It was Vera Charles who advised that flighty auntie, Mame Dennis, to "settle down into something steady, like acting" -- and, given the vagaries of theatrical life, the line always got laughs but it is Leila Martin who has gotten the last laugh on that line. On Jan. 26, when The Phantom of the Opera rang up its first full decade on The Great White Way, Martin marked her tenth year of steady Broadway employment -- and in March 1998 she rounds the historic corner of her 4,200th performance. There are six other original cast members with the show, but she is the last remaining principal. She plays the mysterious Madame Giry, the ballet mistress who's confidante to the title character more than that, to hear her tell it.
Their relationship hangs by a thread, literally. "We have no scenes together, but the three buttons on my costume are echoed on his. I take that to mean we have a history." (Her tone implies sexual.) Subtexts have been spun from less.
A considerable theatrical past has been shoehorned into this smallish part. Martin has starred on Broadway in The Rothschilds, as Sarah Brown in a City Center Guys and Dolls and as Maria in the first national tour of West Side Story.
"There hasn't been anything to come along to make me want to leave Phantom," admits Martin, "and management has been good about letting me off for limited projects" (i.e., her one-woman show on Gertrude Lawrence, a prize-winning stint with the Pittsburgh Public Theatre in the musical Wings).
-- By Harry Haun