When: September 16th, 2004
My whole family came—because as tired of my obsession as they
get, they simply cannot pass up Phantom again. The night before, I had done a little painting on an 8x10 canvas of the lake scene, so that hopefully I could
stand at the stage door and get Hugh and Sandra (who was scheduled to perform) to sign it. But of course, I had only ever
been to one stage door before, and my family wanted to know “How long after the show will they be out” and blah
blah blah. So, while the line was forming (actually, it was already around the block), we were going to ask a woman standing
at the door about when the house manager would be out, and the best way to get the leads to sign the painting. So she let
us in with the front of the line and told us to knock on the manager’s door. Oh my, we felt like VIPs!! So we knocked, waited, and finally spoke to the manager and showed him the painting. He was really, really nice
and said he would see what he could do, and to try and find him during intermission or after the show. Woo hoo!!
Wow, waiting for 8:00 was pretty hard…but eventually it came. The lights dimmed…
The Auction—I love during the
blackout how you hear the auction going on. It kind of sets the mood. Then the lights went up. We had Madame Giry (Marilyn
Caskey) sitting right in front of us. Then the monkey was shown…he’s so cute. Ah, then of course the chandelier
music. That made me shiver. I kind of laughed a little when one of the porters lifted up a bit of the sheet to show us part
of the chandelier…I don’t know, it was just funny. To me. Whatever. And then the Auctioneer (Carrington Vilmont)
went crazy with those two electrical things to light the chandelier…he looked like a mad scientist or something. And then—woo hoo!! The chandelier flashed on and the overture began. Yikes, that chandelier is pretty
dang big… I love how the curtains all fly up during the overture, and then how the Hannibal set rises from the stage.
*chills* And then Carlotta (Julie Schmidt) came out from behind the big horse-dog-looking-Hannibal-column-thingy and the Hannibal
Hannibal Rehearsal—Ah, you all know what happens…dancing, feasting, song…all of
course interrupted by Piangi’s (Larry Wayne Morbitt) “Roma” Larry is really funny. Then all the hubbub, and the managers came out. George Lee Andrews was Andre, but Jeff
Keller was not Firmin—it was Kenneth Kantor—which was weird, because there was no little card in the Playbill
that announced the change. There was also no little card saying that Christine would be played by Julie Hanson, so I figured
it would be Sandra. So I was looking at all the ballet girls, trying to pick out Christine, and I thought “I don’t
see Sandra, but one of them looks an awful lot like Julie Hanson…” So I had my eye on the Julie-looking one—and
then she came forward when Giry said “Christine Daae! Concentrate, girl!” and I was like “YESSS!!! It’s
JULIE!!!”. I guess they were having a problem with announcing changes in the Playbill, because she wasn’t there either.
Anyway, the rehearsal was great—Piangi had “trouble” getting onto the elephant—and then Carlotta’s
grand exit was awesome (“You have been here five minutes…WHAT DO YOU KNOW?!?”) I loved watching Julie start ToM—she’s great when she pretends she can’t sing it, and then
Giry’s evil eye puts her in her place.
The Gala—Julie continued the song excellently, and Raoul (John Cudia)
was great as well. I love the curtain effect at the end of ToM, where it changes to backstage. Just awesome. Giry delivered
her one funny line perfectly, using the same tone for “Yes, you did well…” and “You—you were
Angel of Music/Little Lotte—Wow, the dressing room is smaller than I remember. But no matter.
The mirror was right in front of me, so I was like “Yay!” The music when Julie read Raoul’s note was creepy
*chills again* Then Raoul’s entrance. John is cool, you really feel like he cares about Christine, so the combination
of all three great performances makes the love triangle believable. I love how Julie looks when she suddenly realizes she
shouldn’t be embracing Raoul, and pulls away. The ballet rehearsal off to the left is always haunting, especially when
they dance eerily in time with “Little Lotte”.
