"History Is Made at Night," goes the old movie title, but The Phantom of the Opera managed to achieve that feat Feb. 11 at a matinee, becoming the first show ever to turn in 10,000 performances on Broadway. This happened 17 days after the show's 24th anniversary at the Majestic; brace yourself for a silver anniversary within a year — not that anyone was packing for a fast trek to Disney World to mark the fact. There was, after all, a Saturday evening performance to give their nonstop loyalists.
The show must — and did — go on, but, in that theatrical limbo between performances, on a Majestic stage still hot with freshly made history, cake and champagne were served to the eight-times-a-week rabble, their friends, fans, former co-stars and agents.
The milestone was announced in five huge hunks of cake — reading 10,000 — all painted wedding-dress white and trimmed in candied rose pedals. It proved a properly scenic backdrop for the television cameras grilling and grinding away at the cast.
The paparazzi went into a bulb-popping frenzy when the reigning Phantom (a former Raoul), Hugh Panaro, saturated himself on all sides with Christines — at least seven of them from the past as well as the current, Trista Moldovan. Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, Chairman of the Board of The Actors Fund which benefited mightily from this historic performance, hoisted a plastic cup of champagne high in the air and cheered, "May we all say, 'To 10,000 more!'"
The Actors Fund's president and CEO, Joe Benincasa, seconded that by citing his organization's past debts to the show: "Phantom of the Opera has done 23 benefit performances for The Actors Fund since 1988, raising two million dollars."
Plus, he said, Actors Fund galas for its composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and its producer,Cameron Mackintosh, earned another two million, and that its director, Actors Fund trustee Harold Prince, had at the start of the run donated four of his house seats every night to The Actors Fund to sell. "We're about up to five million dollars, guys," he concluded, "and I want to thank you very much."
Benincasa said that the 84-year-old Prince was in Miami, working on his new show — The Prince of Broadway, a look back at the Broadway wares which have won him an unprecedented total of 21 Tony Awards — and believed that the director would have been blissed out about the day's work by the Phantom folk: "Hal Prince would have one word for today's performance, and that would be 'perfect.'"
During the curtain call, before the matinee crowd was released into mid-afternoon reality, Panaro read a note from Prince, extending his special thanks to "Peter von Mayrhauser, our production supervisor; Craig Jacobs, our longtime stage manager; the music department, the crew, the producers and every one on this stage for keeping the show in mint condition. It takes a lot of love and housekeeping. Tonight's performance marks our 10,001st performance. Love, Hal."
The Lord Lloyd Webber extended "lots and lots of love," too, via a video: "Hi, guys. I'm really sorry I can't be with you for your 10,000th performance," he said, vowing to be "back in New York soon to see your 10,014th." Translation: He'll be tinkering his Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar back into Broadway life as well.
Lastly was some cake-across-the-ocean footage from London, in which Sir Cameron and the London Phantom, wielded a knife over the 10,000-in-cake and wished the Broadway company a happy anniversary.
Then, on film and at the Majestic, canisters of confetti exploded, showering the crowd in colored steamers. They were sent to the sidewalks in soaring exit music.
In the first order of business, once the curtain fell on No. 10,000, Panaro did a bow in the direction of the late Maria Bjornson, whose sets and costumes spell spectacle in spades — an obvious source of inspiration for all hands and all departments.
Also remembered was the first Raoul (and later Phantom), the late Steve Barton, who formed the original triangle in England and on Broadway with Michael Crawford andSarah Brightman. The two have, said choreographer Gillian Lynne, "gone to That Great Rehearsal Room in the Sky."
Lynne, the show's only major creative in attendance for the afternoon's record-setting performance, put a mostly happy face on the show's startlingly easy evolution. Of course, there were times like when she had to start choreographing "Masquerade" before Lloyd Webber had completed composing it, and went to him with: "I'm so sorry, darling. You'll have to make something to fit that." He did, too.
