Let it be known that January is officially my favorite month in the entire year, despite the bitter cold wind and the occasional snowfall that often turns to slippery dangerous ice that comes with being in New York City. Of course aside from my own birthday being in January, there are also other notable theatrical dates, related to Phantom of the Opera, the longest running musical on Broadway, which celebrated its 25th anniversary on January 26, 2013 at the Majestic Theater.
[Disclaimer: As noted in several previous blog posts, I am a great fan [phan] of Phantom of the Opera and I’m also a great fan of many of the cast members both past and present. The original London cast recording of Phantom was one of the first musical scores I listened to, and have seen the production more times that any other show, whether it be musical or play, and I have seen the show in three different cities, and two different countries. I can almost guarantee that there will be several fan girl moments in the paragraphs to follow, perhaps some mild ranting / nitpicking as well, as I do have strong opinions with regards to this show, many of which might (or might not) agree with the rest of the Phantom fandom, who are among the most loyal and opinionated (both in a good and bad way) fan base I’ve ever encountered, mostly online. I should state here that I’m much more an “old school” fan, though not so much a strict Leroux purist, I prefer to think of the Phantom as an older man, a quasi-father figure to Christine, and not the young, sexy Phantom that seems prevalent these days. While I love the stage production, I hated the film adaptation, though that had more to do with the casting of the film (and had the film been remotely cast like the Les Miserables film, I would have been much happier). I also greatly disliked the “sequel-but-it’s-not-really-a-sequel” Love Never Dies, though interestingly enough, the dislike stems more from the nonsensical plot, which reads more like really bad wishful thinking fan girl fan fiction. Had Love Never Dies been a parody, I would have dismissed it as such; alas it was not.
But I digress.
I’m more familiar with the Lloyd Webber adaptation of the Phantom story, and of course that is the subject of this blog. Anyway, this is quite a long-winded way of stating that there will be fan girl moments, rants / nitpicks and strong opinions with regards to this show, which, as mentioned in previous blogs, my second all time favorite musical that I have seen live on stage.]
As the opening night date for Phantom is public knowledge and that in 2013 it would be its 25th anniversary on Broadway, naturally there was great anticipation on what the festivities would entail and whether or not tickets would be available to the public. For months prior to the opening night, it was announced that there would not be tickets available for that performance; in mid December 2012 it had been announced that there would be only 100 pairs of tickets available, and a sweepstakes contest via the show’s Facebook page would determine the winners (with the stipulation that winners needed to be US residents). One of my friends was fortunate enough to be one of the sweepstakes winners, and was taking me with her, which assured me that I would be able to attend. On January 22nd however, the announcement came that a limited amount of rear mezzanine tickets would be on sale for the 25th anniversary performance, at which time most of my other friends who had not won the Sweepstakes rushed to get tickets. Of course, this also happened seven years ago when Phantom became the longest running show on Broadway; nevertheless, it was great that seats were available for the public.
As stated at the beginning of this blog, there are notable (well at least to me) dates associated with Phantom – its first preview was on January 9th (which is also my birthday), and of course, January 26th, opening night. Another notable date is January 19th, which is original Phantom Michael Crawford’s birthday, so my day of celebrating all things Phantom started with the annual MCIFA [Michael Crawford International Fan Association] Birthday Bash Luncheon, which is always a fun event to meet fellow Crawford fans, many of whom were also attending the 25th Anniversary performance.
As my friend Kay was one of the contest winners, we didn’t know where we would be seated until we picked up our tickets – we ended up in midsection of the rear mezzanine (right side), which I believe is the farthest from the stage I have ever sat at the Majestic Theater. Interestingly there were no other shows (aside from Rock of Ages across the street at the Helen Hayes Theater) running on West 44th Street, as Lucky Guy and Matilda the Musical were scheduled to start its productions at the Broadhurst and Shubert Theaters, respectively, in the Spring, and Barry Manilow, who scheduled do perform in concert at the St. James Theater was out sick, so crowds that gathered outside the Majestic, some in ball gowns and tuxedos, others in more casual formal wear, were all there to see Phantom. There was no press activity outside, as it was quite chilly, though as we were let into the theater at 6:30 PM, the press were already inside, doing what they do; by the time I got into the lobby, press photos were being taken of director Hal Prince, producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, and Sarah Brightman, who was the original Christine. Prince and Brightman quickly left after the photo ops, but Sir Cameron stayed to talk to the press that remained, of course theatergoers hung out in the lobby to take photos (myself included) before heading to our respective seats.
Unlike the Gala Night, my seat was much father back in the mezzanine, so there was little time to search the orchestra section for former cast members or other notable people. At the outset, a short video was shown, detailing the history of the Broadway production, with entertainment news clips from 25 years ago, interwoven with short interview clips from the cast and creative team reflecting on the show’s longevity, all of which was greeted by waves of applause and ovation. Afterwards there was about ten minutes or so of inactivity as the video screen was removed, the stage needed to be set for the start of the show and the orchestra tuned up. Once the show began, the applause began anew, with cheers at the overture and the initial raising of the chandelier, as well as stage entrances for all the principals. As the titular character, Hugh Panaro gave one of the best performances I had ever seen him give; his “Music of the Night” was truly sublime. Sierra Boggess (who was also the Christine at London’s 25th Anniversary performance) was just as astounding, and there is richness in the quality of her voice I had not really heard in previous actress who have played Christine. The rest of the cast were equally amazing, as they are every night.
