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Phantom of the Opera: A Love Story
The Phantom of the Opera closes next month. The longest-running show in Broadway history, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera debuted in New York City 1988, (two years after it opened in London where I first saw it) winning seven Tony Awards® including Best Musical. Based on Gaston Leroux’s horror novel, it tells the story of the Phantom, who haunts the stage of the Paris Opera and subsequently falls in love with a beautiful young soprano. It is my favorite show ever… Here is my Ode to the messages of the Phantom and love.
Nighttime sharpens, heightens each sensation.
Darkness stirs and wakes imagination.
Silently the senses abandon their defences…
Slowly, gently, night unfurls its splendour.
Grasp it, sense it tremulous and tender.
Turn your face away from the garish light of day,
Turn your face away from cold, unfeeling light –
and listen to the music of the night…
And I was hooked. It was 1986, thirty-six years ago, and I was in London, right after having given birth to the fabulous Sarah, and from the moment the chandelier dropped right over my head, I started watching my inner demons meeting my loving self. The Phantom of the Opera was not just the greatest musical I’d ever seen live, but the story—that tormented but loving man struggling with his best and worst selves—was about the best and worst parts of us all. I loved him.
I bought the music. I sang the words. I sang them in the dead of night when I was feeling dark, while the rest of the world slumbered. I saw the play again on Broadway. And then I introduced Sarah to it when she was six, and then I saw it again with one of my best friend’s children, Sabrina, and … and … and…
Anyone who came to visit went to Phantom, and I usually went with them. In other words, I have no idea how many times I’ve seen it. But it’s been years, at least a decade since I have gone.
There are a few things, however, that I must confess that disquiet me about it. I find Andrew Lloyd Weber to be disturbing. He’s a cross between Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory and some kind of person not to be trusted, who has wet lips and darting eyes because he is hiding something. But as with all complex, amazing storytellers, you sense that he has good and bad inside him, and he lets it out through his music… in the dark of night. Sharing it with you personally would be too dangerous, so he shares it with millions in the dark so he doesn’t have to look you in the eye.
Then there is my interpretation of the love story. When this perfect play came out, the talk among the dinner party circuit in New York and London always seemed to center around the love between Christine and the Phantom, or Christine and Raoul. And I certainly knew that Christine’s love for the Phantom was the gift of love Weber gave us. But I took it a step further in my own mind. It seemed to me that the story was also about learning to love yourself, even when your thoughts or deeds might not be so very love-able. Christine loved him; she saw that his cruelty was the result of wrongs done to him, and I hope that when he disappeared into that chair at the end, he had learned to love himself. She had shown him that he was love-able and I hope his self-loathing, which was as painful for me to watch as his demise, disappeared with him.
But back to the love.
We never said
or as unchanging
as the sea –
you can still
stop and think
of me . . .
Think of all the things
we’ve shared and seen –
don’t think about the things
which might have been . . .
Think of me,
think of me waking,
trying too hard
to put you
from my mind.
Recall those days
on all those times,
think of the things
we’ll never do –
a day, when
I won’t think
of you ...
So, thus ends the thirty-five year reign of Phantom of the Opera, and all it’s meant to the more than 300,000,000 people who saw it. Think about the billions of times someone has played Think of Me or The Music of the Night and felt just a little bit better. I know that hundreds of years from now, they will still play the music of the night, or watch the PBS production I watched a few weeks ago, and they will know that a great man understood love, the dark side, trust, and melody. Great, great melody.