Or the time she got so overexcited rehearsing Sarah Brightman that she fell backwards into the orchestra pit. "I was mad before, but it was worse after that," she cracked. "It was ten feet onto concrete. I didn't break a thing, and a darling stagehand did the same thing about three months later and broke three vertebrate and one rib. And the "physio" chap [physical therapist] I was sent to see said, 'The trouble with you is you got nine lives for putting that damn show Cats on."
Otherwise, she accentuated the positive: "It was glorious from Day One. Nothing gave us trouble. All the technical stuff worked, if you can believe it, and I was thinking, 'Why is this such a piece of cake?' It sorta wasn't a piece of cake, and then I thought that Andrew had actually written this story so much from his heart, which was full of love for Christine — Sarah, who was his then-wife — that he was suffused with his own pulse and strength right from the beginning. Sometimes, in interviews and things, people say, 'Why do you think the show is such a success?' Well, I always say, 'Andrew wrote the most glorious score.' It was such a strong story, [but] the most important thing of the lot . . . is romance. It's a romantic story and a romantic show that looks romantic. It's been staged romantically.
"Everybody needs romance, especially now with the world as hard as it is and as violent as it is, so our show keeps the flag flying for what we all need. I think it's the most powerful thing that we have to get through life with and make it wonderful. So, if anyone asks you, say 'romance,' because I think we could have all done our jobs as well as we did and all that, but, if it was not for this built-in strong sense of romance, it wouldn't have been such a hit, and it's there, and let's celebrate it for another — dare we say? — 10,000."
Creative names that somehow didn't come up during the festivities included Richard Stilgoe, who wrote the lyrics with Charles Hart and the book with Lloyd Webber from Gaston Leroux's original "Le Fantome de L'Opera."
Arguably the most emotionally soaring song in this solid and varied score is the young lovers' duet for Christine and Raoul, "All I Ask of You." Grown audience members have been known to weep at its beauty, and it happens quite a bit.
This does not especially surprise the show's current Raoul, Kyle Barisich: "The other night, in the middle of the song, we're singing the high note and we hear a burst of applause from the audience. It was an odd place to applaud, in the middle of a high note. What we found out is a man was proposing to his fiancee during the song in the show. So, yes, evidently, it is somewhat romantic, and it inspires people."
Michele McConnell, in Judy Kaye's Tony-winning role of difficult diva Carlotta Giudicelli, was the first to feel how super-charged the audience was.
"When the audience started cheering and knowing that, as Carlotta, I'm the first big thing that comes out and sings, that was a thrill," she relayed. "It was heightened all around, even backstage. There was a lot more electricity — understandably. Saturday matinees are Show No. 7 of the week. By that point, we're all really just working hard to keep it up to the level even though we're getting to the end of the week and a little tired, so today was really exciting because everyone was just heightened."
Cristin J. Hubbard, the show's formidable Madame Giry, who maintains a mysterious connection with the rafter-roaming phantom, also noticed the change in atmosphere: "It was a fantastic audience because we have so many alums in the audience and various savvy theatregoers and huge Phantom fans. They get the jokes, appreciate the high notes and are really into the story, so it's fun for us." Comically cast as Carlotta's sawed-off singing partner, Ubaldo Piangi, Christian Sebek got his laughs. "I'm an old-style tenor — short, stocky and broad-chested."
Thirtysomething Aaron Galligan-Stierle has an awesome act to follow as producer Monsieur Andre — his father-in-law, George Lee Andrews, who surrendered the role last Sept. 3 while still holding the Guinness World Record of the most performances in the same show (9,382 during the past 23 years).
And, no, he hasn't gotten notes from Andrews — "but he gave me lots of wonderful advice. Most of the time when we chat about this experience it's about the joy and challenges of being in a long-running show. 'How did you manage to find something new every night?' or, 'How did you manage to find the excitement every night?'"