The Mirror—Oooh, it was so great hearing that low
drum roll for the whole time leading up to Hugh’s voice; it just got me on the edge of my seat. And then—whoa,
Hugh’s voice is friggin’ amazing. And Julie’s face is awesome during this sequence, she’s just so
entranced by Hugh’s voice. Then Hugh’s face appeared in the mirror. Wow, some Phantoms look kind of awkward in
al their makeup and wearing the mask and all, but Hugh just has THE LOOK. He owns the mask. The mom in front of me was telling
the boy that this was the best part, so I just had to smile at that. Ooh, creepy fog, white light…yay!! Then all went
dark for TPOTO…
Title Song—the doubles didn’t really look anything like Hugh and Julie, but the effect
was still awesome—especially when they seem to sink into the stage off to the left. There were Oohs and Ahhs when the
many candles emerged, and finally the boat was visible. Wow, Hugh and Julie just looked great floating across the lake. The
candelabras were awesome up close—I have a thing for them. We were so close, we could see Hugh’s spit during this number, and at one point he actually kind of drooled.
Wow, such a great part of the show.
MOTN—It was just so perfect. Perfect. It was all just so amazing,
especially after the beginning when they are so close to kissing, and Hugh wants to but pulls away. Frankly, Julie looked
a little disappointed when he didn’t kiss her, which I loved. The whole “Floating, falling…” bit was really cool. Just can’t describe what it’s
like to watch both of them together. It’s just an awesome, “Wow, I’m seeing Phantom” feeling. The freaky mirror bride was, well, freaky…that doll-like mask she wears creeps me out. Hugh got a gigantic round of applause during the blackout.
I Remember/Stranger Than—Hugh looks
cool writing out his music, humming out the notes. It was eerie how Julie woke up and seemed to drift over to him. She ripped
off his mask, and there was that split second where I could kind of see his face—or rather, where his right cheek should
have been but wasn’t. Yikes. It was great how he started out just enraged, and then was practically crying. I felt humiliated for him. Then
he got all evil again during “Stranger Than…”. I loved near the end where he took his hand away from his
face, and Julie shuddered, and he sounded so hurt saying “Oh, Christine…” Then before “Come we must
return”, there was another moment where he was so close to touching her, then stopped himself.
too much to say, but I like how Chaney-esque this scene is, with all the ballet girls. This was also the first time I actually
noticed the Phantom and Christine appearing through the trap door. Giry was also creepy during this scene.
Donna—The managers were very funny as always, especially during “Far too many notes for my taste…”
And Carlotta was great, with Piangi echoing her. Also very funny was when Hugh was reading his note and said
“You will therefore cast Carlotta as…” and she went to the front, beaming and flattered, with her arms wide
open until he said “…the Pageboy…”. That was great. The sextet—or actually, septet with Piangi—during Prima Donna was excellent; “Who’d
believe a diva” very funny. Of course, they sang “Once more!!” and the curtain closed, and more than one person got up because
they thought it was intermission …Haven’t they heard of the chandelier?!? If it doesn’t fall, it’s not intermission!!
Il Muto—Hysterical as always, although Don Atilio didn’t hold the low note. It baffles me how Christine
does that shaky leg thing when she’s “kissing” Carlotta. It looks like one of those old Disney cartoons
with Minnie Mouse or something, I don’t know why. Julie Schmidt’s “Your part is silent…” line was great, kind of sing-songy but annoyed.
And her croaking was really funny too, more of a “MWAHHH” than the “RIBBIT” I hear last year from
Patricia Phillips. The ballet was also funny, with all the ballet girls screaming as Andre is in their way. Then Buquet got
hung, pandemonium…and then the rooftop.
Rooftop/AIAOY—I’ve never really noticed the details in the rooftop
set before. They were nice. Julie was great, not like a damsel in distress but more like she was arguing with John that this
whole Phantom thing really happened. A nice, strong Christine. AIAOY was a little fast, but I guess it’s a lot better
than too slow.
