Most actors remember that pivotal show that opened the magic of theater to them.
He’d get us center, orchestra seats for any show coming to town so as a kid I’d be watching Phantom of the Opera with my jaw to the ground. I was like ‘This is what I’ve got to do! I have to do this!’
–TJ Thyne (AKA, Hodgins on Bones)
For me, it was The Phantom of the Opera, and I imagine a lot of kids my age (20s/early 30s) feel the same way, either about this show, or Cats, or Les Miz. And for me, it started with the music.
I don’t even remember how I got the tape. (Yes, tape, people) First, it was the highlights tape. My best friend, Anne, and I loved it so much we’d listen to it on our walkmans on the bus ride home from school. Pre-Internet, it was harder to find out show tidbits, but I bought The Complete Phantom of the Opera and devoured every detail, from the show’s inception to the libretto. Then I got the complete recording–two tapes, four sides. I learned every note of every part. I could sing the octet “Prima Donna” in a split-personality way, alternating rapidly between prominent melodies, or just sing any one line. I practiced it in my bedroom. I learned that the high D at the end of the song “The Phantom of the Opera” was recorded, so the actress didn’t have to sing that high every night.
The show was coming to town after my eighth grade year. Anne and I were dying to see it, but my parents and I had missed buying tickets, so we were pondering going to Toronto (where the show was playing all the time).
Then we got lucky!
The run sold out so quickly that they added more weeks. And my mom got tickets for August 14, at 8:00. In the front row.
I was dying. I was dead. I was convinced heaven could not be better. My next door neighbors had seen the show, and when I went over to baby-sit their kids, I leafed through the glorious, white-covered and red-tasseled souvenir program like it was a sacred text. Oh, Christine’s dress at the end of Act I! Oh, the final trio! I wanted to be Christine, tossed in a love triangle between the richer-than-God childhood sweetheart and the tormented musical genius (who was slightly crazy).
The Day came. I wore an emerald dress, embedded with discreet sequins, and heels. I bought my very own souvenir program. We were escorted to our seats.
“Watch out that the chandelier doesn’t fall on you,” the usher said as he seated us.
What? Fall on me?
OK, I knew the chandelier fell. But I didn’t think it would fall on me. Great. Thanks, Mr. Usher, you have ruined the first act for me, I’m now worried about being decapitated!
When the chandelier rose up at the end of the prologue, it was so close I could touch the beaded strings. And until the ballet from Il Muto, I was enchanted. Then I remembered–chandelier.
I scurried off to the bathroom, thinking I’d get out of it that way. The ushers told me to hurry back, I didn’t want to miss the chandelier! (Yes, yes I did) One of my indelible images of that performance is the female ushers, in their white shirts and black skirts, sitting on the stairs, peering through the box openings to watch the action onstage.
I made it back in time for the beginning of the Rooftop Sequence. Oh, my little 13 year old heart was taken by “All I Ask Of You”, and the Phantom’s tormented reprise from the Angel that towered above the proscenium.
And then the chandelier fell. Slowly. I have to say, I was somewhat disappointed in that–I wanted some sort of thrill to it, some sort of danger! Oh well.
I still remember the names of the leads that night. I remember being entranced by Raoul, soaking wet behind the portculis, and his shirt unbuttoned as the garrotte hung around his neck. How Meg finds the mask “and picks it up in her small hand.” How did he disappear like that?
Phantom, for me, was the beginning of my real love with musical theater.