French revolutionaries (Les Miserables) and Broadway gypsies (A Chorus Line) rejoiced everywhere that human beings have finally made it back to the top of the Broadway heap.
Freshly re-crowned The King of Broadway, Lord Lloyd Webber was his usual reluctantly regal self, strolling slowly to the center of the stage as if it were a hotbed of coals, all a-twitter, nervously twisting a list of People To Thank. Chief among them: Hal Prince.
The director was, comparatively or not, the model of confident showbiz concentrate, taking the stage like the 20-time Tony winner he is (you heard me: two oh). He was in a wryly reflective mood: "I've been reading the last week, as I suppose most of you have, statistics in the newspapers about Phantom. Most of them don't interest me a helluvah lot—like, for example, the weight of the chandelier." He shrugged a nonplus "Go figure" that landed with a big laugh. "But I'll tell you what I do care about. It's a statistic that hasn't shown up in any of the newspaper, so I called Cameron Mackintosh's office, and I asked them please to research it, and they sent me the figure. Since Phantom of the Opera opened, it has been responsible for the employment in the United States of 6,850 people."
The most lustily applauded curtain-caller was the original, Tony-winning Phantom, Michael Crawford. "They say you never forget the first time," he remarked with a mischievous twinkle, "and it was 18 years ago tonight that many of us on this stage first walked forward and presented our first preview of Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. And the other first time is tonight: I actually saw the show for the very first time." Then, he lapsed back into his iconic character and shouted, "I command my opera managers to let the celebration begin. Are you ready?" The audience roared it was ready, and, with that, the Majestic exploded in black and white balloons, streamers and confetti.
The black-tie and gorgeously gowned crowd, freshly showered with glitter, grabbed the colorful masks that had been attached to every seat and hopped taxis to the Waldorf=Astoria where, as per Phantom decree, the merriment began in earnest. The third-floor grand ballroom, still haunted by old Milliken shows, had the fog machines going—cough, cough—full blast, and a live dance band was holding forth with vintage American ditties.
The press area for the TV and print interviews was held into an anteroom at the end of the main hallway, relatively unafflected by the billowing man-made fog at the entranceway.
Howard McGillin, who has played the title role almost 1,400 times, more than anyone else born of woman, looked vaguely like a man who had just finished a relay race, which indeed he had in a manner of speaking. "The pressure!" he exclaimed. "All those Phantoms sitting out there, looking over my shoulder—you have to be pretty good. It was great thrill, of course, to be a part of history, but I'm relieved it's over. The whole week we've been rehearsing and doing all this extra stuff, which is great—we love it—but it's exhausting."
Sandra Joseph—at more than 1,200 times, the all-time Christine record-holder—thought the anniversary performance was on par with what is done eight times a week at the Majestic. "We certainly had a wonderfully supportive audience—we felt that energy—but, once the show starts, we really do our best to do the work and stay in the moment and truly play the story so, in that sense, it was the same."
She is one of the people who believe in the show's matchmaking capabilities, having met her husband on stage at the Kennedy Center half-masked eight years ago. Currently, Ron Bohmer is the dastardly Sir Percival Glide in Lloyd Webber's latest Broadway entry, The Woman in White, which, dark on Mondays, allowed him to see her historic performance.
Kathy Voytko is a Christine who married her Raoul, John Cudia, touring the show. "You'd think it could be wearying, living with somebody and working with somebody," she said, "but we actually really loved it." He is still on tour with the Music Box company which is parked in Pittsburgh at present. ("I think it's the first time Phantom has been in Pittsburgh in five or six years," he said. "It sold out like crazy.") With the night off, he and a fair share of the company flew up and made it on stage for the Broadway finale.
Looking gorgeous in a creamy Oleg Cassini gown—360 degrees removed from the severe ballet mistress, Madame Giry, she presents on stage—Marilyn Caskey has logged up nearly a decade in Phantom—and tonight, in her book, was special ("The audience was wild!"). She never played Christine, but she is the only actress to play both of the other two major female roles—the difficult-to-the-point-of-comic-relief diva, Carlotta Giudicelli (currently essayed by the gifted Anne Runolfsson) and the sinister Madame Giry. "I replaced Judy Kaye as the original Carlotta for four years and Leila Martin as the original Madame Giry for almost five years." Both originals were in attendance. (Kaye, who won a Tony for her Carlotta, will likely find herself up for a new Tony this spring for the more modern and quite, er, unique diva she presented in the just-shuttered Souvenir.)
The only cast memberto receive applause on his entrance at the anniversary performance was George Lee Andrews, one of three who've been with the Broadway production for the whole 18-year ride. He played both opera managers to do it—Monsieur Firmin and, now, Monsieur Andre. The rotund Richard Warren Pugh has also been with the show from the beginning, and he too has moved around a bit in the cast of characters. The third original cast member—make of it what you will—has three names, too: Mary Leigh Stahl.
Tim Jerome's association with Lloyd Webber began as one of the Tony-nominated Cats and continues in Phantom as Andrews' other-half sparring-partner, Monsieur Firmin.
A very pregnant Erin Dilly, late of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ("I did the show's last performance. They let the pleats out and everything. It really was `Baby on Board.'") arrived at the party with her husband, Stephen R. Buntrock, McGillin's understudy.
He did several roles for the anniversary show and got a kick out of it. "Back in '89," he said, "this was the first Broadway show I saw, so being a part of tonight is kind of a dream come true. And it was a thrill to see Mary, George and Dick participate in this tonight because they've been a part of it for 18 years. I was trying to watch it through their eyes."
The movie Raoul, Patrick Wilson, who Buntrock replaced in Oklahoma!, tuxed up for the show right after rehearsals for Barefoot in the Park. The Full Monty star removes only his socks in his next Broadway venture (Feb. 16 at the Cort), but he has a film coming out called Hard Candy in which he is seriously faced with castration by a vengeful conquest.
Renee Fleming was, as well she should be, the glamorous headliner at this night at the Opera, along with Lauren Bacall, that improbable "party girl" Maria Fridman (a staunch supporter of Lloyd Webber and the star of his Woman in White), Jim Dale, Michael Eisner, Dirty Rotten Scoundrel John Lithgow, Peter Scolari with his fiancee Tracy Shayne (a former Christine), Davis Gaines (a former Raoul and Phantom, accompanied by Dorothy Hamill—they're touring in a skate-and-sing called Broadway on Ice), Phyllis Newman, Michael Shawn Lewis, composer Andrew Lippa, David Zippel and Alfred Uhry.
The capper line of the night came from The Shubert's Gerald Schoenfeld, who, smiling from ear to ear, opted for irony as he entered the theatre. "I think we'll get a run out of it, despite the reviews," he grinned. "The power of the people!"