My friends, it is Saturday, 27 May, 1995. I have just spent an incredible afternoon and I want to tell you about it whilst everything is still fresh in my mind. This second adventure with my Beloved Phantom had its beginnings on 30 January when my mother and I took the bus and train into Philadelphia to get tickets. The earliest performance available for four seats together on a Saturday matinee was today – there were no mezzanine seats at all for any performance!!!
In the past three months I’ve thought a lot about what this performance would be like. In early April I learned who the cast would be. Rick Hilsabeck, who’d played M. Andre three years ago to Kevin Gray and Keith Buterbaugh’s Phantoms, was now himself to play the Opera Ghost. Sarah Pfisterer, the alternate Christine three years ago to Terri Bibb, was now the lead with Rita Harvey as her alternate. Nat Chandler would return as Raoul, dear Patricia Hurd as Carlotta and Olga Talyn as Mme. Giry.
At last there was only a week left until I’d be transported through time to the magnificent Paris Opera House in the late part of the 19th century. There I’d bear witness to a “tale as old as time”, a love story that only we seem to understand as such. There, in that world, live three people – a young man blessed with charm, grace and physical beauty (and a sizable bank account!!!), a girl caught between the childhood she can’t let go of and the womanhood she’s afraid to grasp and, finally, a man gifted with superior intelligence, a delightfully warped sense of humour and a great wardrobe, but with a dreadfully deformed face!!
Needless to say it was the longest week of my life and I never thought 6PM Friday – the end of my work week – would ever come!!! The remaining hours passed in their way and, before I knew it, it was Saturday and I’d be seeing Phantom for the second glorious time.
After a quick but filling breakfast at McDonald’s my mother, brother Mike and I drove into Philadelphia to pick up my aunt. We stayed there till about 12:30 then piled into the car for the drive to the Forrest Theatre. We arrived around 1:00 but were told we couldn’t get in till 1:30 so we headed across the street to Wendy’s for a quick snack.
Soon enough, however, the doors opened and we found our seats. Last time we were in the Upper Balcony, second row from the top – this time we had seats in the third row of the Balcony, roughly thirteen rows lower. While it was still a bit high up for my taste the view was definitely better this time around. The binoculars I’d brought also helped a lot!!!
With about twenty minutes till curtain I ran down to the souvenir table on the landing. They didn’t have much of a selection of merchandise, but I bought a few programme guides and another pen and hurried back to my seat. It was then that I had time to read my Playbill.
As I opened the booklet I noticed several substitution sheets and my heart sunk. M. Andre, usually played by Ian Jon Bourg, would now be played by Richard L. Reardon, Jennifer Little, who usually played Mme. Firmin, was the understudy for the new Carlotta Wendy Hill, who’d taken over for my favourite Patricia Hurd. Pat, I later learned, had left the company half a week before to do an opera. She shall be greatly missed. But the worst substitution was the Phantom himself, Rick Hilsabeck. I’d seen Rick three years ago as M. Andre and had enjoyed him a lot. I’d been looking forward to seeing his interpretation and was greatly disappointed.
At last, at about ten minutes past two, the curtain rose. The auction led into the fabulous Overture and the rehearsals for Hannibal. Sarah Pfisterer, a pretty little blonde, was absolutely delightful as Christine. She has a lovely voice and her performance was quite well done. Jennifer Little and Stefano Fucile were funny as Carlotta and her boyfriend Piangi with Lawson Skala and Richard L. Reardon the comic relief of the piece as Messieurs Fermin and Andre. Olga Talyn was starchily tough-yet-tender as Mme. Giry with Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, Rick’s wife, as her daughter Meg.
My two favourites though were Nat Chandler as Raoul and Randal Keith as my Phantom. I know Raoul isn’t a very popular character in this Society (and I find that quite amusing) but Nat is so incredibly gorgeous and sweetly genuine that if I were Christine I’d have a Hell of a time deciding who I wanted!!!!! Three years ago, I must admit, he didn’t impress me much, but oh how he’s improved!!!!! As for Randal, well, from his first “Insolent boy!!” I lost my heart all over again. I think he must have studied Michael Crawford because he was so much like my Angel it was eerie!! He moved like him, sounded like him and gave such a powerful, emotional performance that I wanted nothing more than to run off with him that instant!!! Randal and Nat’s voices are so incredibly powerful that if they’d opened the doors of the theatre you could have heard them singing two streets away!!!!!
During intermission I learned what happened to Rick – the poor guy had gotten a bad cold and had missed twelve performances, including my show. I then asked the usher where the stage door was and was given directions.
I returned to my seat moments before the curtain rose on Act 2. Masquerade was very well performed as were the following scenes. Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again was lovely as was Wandering Child (done as a duet) and Bravo Monsieur but the fire balls didn’t have any “umph” – they just sort-of went “pfft” and fizzled. However, the stage erupting in flames was spectacular!! Point of No Return was beautifully done but the Final Lair scene was an emotional roller coaster for everyone. Erik’s “You try my patience…” line was delivered with so much venom I thought for sure that Randal was going to slap Sarah’s Christine. Evidently she thought so, too, because she recoiled when he came toward her.
The most emotional scene came when Christine sang “…give me the courage to show you, you are not alone!!” and promptly kissed the Phantom. Poor, dear Erik was so overcome he didn’t know what to do. His arm shook so violently I thought it in danger of falling off!!!!! Part of him wanted desperately to hold Christine in his arms as he’d always dreamed but the other part was absolutely terrified and his trembling arm got only half way to her when it dropped back to his side. When she finally broke off the kiss he staggered back, completely drained emotionally.
