PHANTOM MEMORIES

Part 2

by Dodie Pettit


Just then a very pretty girl in her mid twenties came walking towards my section, and found a seat not far from me. I remembered that I'd seen her here a few days ago, when she had been called in to audition for the role of Meg, which as of three days ago STILL hadn't been cast. And so I was still holding on to the glimmer of a hope that they wouldn't find someone and "settle" for me. But her arrival here today dashed my hopes again. I could only assume that they had chosen her. Through the fading din of voices I overheard her say to the person beside her that she hadn't been contracted yet. And I thought, God how nerve-wracking that must be. To be so close, in the middle of all this and not know for sure if you're a part of it or not. I guessed she would find out today. They really couldn't hold it up any longer, could they?

Just then a press photographer came in and walked over to the group with Hal Prince and Andrew; bunched them all together and proceeded to take pictures. It was only at this moment that I realized that the "other guy" standing with them was Michael Crawford. I'd never seen a photograph of Michael and so had absolutely no idea what to expect. To me he was just a name, and a white mask. But if I did have an image of him, it was wiped out at this moment. There he was, the complete opposite of what I would have envisioned. He had dark blonde curly hair, blue-green eyes that sparkled clear across the room, and a round, open face with a Cheshire cat-grin and lots of happy looking laugh lines. To me it was more the face of a clown than that of a scary looking Phantom. Then suddenly there was a flurry of flashes and there it was, the first press photos of Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman, Hal Prince and Andrew "the great" Lloyd Webber, with their arms around each other's waists and all smiles and laughter. Through the din I could hear Hal Prince say, "I don't want to say I'm superstitious, but this is the sweater I wore for the first day of rehearsals in London!" Watching all of this, I felt at the same time excited, yet strangely detached and a bit uncomfortable; as if I were watching it all on TV, or better yet as if I were a guest at a very important party where everyone knew eachother except me. And I was dying inside to feel a part of it all. Would I ever? Did anyone else in the room feel as uncomfortable as I ? They sure didn't look like they did...

The picture session over, the little group of our stars broke up and filtered out to find places to sit amongst the rest of us; all except Hal that is, who walked to the middle of the room and paused for a brief moment as the murmurs died down. For it was he who was to be our master of ceremonies for the day and welcome us all to the greatest show on earth, as it were. With a disarming grin he opened with, "Hi everyone. Well, I guess I know 80% of you already..." and I thought naively, well of course, that just shows how most people get work in this business doesn't it? I was one of the 20% that didn't know him already and suddenly realized how lucky I was to have broken into yet another of Broadway's "inner circles", like I had done four years ago when I was hired for CATS virtually off the street. My thoughts were broken by Hal who then said, "How many of you got to see the show in London?". A dozed or so hands went up around the room, but I noticed that they seemed to belong to people other than cast members. Then he said, "Well, why don't we all get to know each other by going around the room one by one saying our names and what we do." Wow, just like the first day of school, I thought. And so we did. It was quite charming actually. Everyone, but everyone; all 100+ of us; there we were, going up and down the rows saying our names and what we did. And all of us seemed to become, at least for that fifteen minute period, equals. Just people saying their names.

Up and down the rows we went, starting off with Judy Kaye who said simply "Hi, I'm Judy Kaye and I play Carlotta", and looked to the person next to her who followed suit. Soon we came up to Michael Crawford who spoke so softly that it prompted a voice to call out, "Louder, we can't here back here.." To which he blurted out, "Ah, yes! I'm Michael Crawford, I play the Phantom!" followed by a spontaneous burst of laughter from the ranks. Finally coming around to my side of the room we came upon the new girl "up" for "Meg" who said "I'm Elissa Heinsohn and I hope I'm Meg!" As much as I had wanted that part, I couldn't imagine what she might be feeling at that moment in the middle of all this. Down the row we went to Cameron Mackintosh who said with a slightly mischievous twinkle, "Hi. I'm Cameron Mackintosh, and I play the Producer." And then finally to Andrew himself who said simply and quietly, "I'm Andrew Lloyd Webber, and I'm the composer", as if he were of no more importance than one of the ballet chorus girls.

So many names; I thought, will I ever really know all these people? On and on we went, and when we were finally done, the room broke out in a spontaneous round of applause for ourselves.

Next, Hal got down to the business of giving us a short history of the show to give us insight into the style and look of our unique "Phantom", and how we should play our characters. He said, "The show is a thriller like Dracula or Frankenstein, but more because it is romantic, and, more than that, a romantic tragedy...The character of the Phantom has a very strong sexual pull and that's what makes him so powerful."

He then went on to stress how important the ensemble's attitude was individually as well as collectively, saying, "The ensemble has to be both glamorous and grotesque. You must put yourselves in to the skin of the people of those times. The inhabitants of the Opera House are excited, curious, and terrified all at the same time...You must feel fear, insecurity and sexual vulnerability...there is an air if incipient hysteria in the Opera House, and the atmosphere must pervade the characters."

Then he went on to talk about the staging. "There is a rhythm to the show. It moves quickly...we have tried to do things differently with 'Phantom' to keep the pacing going, and the undercurrent of fear... like stopping scenes at their height, or talking before the lights go up, or after their out."

Next Hal invited us all to gather around the stage model where he would talk us through the show scene by scene. With that, the entire room seemed to move "en mass", excitingly gathering around the "Phantom" doll house of a mini set; the performers pressing in the closest.

Standing to the left of the mini stage as if he were conducting a puppet show, Hal began to talk us through the show; while Maria Bjornson, our set and costume designer, and her three assistants quickly but carefully buzzed around the mini set setting up and breaking down the scenery by hand, staring at the very top of the show and going through all 23 set changes. They worked quickly, but co-operatively in order to keep up with Hal's commentary; their moves seemingly choreographed with one another. They moved so smoothly with one another that I thought they must have done this presentation many times before.

Click here for Part 3…

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