His father-in-law, he was happy to report, is gainfully employed in the upcoming Evita and, indeed, dropped by after rehearsal to congratulate his old castmates on their 10,000th. Ironically, David Cryer, who was the long-playing Monsieur Firmin to Andrews' long-playing Monsieur Andre (their partnership lasted for 2,144 Broadway performances), was the original Evita's longest-running Juan Peron. Since leaving Phantom the same day as Andrews, Cryer has been doing film work almost consistently. Now, Monsieur Firmin is played by Broadway vet Kevin Ligon, late of Sister Act.
"We have people who have been here since the beginning," say Galligan-Stierle. "I still feel like a newbie, and I feel lucky to have been here at the point when we do this. I'm working with people back there who are extraordinary professionals who've been here for a majority of those performances, and it's so great to be around that."
Case-in-point: James Romick, an understudy for the phantom and all of the male roles except for Piangi. He's about a year and a half away from inheriting Andrews' title of being the longest-running actor in the same Broadway show.
Then, there is Erna Diaz, who was hired when rehearsals were beginning in New York by Sarah Brightman to be her dresser. She has been through 34 Christines to date, and not one of them has failed to meet a fast change. "Everything is quick-change," she said, "but one is 34 seconds. She comes back from the boat on stage, jumps into the wedding dress and gets back on stage. It's nerve-racking sometimes."
|photo by Monica Simoes|
After the champagne reception, most of the cast and the benefit supporters retired to the Eugenia Room on the fourth floor of Sardi's for more of the same. Panaro was too pooped when he got out of his phantom makeup to party so he rested in his dressing room before his makeup makeover for the evening performance. And choreographer Lynne sped off in a waiting limo with her husband, Peter Land for a quiet dinner. "He opens tomorrow night in a one-man show at the York Theatre," she explained. It's called Now or Never, and she is the director.
Peter Scolari, who starts rehearsing Magic/Bird next week for Broadway, had a special reason for attending: "My girlfriend, Tracy Shayne, was a long-running Christine — and Hugh is a very dear friend. He's family. Well, you know, he and Tracy were married some years back, and they were kind enough to divorce so that in years to come, I would be able to take Tracy." Contrary to the usual Raoul-to-Phantom route, Cris Groenendaal stepped from Monsieur Andre into the title role — and, in a way, he is still playing it. "I do a show called Three Phantoms in concert with two other guys who've played the role," he said. "There've been about ten of us — Craig Schulman, Mark Jacoby, Kevin Gray, Ted Keegan, Rob Bohmer. We do a big Broadway evening and play various symphonies around the country."
Mary D'Arcy and Teri Bibb do the distaff version of this, called The Phantom's Leading Ladies, with Karen Culliver, another ex-Christine.
"We sang with Cris on New Year Eve with the Naples Philharmonic in Florida — the Three Phantoms and the Three Christines," trumpeted Bibb. "It was the first time we had ever combined our shows. We'll probably be doing it again, too."
Elizabeth Loyacano, who was Christine in the Las Vegas Phantom, said her most recent musical was a local A Tree Grows in Brooklyn reprise.
Peter Lentz, a whip-cracking slave master in the mid-'90s, is now a design firm — Peter Lentz Design — and "I dance in the driveway every once in a while." His Phantom stint once got him out of a speeding ticket. "I was stopped racing to the show. I said, 'You don't understand. I'm in Phantom.' I was asked what I did in the show, and I said, 'Slave Master.' He said, 'Well, I'd better let you go then.'"
The helpful tour-guide for this article was Madame Firmin, a.k.a. Kris Koop. "I'm the show's correspondent for The Playbill Broadway Yearbook all six years it came out," she crowed. "I've been with the production a nice long time and I sorta appointed myself the company historian because I find it to be a fascinating group of people. We work very hard to keep the show in tiptop shape, and had the pleasure to work with all of the surviving original creators of the show over and over again."
Tommy Tune is not the tallest phantom of them all, but he admitted to being "the tallest and oldest fan of the show. I saw it on opening night and told Hal it won't be topped. We might as well find ourselves other professions. It's still great."
Here's the London-created video greeting shown at the 10,000th Broadway performance of Phantom: