It really seems fitting to start this blog with “The Phantom of the Opera”. When the soundtrack came out in the US, I was barely out of training pants. I’ve been listening to it ever since. My family took long drives on every major holiday from Massachusetts to upstate Maine to see our relatives, and musical theater soundtracks are a REALLY good way to pass the time on a 5-hour drive. The power of the story both overwhelmed and inspired me as a girl—the great passion, the complicated adult emotions, and the beautiful music.
I finally saw “Phantom” on tour when I was 13 years old. I’d been saving up all summer to afford my ticket. Since then I’ve seen it three more times—when I was 16 while on an exchange trip to Hamburg, Germany, again on tour in Boston right after graduating college, and last night at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, on the final week before the tour closes.
I went last night with two close girlfriends of mine (one being my gorgeous roommate, who bought the tickets for me as a birthday treat) who had also seen the show multiple times. A friend of mine who is a theater critic reviewed the show favorably, but complained that the actors seemed slotted in, without much room for individual interpretation of the roles. However, my girlfriends and I had a very interesting time comparing the acting choices of the performer we saw that night in relation to other actors we’ve seen in what might be musical theater’s most iconic role.
Our Phantom was the tremendous Tim Martin Gleason, who blew us away with the exceptionally beautiful top notes in his voice, and his strong acting, especially in the final scenes. Here’s a couple moments from the final scene I really loved (Um, spoiler alert? But if you don’t know how it ends, honestly, what are you doing here?):
-during the final reprise of “Masquerade”, he sat down next to the cymbal monkey, and clapped along with it. It was just the right mix of sweet and sad.
-When Christine kissed him, even though he put his arms around her, he never touched her with his hands. It was a simple choice that said so much.
-Anyone who’s listened to the CD know that the scene calls for one “Christine, I love you”, before the ingénue and her suitor reprise “All I Ask of You” in the distance. Mr. Gleason, however, kept repeating “I love you” softly, over and over, as the couple rowed away.
It’s interesting, as I’ve seen that show so many times, I assumed that while I still appreciate it, and enjoy it very much, it wouldn’t’ have the power to move me (unlike my former roommate Liz, who would burst into tears when she saw the show, watched the movie, or listened to the soundtrack). I’m happy to say I was very wrong; seeing the show live, it definitely has the power to affect me.
But from my many years working in the theater myself, and having a strong knowledge of what goes on backstage, I sometimes find myself distracted by thinking about the actors own lives (John Brooke in “Little Women” much? Maybe a little). During intermission we were talking about moments we’ve seen in other performances where a performer’s personal life creeps onto the stage. Hey, it’s hard to be in the moment all the time! Especially when you’re doing it 8 times a week for months or years on end. For example, the first time I watched “Point of No Return” live, the actor was clearly somewhere else—grocery shopping, car needs an oil change, whatever. During Christine’s solo, he was just sort of arranging the robe on his knees. It wasn’t until I next saw the show in Germany that I realized how intense and sensual the physical interaction between Christine and the Phantom is during that song, because the actor was actually in the moment. After all, his hands are the only thing visible during that scene. Do something with them!
One of my friends who came to the last show related a story she saw from a performance in New York: at the end of the Phantom’s lair scene (“Damn you, you little lying Delilah!”), the Phantom actually grabbed Christine around the waist, picked her up off her feet, and threw her across the stage. She bounced twice on her bum and looked at the actor in shock. To quote my friend, “he had red swirlies in his eyes”. When she told me that story, my first thought was “Wow, that actor must’ve had a BIG fight with his girlfriend that day!” My second thought was that the Assistant Stage Manager must’ve been right there with an accident report when she got off the stage.
Well, I’ve probably rambled long enough. But I just wanted to share some of my long relationship with this show, and the fact that when the actors are giving an honest, committed performance, it has the power to move me like I’m seeing it for the first time, and I fall in love all over again.