Intermission comes along, and as like it was for the Gala, there was free champagne to be had, but Kay and I decide to head down to the orchestra section to attempt to spot any actors or notable faces, though we were hoping to see if we can meet Sarah Brightman. While we were not able to find Sarah Brightman, we managed to find our way to the front orchestra, where Sandra Joseph and Ron Bohmer were chatting with those around them; we able to get a quick photo with them, taken by Genevieve, who often takes photos for Broadwayworld.com (and is a member of the MCIFA). Afterwards, Kay and I made our way back up to the rear mezzanine, picking up a (plastic) glass of free champagne (which was pretty good) before the end of intermission. The photo below (or rather one very similar to it) has been included among the after-party photo spread on Broadwayworld.com
The second act was greeted with great ovation, with the reveal of the Masquerade set, as well as after Sierra Boggess’ flawless rendition of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”. One interesting lyric change I noticed was the Phantom’s line during “Wandering Child” section where the line has been changed from “far from my far-reaching gaze” to “far from my fathering gaze”, which took me by surprise – my gut reaction was literally “wait, what?”, which I uttered out loud (quietly, of course). While I understand the reasoning behind the lyric change (or rather the word change, as the rest of the lyric remains the same), it seems an odd one (and one that was done at the London 25th Anniversary performance, and I believe is used in the UK tour production). The lyric has been fine as it was for the past 25 years, why change it now? Anyway, it’s fine either way, really, but I suppose I’m more accustomed to the original lyric. Another thing I find truly interesting is that regardless of wherever you are seated in the Majestic Theater (and I’ve pretty much sat in just about every section in the theater) when the flames ignite for those brief moments after the “Wandering Child” section, you can always feel the heat from those flames. There was much sniffling around me as the finale unfolded; standing ovation cheers greeted the cast during the curtain call.
The post-show festivities began with the cast parting to welcome Hal Prince and Sir Cameron Mackintosh to the stage, both of whom spoke eloquently about the show’s longevity and thanked all the various people both who were at the theater and those who could not be there, most notably Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was not in attendance due to medical reasons, and the late Maria Björnson, costume designer, all the while sharing wonderful anecdotes. Hal Prince then conveyed a written message from Michael Crawford, who was unable to attend for reasons unspecified. Afterwards, a short (humorous) video with Sarah Brightman and Andrew Lloyd Webber was shown, which was followed by Sir Cameron Mackintosh introducing Sarah Brightman, who was greeted by a thunderous ovation, and who have a short speech. This was followed by Hal Prince relating the astounding facts and figures associated with the Broadway production, but not before calling out the backstage crew to come onstage to receive the acclamation they richly earned and deserve, as well as praising the orchestra and front of house staff.
After all the speeches and such, then came the musical encore, which interestingly enough almost mirrored the one done for the London 25th Anniversary performance, though this time it was Sierra Boggess singing “Phantom of the Opera” with John Owen Jones, Hugh Panaro, Ramin Karimloo and Peter Jöback as the quartet of Phantoms, all of whom were greeted with thunderous cheers, followed by the quartet singing “Music of the Night”. There has been much puzzlement on why the three other Phantoms that were chosen were not ones who had performed the role on Broadway, and who were, in fact the same three who sang at the London 25th Anniversary performance, though it was announced (just like in London) Peter Jöback would be playing the titular role on Broadway for a limited time in the spring. I’m not sure why none of the former Broadway Phantoms were asked to participate or whether they had been asked and had declined for whatever reason; it’s not my place to speculate the why and wherefores, but it would have been a bit more appropriate had the other three been ones who had played the role on Broadway [though it was a pleasure to hear John Owen Jones sing on a Broadway stage again – I’d love to see him a Broadway Phantom, having seen him over a decade ago in London]. Another lovely highlight during the musical encore was the entire cast (and the audience around me) sing a verse of “Music of the Night”, and Hugh Panaro singing the line “You alone have made our song take flight” directly to Hal Prince, which was a fitting and touching tribute. More cheering ensures, as the music swells, the chandelier starts to descend but stops after a few feet and gold and silver streamers explode around the chandelier.
Again, having not secure any invitations to the after party, which was at the New York City Public Library at Bryant Park, we stuck around the theater, as the people who ran the Facebook fan page wanted all the sweepstakes winners to assemble in the center rear mezzanine section for a group photo, which was posted on the Facebook fan page. After which, Kay and I wandered around the theater looking for spare playbills (there were none to be found) and also to pull off some of the streamers from the chandelier (which by then made its descent towards the stage). By this time, we’re (politely) asked to leave the theater, as it’s already past 11 PM [I managed to grab two glasses of champagne on the way out], and Kay and I drank another toast to an amazing evening. Second glass of champagne consumed, we’re heading away from the theater, when I spot Davis Gaines, leaving in the opposite direction with a friend.
[Minor disclaimer: Davis Gaines was the first actor I saw play the Phantom live on stage, and he was absolutely astounding; he is quite possibly my all time favorite Phantom whose name is not Michael Crawford, because no one is like Michael Crawford in my book (and probably most everyone’s book), and he’s such an all around nice guy off stage as well. After all, you never forget your first Phantom].
So my truly fan-girly moment of the entire evening was quite shamelessly following behind (oh all right, chasing after) Davis Gaines to say hi and to ask for a photo (and a hug); his friend took the photo of us with the Majestic marquee in the background. I then wished him a happy belated birthday (circling back to my aforementioned love for the month of January, Davis Gaines’ birthday is January 21st), to which he was pleasantly surprised (and earned me another hug). We bade him good night, and headed the way were going beforehand [Kay to the hotel at which she was staying, me back home via the subway].
It truly goes without say that January 26, 2013 will go down as one of the most memorable, spectacular and magical evenings I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in a Broadway theater. There is no doubt in my mind why Phantom has run for so long, and continuously will so for years to come – the score is magnificent, the story is timeless, and the memory of experiencing such an amazing production is one that will live on (and to use a phrase associated with another long running Lloyd Webber musical) Now and Forever.