AIAOY Reprise—Wow, this was sad. Hugh’s facial expression was perfect—not whiny,
more in denial, which I how I always thought it should be played. It made me cry when he hears Julie and John’s voices,
and he puts his hands to his ears trying to shut them out. Also kind of freaky because he looked like he was about to fall
out. Then of course the Il Muto curtain call. And—yay!!—the chandelier. It was actually faster than I
remembered it. It was creepy how everyone was running away and Julie just stayed there, staring transfixed at the chandelier.
That thing came pretty close before John pulled her away… Ah, but what a glorious way to end Act One.
OK, so I sat planted in my seat during the intermission, just watching
the chandelier go up and talking with my dad about why I was so excited that Julie was performing. Ooh, we could hear them
setting up the staircase for Masquerade!! That was cool. My mom and sister came back from the bathroom and had both decided Number One, that it wasn’t
worth seeing a Broadway show if you weren’t close enough to see the actors’ spit, and Number Two, that AIAOY should
be my wedding song and if my fiancé doesn’t agree then I should dump her. Then the Entr’acte started…ah,
what a great piece of music!! And the lights went out once again as the curtain rose…
manager’s little bit was great. Huge laugh when Andre revealed his skeleton outfit. Then the monkey band began to play and the curtain rose. Wow, I had completely forgotten just how amazing this
number is—even having just seen it a year ago. No pictures do it justice. The curtains, the staircase, the candelabra,
and the COSTUMES!! Made me resent the movie’s B&W theme for a second…but I digress. I made eye contact with
several cast members, as I guess this is the “eye contact” number. I mean eye contact as in, “if they could
even really see me” lol… Red Death was great, the trapdoor and double bit was awesome to watch.
much to say especially about this scene, but I liked it. Very creepy, quite believable—which is hard, considering the
cheesy script (“But he didn’t die, did he?”…DUH!!)
Notes II—Good scene. You could tell in some lighting that the Wishing gown was actually turquoise,
which was cool. Great reactions from Carlotta and Piangi about the Phantom’s acting/weight comments. Wow, when Julie breaks through the whole argument she goes crazy! Go Julie!!! Once again, she really gives Christine
a mind and a personality. Carlotta’s “She’s mad!” was great. Loved Julie’s “Twisted Every
Way”; you could really feel her dilemma.
Don Juan Triumphant Rehearsal—The Reyer-Piangi back and forth
was great, especially when the chorus all leans in close to hear Piangi sing, and when Reyer says really fast and frustrated
“Once again after 7—5,6,7!!…” Could for once see the keys playing on the ghost piano. Creepy when
everyone sings in unison, all wide-eyed.
Graveyard/WYWSHA—This part (the bridge from DJT Rehearsal to WYWSHA)
I always love, it’s so eerie. Julie’s “Wishing” was just incredible, considering I don’t really
love this song. Others have noticed this, and I did too—it’s great how she clings to the red scarf. So sad. I
also loved the way she looked at the angels in the proscenium when she sang “Passing bells and sculpted angels…”
Then she did the arm-raising thing, which I don’t normally like but I like everything Julie does. She actually kind of made it look good, like she was forcing herself not to hold onto the scarf (and her past)
Wandering Child/Bravo Monsieur—I was kind of startled when I saw the moss on the cross move, but then
I was like “Oh, it’s just Hugh…” I think that this is really the point when his voice is most angelic. The first note was just so beautiful and
so seductive, I really truly believed that Christine actually could be hypnotized by that one note. Although I like the Wandering
trio, their duet was really beautiful. John entered. I can’t really put my finger on it, I just kind of like the way
he acts around Julie—he’s sufficiently protective, but Julie’s interpretation of Christine keeps her from
looking completely helpless. The pyrotechnics were awesome, as was Hugh’s mocking. Yikes, got blinded by the inferno
of flame at the end.
Pre-DJT—It was cool when I realized that I was only a few yards from the marksmen in the pit. I
can only imagine how the front row center people felt!! I felt kind of stupid at first, because I actually turned my head at Hugh’s first “I’m here…”
because it was right above me *blushes*--but hey, it’s a cool effect.
DJT/PONR—I like the set for this
because it’s kind of multi-layered, although I wish it were more sultry and lush like the movie one…but whatever.
Anyway, PONR…Julie picked up the apple and I was like “Hey that’s me!!” (lol, the troll thread) Then Hugh’s entrance. It was creepy how robotic he was when he opened the curtain,
paused, and then closed the curtain, because you know Piangi is dead behind it. Wow, what a steamy number. I like how he only
feels he can really get close to Christine when she doesn’t know it’s him, but when she comes really close to
touching the mask he loses his confidence and just sits there. Also loved Julie’s expression when she pulls the hood
back in front of everyone. She’s not weak or frightened—she’s more like, “Well, you got yourself into
this and now look what I have to do…how could you”. Woo hoo! Christine Power! Then Hugh’s expression is
also great, like he’s accepting what she’s saying—that this is his mistake. And then comes the slow realization
that he should just say what he feels. Aww, his “Say you’ll share…” got my all teary-eyed!! And I
still don’t know why Christine pulls off the mask at this point, but she does. Wow. All his little hairs were standing
up which made him look extra creepy. Hugh’s expression is hard to describe—it very quickly goes from shocked to
humiliated to enraged, and it just works. The transition to backstage was thrilling. Love those fast violins they play in
Down Once More—It’s so sad how Hugh leans against the oar in despair…he’s just
so humiliated. His “Christine…Christine, why? Why…” is always great as they row off. The excitement
of the mob above is cool to watch, and there were a number of Oohs when John jumped into the “lake”.
Lair Scene—This is the scene that just has it all. The Final Lair is where you can see Hugh and Julie’s interpretations
played out to the fullest. She’s unsure, but defiant. He’s mocking and seemingly in control, but his insecurity
sometimes shows through. He reminded me exactly of Johnny Depp in “Pirates”—she was pleading and demanding,
and he was staggering around almost half-drunk, fixing up little things on her wedding dress and forcing the bouquet into
her hands with a “Just right” look because it completed his sick fantasy. I really loved his “Pity comes
too late…” because I had never thought of it the way they did it—he sang his face bit, and then she tried
to go over to him, but he just pulled away shook his head like “Oh no, child—you think that’s gonna work
with me?” That was a pleasant surprise. Then John showed up at the portcullis, and Hugh was great during John’s
pleading—he just sat in the throne laughing and making faces, and kind of acting bored. He even brushed a little dust
off his tux when John was singing “I love her…does that mean nothing?” Apparently, not to Hugh… Then, after John was let in and Hugh sprung the Lasso on him, Julie got all defiant again—during the trio,
she seemed like she was scolding Hugh which was great. I actually felt the tension after Hugh’s “Make your CHOICE!!”
And then—ah, the kiss! Hugh’s expression was great, with his arms flung out in surprise. Then his hands moved closer and closer
and closer to her…I wanted so badly for him to touch her, but you could tell that he felt he just didn’t deserve
her. It’s just so heartbreaking—the one moment she’s actually allowing him to kiss her back, he just can’t.
Then when he takes the candle from the organ, her look turns to dread as she’s just like “Don’t do it…”
And his cry of anguish is awful when he burns the rope and ends his potential future with Christine. It’s a bit scary
how he forces them out of the lair, screaming at them. Julie doesn’t seem like she wants to leave when she finally hands
him the ring. They stand there holding it forever, neither one wanting to break it off, until she reluctantly realizes she
has to. So very sad. Especially heartbreaking is when Hugh is in the throne with the cloak up to his neck, taking one last
look around at his domain, before leaving it forever. Ah, and then the single spotlight on the mask…unforgettable.
The curtain call—marvelous. Makes me feel so great to know
that every single person in the theater genuinely appreciated and loved what they saw. By the end, my palms were hot and red
(and painful) from clapping so hard. Then the play-out, as everyone filed out of their seats.
