Friday, April 14, 2023

A "Pharewell" to Phantom

A "Pharewell" to Phantom

Many of you were probably not even alive when the Majestic Theatre had a tenant other than The Phantom of the Opera. Still more of you probably haven't seen any other show at that theater. Had my Broadway-going ways not started five years earlier than its opening, I would be the same, but back in the mid-80s, the second Broadway show I ever saw, 42nd Street, played there. Fast forward some five years later, and the "new" mega-musical took the theater world by storm. It was everywhere: on the news, on TV. It instantly became a part of pop culture. No one doubted that it would be a hit. But no one thought that it wouldn't budge from 44th Street for more than 35 years!

My first Phantom memory is kinda funny. About a week after it opened, my mother and I found ourselves in the city, and got in the line to buy tickets, which stretched down past the Broadhurst. We didn't want to leave it to someone on the phone or through mail order to pick our seats. It was a different world then... Anyway, we got inside the box office lobby and had to stifle a laugh. An older woman said, "I'll take two tickets in the first few rows, center. It doesn't have to be today. Any time this week will be fine." Boy, was she upset by the answer she got. She left, muttering to herself, no tickets in hand. We got orchestra seats for a performance roughly a year later...

Over the years, I saw the show several times, four on Broadway and once during the first national tour. I also saw bits and pieces of another national tour when I worked merch during an East Coast stop. The less I say about that, the better. Hint: The "Phans" were a tad crazy.

Left: Mark Jacoby, Karen Culliver, Hugh Panaro     Right: Jeff Keller

Left: Kevin Gray & Teri Bibb  Right: Gary Mauer & Rebecca Pitcher

My first Broadway Phantom was Mark Jacoby, with Karen Culliver as Christine, and Hugh Panaro as Raoul. I've been a Panaro fan ever since! The national tour Phantom was the late, great Kevin Gray. A real privilege, to say the least! Later, on Broadway, I saw Jeff Keller, with Tracy Shayne and Ciaran Sheehan. Miss Shayne was lovely. I don't even remember the other two. The touring Phantom when I worked merch was Gary Mauer, who later went to Broadway. He was a really nice guy, and had a group of ladies who traveled to see him all over the country.

But I have two Phantoms who stand out in my memories, and both made me really appreciate the show. Howard McGillin (left) was sublime. His voice is so effortless and haunting, and his Phantom was so sexy! No wonder he's played the role more than anyone. It is the current and final Phantom that impressed me the most. Ben Crawford sings great, but they all do. What made him really stand out to me is that he was actually scary and menacing - earning the screams of the company as he terrorized the Paris Opera House. He was a broken, enraged man whose brief moments of vulnerability were endearing.

Seeing him, along with the equally wonderful Kaley Ann Voorhees, turned out to be my final visit to the show. It was thrilling, and I'm so glad to have ended my Phantom experience with that company. What was as remarkable as the performance, though, was how pristine it looked, and how the energy was as if it had just opened, not that it was into its fourth decade. 

Ben Crawford & Kaley Ann Voorhees

For Mike and I, though, the biggest thrill was the conductor at that performance. When the announcement came on, "This performance will be conducted by David Caddick," we looked at each other and exclaimed, "David Caddick!!!???" I wondered at the time how many people around us thought we were nuts, or making fun of it. Truth is, we were genuinely excited. As Mike says, Caddick may be the only person to know the score as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber himself!

The first time I saw The Phantom of the Opera, I must admit I was disappointed. Perhaps, it was because, by the time I got to see it, the hype was bound to leave me wanting. For what it's worth, I had the same reaction to Cats, Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. Maybe it was mega-musicals altogether? Anyway, like all of those, I came to appreciate Phantom. I recognize its artistry, importance in musical theater history, and its broad appeal. It will never be a favorite, but I will miss it.

It will be very strange to walk down the block and not see the marquee and, likely, the building painted black any more, and I'm sure many of us will have a flood of memories each time we do for the near future.

Farewell, Phantom.

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