Longtime Broadway Phantom Actress Hangs Up Her Costume for Last Time Aug. 19

News   Longtime Broadway Phantom Actress Hangs Up Her Costume for Last Time Aug. 19 The Paris Opera House of Broadway's The Phantom of the Opera will lose its Wardrobe Mistress — the character, not the crew member — Aug. 19, when original cast member Mary Leigh Stahl retires.
Mary Stahl in The Phantom of the Opera.
Mary Stahl in The Phantom of the Opera.

Stahl, 60, is currently one of only two original Broadway cast members of the Harold Prince production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber smash at the Majestic Theatre. The musical opened on Broadway in 1988.

In addition to playing the Wardrobe Mistress, Stahl is also the Confidante in the Il Muto opera sequence of the spectacle. She went on as an understudy for Madame Giry during her 18-year run.

Unlike the show's other long-runners of the last few years, she was the only performer to have the same "track" the entire run.

"I'm ready," Stahl told Playbill.com. "I will miss the idea of doing it. I won't miss doing it eight times a week, I won't miss climbing up to the fifth floor dressing room. And the people — I will certainly miss my cast mates."

Stahl, who went to high school in Alabama (she was born in Wisconsin), will retire to Weaver, AL, to a house and land she bought a couple years back with earnings she had saved from her Phantom career. "I do have enough acreage that I can do some gardening if I choose to," she said. "I'm really big into trees and flowers."

Stahl's exit will leave George Lee Andrews (currently playing Andre) as the final remaining performer from the original cast, though there are still some original backstage people still with it. Bethe Ward, one of the Equity stage managers, has also been with the show since 1988.

In honor of Stahl's contribution to Phantom, a private party for the cast and crew will take place Aug. 19 at the Majestic. Tregoney Shepherd — from the Phantom tour, who made her Broadway debut 10 years ago in Les Misérables as Madame Thenardier — will take over Stahl's track.

Stahl made her Broadway debut with Phantom. Prior to being an actress, she was a schoolteacher in the South. Her passion for theatre began at a Georgia community theatre, Springer Theatre Company, where colleagues associated with a summer theatre in Pennsylvania encouraged her to audition up north. She landed a job Lakewood Musical Playhouse, in the Poconos, and never looked back.

How did her family respond when she told them she was off to join show folk?

"They had wrinkled foreheads and were a bit concerned," she said. "But they've always been very proud of what I do."

Stahl moved to New York City in 1973, and earned her Equity card in 1977 at Coachlight Dinner Theatre in Warehouse Point, CT. She moved into rent-controlled actor housing in Manhattan Plaza that same year.

Stahl said she has "always been a musical comedy girl." At Coachlight, she was Miss Jones in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

In addition to stock and regional roles, she had parts in two Broadway-aimed musicals that never came in: Say Hello to Harvey, in 1981 in Toronto, was a musical version of Harvey, with Donald O'Connor; Chaplin starred Anthony Newley as the film legend, in Los Angeles in 1983.

"Say Hello to Harvey never got across the border to the United States," she said. "Chaplin played the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion…it was supposed to come in and give La Cage aux Folles a run for its money."

Other than vacations, Stahl's major leave of absence in 18 years was a three-month medical break in 1997, when she suffered a heart attack. She is fully recovered.

But the five flights of backstage steps represented good cardio exercise, didn't they?

"Yeah," she deadpanned, "that's what they say."

Stahl will move to Alabama Aug. 24, five days after her final Broadway performance.

For more information, visit www.thephantomoftheopera.com.