We made our way right out into the lobby and
went over to knock on the manager’s door again. He came out and was like, “Ah! Well, as you see, Sandra didn’t
perform tonight…” I tried to think of a polite way to say that was more than OK!! But then he led us all down an aisle past house left and to a black door, that apparently led backstage. He
went inside for a moment to see what was going on. God, that moment took forever! We were all just so excited—I’ve
never even had the courage to go to a stage door!! Then he finally came out and said, “OK, you can come in now…”
so I got my painting and souvenir program out. We walked through a dark little passage that was actually the wings of stage
right! My mouth hung open. We walked right next to the red ropes from the Don Juan Rehearsal!! I touched them as we walked
past…they were really dusty… I was surprised how small the wings were—I’ve heard stories, but it actually went right into the
backstage area. We walked past a bunch of the ballet girls, and I looked into a room and quickly saw the Phantom’s fedora
and feathery Wishing hat!! Woo hoo! The house manager introduced us to Craig the Stage Manager, who was also really nice. I showed him my painting
of the lake scene, he was like “Wow” and led us up a narrow staircase lined with Phantom drawings and posters
from past productions at the Majestic.
When we got to the top of the staircase, we made a sharp left and suddenly we
were in Hugh’s makeup room!! I actually almost jumped because I wasn’t expecting it—he was just sitting
right there, flanked by his makeup helpers! The Hugh of phan myth and legend! So the stage manager brought us in and introduced us to Hugh. I didn’t really know what to say, but I
guess “Hello” worked, lol. He shook my hand and was like “Sorry I’m all greasy here…”
Oh, I just had to laugh thinking about all you phemales… I was actually surprised he had gotten his face off so quickly. I guess he must have just done it a second ago,
because he was really shiny and stuff. I showed him my painting and he complimented me, and I thanked him and handed him my silver Sharpie…so
he started asking me where to sign it because I was the artist and knew where it would look good. Silly Hugh, doesn’t
he know that it would look good anywhere? And then he began to sign it, and some grease dripped from his head onto the painting! He and his makeup assistants
treated it like a catastrophe, and quickly wiped it up with a tissue. Guess I should have asked them to keep it and sold it
to one of you… Anyway, as he was signing it the makeup women—oh God, I forget their names now—began talking to
me, and they were really, really nice. So then he gave me back the painting and signed my souvenir program (on which he left
a greasy thumb print…). They were all just so nice, I was really really flattered and taken aback. He signed it “To
Stephen (yes, that’s my name )—you are an amazing artist! Hugh Panaro, 9-16-04” Anyway, I think I probably thanked him a bazillion
times as we left his room.
I guess the stage manager had been talking to my family the whole time, because he said
I could send in a drawing or painting and they would put it on the wall in the stairwell. Wow, flattery!! Then he said, “And
if you want Sandra to sign it, you can arrange to come back here on a night she’s performing…” Silly. I
kindly let him know that I would actually LOVE to have Julie sign it if she was around. So we went into her dressing room.
She was also uber-nice. We all told her how incredible her performance was—even my sister, who never raves about anything!! Then
she took my painting and kind of hesitated as she signed it, because she said she felt like she was messing it up. I wanted
to shake her and say “Are you kidding?!? You’re making it BETTER!!!” She signed, “To Stephen—keep up the great work! Julie Hanson” (btw, I mention this not to
brag, but because my scanner doesn’t work and my digital camera is acting weird, so I can’t post pics…) Wow, but that was just amazing—my absolute phavorite Christine and Phantom had actually signed my painting
and souvenir book!!
So then we said goodbye to Julie, waved to Hugh, and went back down the staircase and out the red stage
door, thanking the hell out of the stage manager, lol. So we just walked down the stage door alley, staring at the painting and almost hitting a dumpster…and
getting funny looks from all the screaming teenage Avenue Q fans lined up outside …
And wow, I realize all those details about the backstage trip probably weren’t necessary,
but it was just such a unique…thing. Wow.
But honestly, I think that night was probably just the best experience…ever.
On top of an incredible performance, at which my family is all still marveling, I got to meet the nicest group of people in
the world. Just amazing.