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Fairwell Phantom

The date: October 31, 2010

The place: Los Angeles, CA USA

The time: 5:45 pm

The weather: near perfect

   As Kelli and I ate the soupe du jour on the quaint café’s patio, we shared smiles and our varied memories of the many times we’d attended that production before. We gazed across the street at the Pantages theatre’s marquee, boldly declaring: FAREWELL PHANTOM. We checked our watches frequently, not wanting to be late for this long-awaited event—“The Phantom of the Opera” US tour’s final performance.  

   When the hour struck 6 pm, we hurried our waiter for the check, paid for our meal, and walked through the iron lattice gate leading to the sidewalk. Once on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, we waited impatiently for the light to turn green. While waiting, we watched the colorful costumes and painted faces of those going by. You see, it was Halloween night, and, with Los Angeles being such a theatrical city, its people held nothing back in trying to dress more extravagantly than others.

   One costume in particular drew our eye. The chap wore a black cape and the world-famous white half-mask of the Phantom. The lady by his side did a rather good job of portraying Christine, much better than her counterpart did of portraying the Phantom, I must say. However, in all fairness, to try to mimic the legendary Phantom is a nearly impossible task to pull off for anyone not trained on the stage.  

   Before long, we were ushered into the theatre and helped to find our seats. Our excitement grew while we absorbed, once more, the ambiance. Shiny gold, half-clad women being pursued by larger-than-life humanized gods surrounded the dark red stage curtains. Above center stage was a gold likeness of Apollo and his lyre where the Phantom would soon appear—first in heartbreaking sobs and then in cries of demented rage.

   The lights flickered, announcing to all that the performance we awaited was soon to begin. But, unlike other times, it took awhile for the excited attendees to be quiet and sit down. In fact, for the first time that I could remember, they were late in turning the lights off completely and allowing the conductor to begin the breathtaking overture to “The Phantom of the Opera.” Even then, the normal hush didn’t come. Instead, a thunder of applause and many screams of excitement filled the theatre—including some from yours truly and my daughter Kelli.

   It soon became evident that the minds and hearts of those around us were not going to change just because it was the performers’ turn to fill the air with music. Under any other circumstances, I could have become quite annoyed with their boisterous outcries, but not that night. We were all true Phantom “phans” and that night was its farewell performance—how else could we show those performing for us how thankful we were for their talent?

   One section of the theatre was especially noisy. Later, we understood why. That area was filled with “The Phantom of the Opera” alumni, such as Lisa Vroman, one on my favorite Christines, and Brad Little, my all-time favorite Phantom. It appeared they must have had some trade secrets. Perhaps they were thinking of the crazy things that went on back stage (or perhaps even on stage) during certain scenes, because their laughter came at some inappropriate times. But, again, we didn’t mind. After all, it was closing night.

   However, there were times when all in the audience gave the respect the performers deserved and remained quiet. Especially was that true during the mirror scene, the singing of the Phantom theme, and the singing of “The Music of the Night.” Then, during the closing scene in the Phantom’s lair, it was so quiet that I believe everyone must have been holding their breath. I know I was. That was the 28th time I’d watched that scene on the stage, but it was so powerful that I still held my breath out of excited anticipation.

   During the reception line after the performance, one of the performers said that, while they waited backstage for their cue, or even when on stage, the almost relentless applause made them feel as if they were Elvis. I thought that was a nice comparison, considering how Elvis was adored by multitudes.    

   The music was the same, the costumes were the same, and, for the most part, the performance was the same. But there was something different about it—something special. I believe that the performers where really giving us their all, as if they had called down really deep within themselves and pulled up more than they ever had before. This thankful phan counts it a privilege to have been there to witness that final performance.

   When the last note faded and the spotlight focused on the white mask in Meg’s hands and then went to black, the audience was on their feet in a thunder of applause, with screams and whistles added. It continued while the curtain closed and then opened again for the bows. It never let up and only increased by the time Tim Martin Gleason (Phantom) appeared. Time passed and it remained consistent, even when Mr. Gleason took the microphone and tried to talk. It took awhile for the audience to calm down and give him a chance to speak. When he could, he gave us some interesting statistics.

   “The Phantom of the Opera” tour opened at the Pantages theatre in Los Angeles in 1992 and also closed at that same theatre on October 31, 2010. The trucks carrying the Phantom sets, costumes, and paraphernalia  had been on the road for 18 years, had stopped at 76 different cities, and had unloaded a total of 176 times. Altogether, there were 7,284 performances of this longest-running Broadway production, and Brad Little (my personal favorite) performed the role of the Phantom over 2,000 of those times.   

   I also found certain facts very interesting and ones I’d never considered each time I purchased my tickets. Altogether, the tour had paid out over 110,000 work weeks, which had benefited thousands. One of those who benefited by working with the tour was David Cryer, who’d been with the tour for 15 years. During that time, he was able to put five of his children through college—all with the aid of our purchased tickets. 

   With the number of times I pulled out my credit care for those tickets, I believe I was responsible for at least one year's tuition for one of his children. Well, perhaps that's a slight exaggeration, but each charge to my card was money well spent.

   Paloma Garcia Lee (Meg) had been with the company for only two years, but she held a rather distinctive title. She was the youngest person ever to be hired for the production. It seems she was only one and a half years old when the tour started. Kind of puts things in perspective.

   Mr. Gleason’s closing remarks were about the important people who couldn’t be there that evening so they’d done the next best thing—they sent their congratulations and thanks by way of notes. Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the producer, had his read to the performers back stage. He also put on a party for them after the performance. Hal Prince, the director, had his read to the audience.

   Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber didn’t send a congratulatory note because he was there in person that evening. I have expressed in different ways how crazy the audience was that night, so I can’t find any more adverbs to describe what happened next. I believe they quieted down only out of respect for the creator of such beloved music.

   Sir Webber didn’t say much, but what he did say was important. After expressing his appreciation to all involved with the production and to the phans, he announced that they are anticipating a revival of “The Phantom of the Opera” tour sometime in the future. That information brought about such a roar that it nearly raised the roof off the theatre. His final words introduced the woman he wrote the role of Christine for, Sarah Brightman. Another round of applause and screams followed. We might have been a rather noisy audience, but how else could we express our appreciation and say thank you for the breathtaking music of “The Phantom of the Opera”?

   As we walked away from that unique evening, the Phantom’s final refrain floated through my mind and heart: “It’s over now, the music of the night.” Those lyrics had special meaning that night of the Farewell Phantom performance. The music was over for those in the U.S., unless they can travel to New York to see it on Broadway or to Las Vegas to see a 90 minute version of it—that I understand is phenomenal and I plan to see soon. Also, there is the hope that they will revive the tour in the years ahead. But until then, the spectacular vision of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” will have to remain in the minds and hearts of Phantom phans everywhere.  

By Theodora Bruns