PHANTOM

The Sunday Hour, Norwalk CT.

1/8/06

"Applause

by David A. Rosenberg

Passing ‘CATS'

“To me what makes “The Phantom of the Opera’ great is its artistry,” said Westport’s Kevin Gray, who played the masked marvel 1,250 times. “And I think it appeals very deeply to the part in all of us that thinks we’re not good enough. Here’s a guy who’s literally deformed, but it’s how he feels about that deformity that makes people connect to him.”

Tomorrow evening, Gray will join other “Phantom” alumni onstage at the British phenonenom’s 7,486th New York performance. That landmark will make it the longest running show in Broadway history, surpassing “Cats”(7,485) “Les Miserables” (6,680) and “A Chorus Line” (6,137).

Originally Gray played Raoul, the hero who saves the heroine not only from the Phantom but the famous crashing chandelier. That one piece of scenery, incidentally, weighs a ton, has 6,000 beads, 53,166 bulbs and, in the last 17 years, has traveled 2,512,368 feet or 476 miles in its climatic Act One journey from ceiling to stage. Unlike what happens in the several movie versions of the Gaston Leroux novel, the musical’s chandelier doesn’t crash but sort of floats to where stagehands can wrestle it to a standstill.

Yet, in a show this technical, things can, and will go wrong. “I remember one night at the end of Act One,” said Gray, “When a safety cable broke and the chandelier was coming in a lot faster than usual. It was my job as Raoul to grab the leading lady and sweep her away, which I did slowly to fill the time. This one performance, I looked up and saw this thing hurtling toward us. I dove across the stage and practically knocked her over. The chandelier hit the deck, gouged out a piece, swung up, came back again and swung out over the orchestra. The conductor hit the ground, but the audience was thrilled.”

“Phantom” cost $8 million when it first opened in 1988 and has grossed almost $600 million, consuming 3 million pounds of dry ice, 7,586 sets of foam latex for the Phantom’s face, 1,424,250 gallons of shot powder, 19,981 sheets of flash paper and 6,899 ounces of liquid fog. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber became a billionaire and a lord; director Harold Prince was back on top again after a series of flops; Michael Crawford, the original Phantom, became a beloved star; and Sarah Brightman, the original Christine, lost a husband (the composer) but gained a post-show career.

As for Gray, his own journey from his birth in Norwalk Hospital to Staples High School and Duke University (where he majored in law as a “cover” for wanting to be an actor) has brought him to a life with wife Dodie Pettit, whom he met during “Phantom,” and a menagerie of cats and dogs.

Having just returned form a year touring “The King and I” in England, he’s off to give concerts in Hawaii and Hong Kong, sharing the stage with two other former Phantoms. “The Music of the Night” is unstoppable.