By Marilyn Delk
The Phantom of the Opera recently closed on Broadway after an almost unbelievably successful run of 13,981 performances seen by nearly 20 million people over 35 years. Many theatre lovers cannot imagine Broadway without the opulent splendor of the show. While I was never a great fan of Phantom (it has one good song that repeats endlessly over the course of a fairly dramatic but not really believable story, but whatever), the closure certainly marks the end of an era. The show inspired a love of theatre in many, attracting a new audience that continues to support the art form in its many iterations leading to packed houses throughout the world responding to live performances telling stories, sparking emotions, revealing truths.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the show, Phantom earned seven Tony Awards in 1988, including Best Musical, and on January 9, 2006 became the longest running show in Broadway history. The largest single generator of income and jobs in U.S. theatrical history, the production grossed $1.3 billion over its run, another impressive indicator of its impact. The final performance has been chronicled and applauded as especially powerful, including the work of Laird Mackintosh, the actor assuming the title role as a last-minute substitute for the lead actor who became ill and could not go on. How delightfully theatrical is that!
Among the many memorable and moving moments from that 13,981st show were Emilie Kouatchou, who played Christine, performing for the last time “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” a song that ends with this lyric: “Help me say good-bye,” then wiping away tears as she remained on stage while the audience vociferously applauded. The fitting final line in the show, “It’s over now, the music of the night,” moved many in the audience as well as on the stage to tears, and tugs at my heart as well. But of course, Phantom of the Opera will never be over.
Not only does the memory of the show remain within everyone who experienced it, but Phantom will undoubtedly see revivals and tribute performances on Broadway as well as in theaters around the world. The play may be performed again and again, night after night, decade after decade, and each time, the show will be different due in part to in-the-moment audience reactions as well as actors’ responses. Each performance is unique, a once-in-a-lifetime-experience, never to be seen again on this earth. And that fact is integral to the magic of theatre, whether an amateur production or a Broadway phenomenon.
Darke County Center of the Arts will, in all probability, never present a production of Phantom of the Opera; it would not fit on the stage of Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall, and even if it did, the cost of such a massive show is beyond DCCA’s means. But DCCA does annually present an opportunity to experience the joy of participating in theatre when Missoula Children’s Theatre comes to town each summer. This year, the MCT residency will occur earlier than usual, with the little red truck carrying everything needed for a full-fledged theatrical production except for the cast arriving at Memorial Hall on Monday, July 17, when students entering grades 1 through 12 are invited to audition for the 60 roles available. Intense rehearsals will follow throughout the week, and on Saturday, July 22, two impressive performances of MCT’s The Princess and the Pea starring local youngsters will be presented; and the magic of theatre will continue to positively affect lives in our community!