"Sing once again with me our strange duet ...In 1989 a casting call went out to singers, including classically trained opera singers particularly in Chicago. Andrew Lloyd Webber was casting for the second traveling company of The Phantom of the Opera... the show was to originate and play in Chicago for its first nine months. My brother, Stephen, was doing an apprenticeship at the Lyric Opera in Chicago after completing his Master's at New England Conservatory. He auditioned, was signed and that is how his "haunting" began.
My power over you grows stronger yet ...
And though you turn from me, to glance behind,
The Phantom of the Opera is there inside your mind ..."
~ Batt, Michael; Hart, C; Stilgoe, R; Lloyd-Webber, Andrew (lyrics)
Of course, we thought this was great and over the eight years he traveled with this company, we were able to see the production in many different venues.. The Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, The Kennedy Center in Washington DC and The Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia to name a few. Eight shows a week, 52 weeks a year, for eight years.... you do the math. What happens when you sing and act the same thing over and over and over? Stephen said that some nights he could do the entire show and not really remember the details at all.
What do they do to break up the repetitiveness? Well, for one thing, birthdays. When Stephen turned 30... I planned a surprise. I can't remember if they were in Denver or Chicago, but I got in touch with another cast member and sent a box to them. Inside was a small black coffin shaped box filled with black and white shredded paper and all sorts of "Over the Hill" gifts, coffee mugs and such. In addition, they delivered thirty white carnations that had been tip dyed in black with greenery in a large arrangement and a special ballon... the Grim Reaper holding a cup cake.. it read "I'm just here for the cake." Others had put together some finger foods and a cake and they set all the things up on a large table backstage. I sent a package of stickers as well, that read... "Look Who's Turning 30". The cast passed them out amongst themselves and attached them in various strategic places on their costumes.
The woman who played Carlotta was quite buxom and the neckline of the costume for the Masquerade scene was very, very low... but she had a decorative scarf of some sort as well. So, she attached the sticker, strategically .. well, on her partially exposed bosom and covered it with the scarf. Carlotta had to dance with Stephen when he played the part of Piangi and apparently he had to do so that evening. As they were in the middle of the scene and whirling round and round across stage.. Carlotta (with her back to the audience) would fling up the scarf and show Stephen the sticker.... what a way to break things up! It was a memorable birthday after all.
I was able to see the show ten times and always found it moving. Nyssa was four when it began and seven when we went to Chicago for her first viewing. She was mesmerized... and afterward, when we went backstage, all the cast stopped to talk to her and she saw all the heavy, heavy costumes and the stage props and wigs and even the Phantom's makeup. We thought it amazing and wonderful and never tired of the performances. But, after years of hearing the music night after night... Stephen DID tire of it. He was "haunted" by the Phantom of the Opera sounds wherever he went. Do you know how many fine restaurants have live background piano music playing during lunch or dinner? More than you know. The songs were in their cycles and it never failed that a strain from some part of Phantom would begin as he ate.... he has several times paid a tip to the piano player NOT to play pieces from Phantom until he left the restaurant.
The final touring companies closed last year in November 2010 in Los Angeles. In all there were three different touring companies and at closing, they had played 205 engagements in 98 cities for an unprecedented combined total of 36 years and 14,605 performances. Of those, my brother performed for eight years.
Oh, as for the picture. I was in our local Walmart parking lot and I saw this car with this bumper sticker and just could not resist. I had to use my handy dandy small point and shoot so as not to cause too big of a scene, so it isn't my best picture, a little spooky really ... but, I thought I would post it for Stephen... who will in some ways, forever be "haunted" by the Phantom of the Opera.
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