by Dodie Pettit
Monday, Dec. 7, 1987, 10:00 am
890 Broadway Studios, 4th Floor
Scene: This is our first "Official" Phantom Company meeting. Everyone, and I mean everyone is here.
I arrived at the studio a respectable ten minutes early, but still half asleep. That's good for me. 10:00am might as well be 4:00am to me because that's what it feels like. Having been a night worker for almost four years now, coming home to dinner at midnight. I can't, and don't think, I will ever get used to work in the morning. My blood pressure is close to dead and my brain is close behind. So today although I had the great pride and excitement of arriving on such an important day to start work on Broadway's next SMASH, my body was not co-operating and I had the old feeling of arriving with dread on the first day of school.
Our meeting this morning was scheduled for Studio A, the largest studio on the floor, some 70 feet wide by 40 feet long. And as I walked in, still bleary eyed yet trying my best to put on a bright face, I was greeted by the most pleasant of surprises. There were tables of food lining almost the entire long wall on the right side of the room under the tall loft styled windows which stretched from end to end of the room. But this was not just any food, mind you, this was a gourmet spread; trays of sliced fruit, including such high class stuff as kiwi fruit and strawberries dipped in chocolate, no less. Next to that there were piles of muffins; blueberry, cranberry, banana nut, bran, you name it. Then there were trays of smoked salmon, creme and gourmet cheeses and cold cuts; and, ah yes, can't forget the bagels; followed by boxes upon boxes of every sort of tea imaginable, and rows of bottles of specialty fruit juices. This was certainly not your run-of-the-mill first full company rehearsal day of a Broadway show, no sir. This was "Phantom of the Opera", a whole new ball game. The reality of it all finally started to sink in after all the months of waiting and wondering what this new change in my life would bring. And as I stood there a bit dazed, gazing at this beautiful marvel of culinary delights trying to decide where to dig in and destroy first, I was joined by a fellow cast member equally in awe who said, "Well, I guess this means we're in a hit show, doesn't it?" As I made a bee line to the tea, hoping it might help bring me to full consciousness, I laughed and said, "Yeah, champagne mimosas are on the end over there, and the band will be setting up in the corner for entertainment in our breaks!" Laugh as we did, the point was well taken. Make no mistake, this was a hit show and was being treated as such by management even before reviews came out, first class treatment all the way; not bad for a first day at work.
As the room filled with people it became a festive atmosphere full of excited and apprehensive performers, and I felt at the same time a little nervous, unsure, and special, one of the "chosen ones" if you will; chosen to be included in this group of the "best of the best", secure in the knowledge that we were about to become living pieces of a work of art indisputably destined to become the biggest smash Broadway has ever seen. After all, the box office had already broken all records with a $17 million advance, a years worth of tickets, and none of us even knew one step of our parts yet. All but a few of us hadn't even SEEN the show. It was an eerie feeling.
The air was electric, and became more so as the people streamed in the room. And stream in they did. All of a sudden I realized how MANY people were gathered in the room already, and they hadn't stopped coming. There are thirty five cast members in the show, but add to that number management and publicity agents, wardrobe and set designers, crew, orchestra and soon the room was filled with over a hundred people and still coming. The studio had been set up with rows of folding chairs facing the opposite wall from the food tables, but even the chairs were not enough for this big group. People began sitting on tables pushed up against the other walls, window sills, and bunching around the doors. The point of focus of this large gathering was a scale model of the Phantom stage set, which had been set up in the middle of the wall on the opposite side of the gourmet spread. Aside from the food, this model pulled the most curiosity seekers. Standing about 3 feet high and 2 feet wide, it looked like the most intricate doll house one could imagine, a child's dream; sculpted and painted to the tiniest detail obviously with loving hands. The floor around it was littered with tiny props, cast figurines, pieces of columns and piles of scale model curtains waiting for set changes. I, like the others, took a few minutes to gaze in awe at this miniature piece of art so lavishly detailed that it looked like it should belong to the child of a king, and wondered how I would fit into it all.
I was pulled away from my contemplation by the feeling that it was time to find a place to sit amongst the ranks who were all staking claim to chairs of their own. I found an open chair next to what looked like dancers and tried to make myself look comfortable. But looking around the room, I realized I knew almost no one. I assumed all thirty five cast members were there, but I really didn't know any of them yet, and I only knew the great "powers that be" by face. The faces that I was certain of were the ones that I'd worked with at CATS; Jeff Johnson, Vinnie Liff, and Andrew Zerman of Johnson Liff casting who I'd faced countless times to decide my fate; Mel Rodnin, the orchestra contractor who I'd seen for the last three years in the CATS orchestra; and Thom Mitchell, Phillip Rinaldi, and Fred Nathan from the publicity office that does CATS. And Finally, there was David Caddick, the musical supervisor at CATS, who was now Phantom's musical director. And of course then there were the unmistakable faces of Hal Prince and Andrew LLoyd Webber himself. From my seat, I watched Hal and Andrew carefully, as they stood in a small group of other seemingly important faces, facing our little "audience" as it were, several feet to the left of the miniature Phantom set. They were a study in contrasts. Hal was so gregarious, with an open face alive with smiles and laughter. He would greet people with affectionate pats on the shoulder or sometimes all out European hugs. Andrew, on the other hand, was quiet, internal, watching, not saying much. It almost appeared that he felt as if he didn't belong here, like an animal about to bolt. He was standing with his arms folded across his chest. One hand would creep thoughtfully up by his face now and again, and there was just the faintest swaying movement from side to side; watching, just watching. And when he spoke, it was a quiet whisper in someone's ear.
Soon the room conversation calmed down to a low buzz of anticipation as most everyone settled in their spots in expectation of the proceedings to begin. I scanned the crowd trying to figure out all the unfamiliar faces. Michael Crawford had to be here, but where? I had no inkling as to what he looked like. And Sarah Brightman, where's she? I finally realized she had to be the one standing next to Hal, Andrew and David Caddick. Dressed in a chic gray tailored dress, and wearing her hair in a long black frizzy permed look, I was puzzled. They had told me months ago that I looked too much like her to be cast as Meg. But there she was with black hair and I 'm a blonde. I thought, "There's no way I look like her, this casting business is nuts..."
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