calls the best fine food restaurant in the area, Chez Nous in Humble. Chez Nous is where she got her start as a waitress.  

Despite loving and making her livelihood by musical theater, Stengel would like a chance to return to more non-singing roles as well. She just finished Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tin Tin with Daniel Craig; she's playing Bianca but it won't be in movie theaters for a long time since it takes years to put together an animated feature.

"My big dream is to work locally in Houston which has so many great theaters, the Alley, TUTS, just to come home."

Oh and one more thing, at every city she's ever performed in, she's overheard people say they wished they could have seen Phantom, but they were sure it was sold out. No, she says, there are always tickets and while they made be sold out on one day, try again for another.

So be brave and don't miss your chance to see classic modern musical theater -- and a local girl who made it really big.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing