A Day in the Life . . . with Howard McGillin

By Blake Ross
27 Jul 2009

Howard McGillin, who ended his Broadway stint as the world's longest-running Phantom of the Opera on July 25, gave Playbill.com an exclusive look at what a day behind the mask was like.



8 AM: Waking up earlier these days. Is it a sign of age? What did Kitty Carlisle say about getting older, "Every 15 minutes they're serving you breakfast?" Only I'll be doing the serving, but that's ok, I'm Irish. It's in my blood. Must have coffee!

9:30 AM: Ok, I've got to leave for the gym or I'll never go. No matter how much running around backstage, climbing ladders, etc. it ain't the work, it's the stairs I really need to make some attempt to work out. Talk about defying gravity. And it's not really a complaint to say that having spent the past decade or so of my life in a continuous eight-show-a-week loop, I'm pretty much always tired. It's just a fact about the Broadway grind. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, but what's it going to be like not to be constantly exhausted? Guess I'll be finding out soon enough!

11 AM: Not a bad work out and a short swim. I've spent a lot of hours in my life in swimming pools, having been a competitive swimmer for many years. I used to hate the drudgery of workouts, but now I actually look forward to time in a lane. Major stress-relief. And maybe it was good preparation for long Broadway runs, one lap after another.

12:15 PM: Matinee day. Packing up for the long day! Teddy (my most excellent PBGV hound dog) is watching me very intently as I put his food, treats and toys in the bag. He definitely knows he's coming to work with me. Having him there on matinee days helps keep me sane and certainly amused. And he's very popular around The Majestic!

1 PM: Quick lunch in the dressing room followed by general stalling delaying the inevitable before starting a vocal warm-up. I tend to put it off until the last minute, but I gotta holler a bit or it won't be pretty out there on stage. Sometimes Teddy joins in I think he's a baritone (counter-tenor?). There's an unusual amount of screaming and shouting involved in this role, and it really takes its toll on the voice. You have to be so careful not to push. I guess I'm blessed with pretty tough pipes, though.

1:15 PM: Into the make-up chair with Pearleta Price, who does my matinee make-up, and a visit from her daughter, Grace, who works front-of-house. My time to catch up on The Times, the crossword. Both help make the hour-plus in the chair go by much faster. Did mention the amount of glue used on my face in this makeup?

2 PM: Teddy waits by the dressing room door with his own name slider! for his cue (which is, basically, to wait for me to return from the stage). Is there any doubt who's the real star of the show?

2:15 PM: The show has begun. Pearleta makes finishing touches on the make-up. Ryan Silverman stops in his old man make-up on the way to his dressing room for the transformation to young and handsome Raoul, neither of which is a stretch for him. Our Christine (and new mother!), Jennifer Hope Wills, stops by on her way to places. "'Kay, Homies, let's rock it!" Somehow that doesn't sound quite right coming out of her!

2:20 PM: Andrew Nelson, my dresser, helps me into the tux. Mask on, ready to go. Seven-letter word for lunatic musical genius about to terrorize a Paris opera house, not to mention small children in audience. Put down the crossword, Howard!

3 PM: "The Music of the Night" is finished. Always feel a bit relieved when it's done. It's a great song, but probably the hardest thing in the show for me to sing. Looooooong phrases and very rangy. Now the show is officially under way for me. It's somebody's birthday in the audience, and Pearleta has been asked for a signed photo of you-know-who. Fan mail from someone who says I've changed her life. Really? I don't know how to respond to that. I mean, it's a show! But it's sweet nonetheless.

3:10 PM: Places for the rooftop scene. Now, if only I could figure out a way to do the crossword in the dark while I'm crouching in "the angel" high above the stage for the next 10 minutes!

3:30 PM: Intermission's over. Time to put on the scary "Red Death" costume. The crew actually uses a fork-lift to hoist me up behind the Masquerade staircase for my surprise entrance. Ah, the indignity!

4:40 PM: Curtain comes down on the matinee. I'm always amazed at the emotional reaction of the audience. They are always so moved and usually on their feet. Little boy in the front row waving at me. Guess I didn't scare him too much! Back to the make-up chair. Whoo hoo! Who needs exfoliants?! It's such a relief to get that make-up off. It gets unbelievably hot under it all. And sweaty, too! So attractive.

5 PM: Teddy needs a walk and I'll get a little take-out for the dressing room. But first a stop off in the stage manager's office to say hello to the lovely Miriam Tiller who just celebrated her 100th birthday and was in the audience today! Wow. Amazing, and very sweet.

5:30 PM: Food! Starving after a show. You really work up an appetite out there on stage. Teddy watches me eat with his cutest, saddest eyes, hoping I'll break down and give him a piece of chicken (I won't say!). Quick lie-down to re-charge for the next show. Teddy's always ready for a nap!

6:45 PM: Coming around from our naps. Somehow or other, we will do this all over again. Teddy's exhausted from it all. He works very hard on matinee days so many fans to meet and greet!

7:15 PM: The whole crazy thing starts over again. The next hour or so in the make-up chair, this time with Thelma Pollard, my main make-up artist (and Pearleta's sister). We finish just in time to get into costume and make my first entrance. Like clockwork.

10:40 PM: Curtain finally comes down on the second show. I greet some guests in the dressing room. One guy says, "I've seen your movie about 10 times!" I don't have the heart to tell him I didn't have anything to do with the Phantom movie.

Exhausting day. But always a good feeling knowing that you made it through. It is still hugely satisfying performing this role, even after having passed my 2500th performance back in June - a staggering number of times doing anything. I'm aware that I very well may never again play a character that elicits such empathy from an audience. It's a powerful show and a wonderful feeling to know you've touched so many people's hearts. I've been very lucky. I'm ready to move on, but I know there will be aspects of this job that I will miss, aside from the many friendships made and the Phantom family I've spent so many years with. But I do look forward to not having to do it 8 times a week!

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Howard McGillin and his crossword
Photo by Howard McGillin, Andrew Nelson and Richard Samson