Erik then released the young lovers but when Christine came back moments later to return his ring he nearly lost it and so did I. When he sobbed “Christine, I love you!!” and that little hussy turned and ran back to Raoul, I wanted to run down to the stage, throw my arms around him and say – “To Hell with Christine, Honey, I’m here for you!!!”
Needless to say the curtain fell to thunderous applause and Randal got a well-deserved standing ovation. With my mind and heart still in a whirl, we all made our way to the lobby and then on out to the alley to find the stage door. The last time I’d seen Phantom, the girl Mum and I went with had to go to work so we were unable to stay for autographs and photos. But this time I was determined to meet these talented actors.
The first one out the door was Nat. He’s one of the sweetest and most gorgeous men I’ve ever met and I wish him all the success in the world. I got his autograph and a photo with him, gave him a quick hug and he rushed off to get some dinner. Ironically, Nat appeared with Sarah Brightman several years ago in the Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber tour.
After Nat I met Lawson Skala and he was great, too – a very tall man (so is Nat!!) with wavy hair and a mustache and beard. Stefano came out next. I call him Pavarotti Jr. because he could pass for Luciano’s double, except that he’s a bit thinner and doesn’t have as much hair on his head. He’s very nice, though, and so is Lawson.
Next Randal came out. Mmmm, be still my heart!!! The man is about 5”10” tall with blond hair, the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen and a great chest!!!!! Like the others he was wonderfully friendly and sociable and I would’ve loved to have taken him home with me!!!!!!
Finally, I got Olga Talyn’s autograph. I almost didn’t recognize her as she’d gotten her hair cut very short and, believe it or not, she’s actually barely 5’ tall. It’s weird, everybody looks so tall on the stage and they’re really pretty short.
Somewhere between all the autographs and photos Christine, Meg and Carlotta escaped without my noticing them. Although I think I saw Christine – a pretty little blonde came out at one point, we smiled at each other and she left; I never thought to ask who she was. Another thing is, everybody looks so different without their make-up and wigs that they’re sometimes hard to recognize.
When it became apparent that everyone had gone Mum, Mike, Aunt Mary and I walked to a nearby eatery for supper then headed home. All in all, it’s been a wonderful day and I’ll go to sleep soon to dream of my beloved Phantom.
Hi again, everyone!!! Since it’s taken me nearly four weeks to write Part 1 and I missed the deadline for the Summer issue of BTM, I decided to tell you all about my latest Phantom-related adventure. Most of you know my feelings for Sarah Brightman and that I’ve been in her fan club for over a year and a half now.
Well, on Friday, 7 April I received word from my good friend Linda Nicholls, who runs the fan club, that Sarah would begin a US concert tour some time in May to coincide with the release of one of her new albums. As I read over the itinerary my heart almost stopped – on 14 June my Angel would be at the Philadelphia Waterfront!!!!!! On Sunday a full-page ad appeared in the newspaper announcing the concert – The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber Starring Sarah Brightman. At the bottom of the page it said – Surrender…you will.
Ten o’clock the following morning my father was in line at the nearest Blockbuster Video store and not long after I was presented with three front row orchestra seat tickets!!!!!! My excitement continued to grow as the days passed until, at last, it was 14 June.
I took the day off from work because I had no intention of running around like a lunatic at 6PM trying to eat, change clothes and get to the theatre by 8PM!!! So I spent the day relaxing and writing a letter to Sarah that I hoped to have delivered to her before the concert.
At around 4:00 Mum, Mike and I went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. After, we went back home to freshen up then left for the concert at 6:00. The Sony/Blockbuster Music Centre – a brand new state of the art facility – was actually located on the Camden, NJ, waterfront. It’s a fairly large centre, shaped somewhat like a seashell with the stage being at the smaller end. The seats of the theatre are covered but there’s a grassy slope on which more spectators could watch the events from blankets and lawn chairs. There are speakers outside as well as five view screens so no one will miss anything.
Anyway, we arrived at the Waterfront at about quarter to seven and found our seats with no problem. I then ran out to the booth to buy some souvenir programme guides and the CD and cassette of Sarah’s new album Surrender. When I returned to the complex I asked one of the security guards how I could get the letter I’d written back to my Angel before the concert. To my delight he said he’d deliver it and I returned to my seat to happily look over my treasures. Unfortunately, I later learned the Cretin had either never delivered my note or had brought it to Sarah after the concert, which was too late.
At any rate, at a litter past eight the spectacular Overture to Jesus Christ Superstar started the concert, which let into several songs from the show, all sung with great skill by the ensemble cast. Following this came a full half hour of Variations from Song and Dance!!!!!!
When that finally ended the music to Think of Me began and Sarah came onto the stage. The moment she came out there was an electricity in the air, a presence which permeated whenever she was on. She sang an abbreviated version of Think of Me, going from the last line right into the high note, which could’ve brought down a dozen chandeliers!!!!!!
Most of the audience probably didn’t notice but Sarah was a nervous wreck! She seemed to calm down a bit as she joked around with the crowd about her relationship with Andrew, saying that she’d always enjoyed his music and he always liked her cooking. She then said that while she was doing the Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber tour, he was planning to open a new Broadway show called The Sandwiches of Sarah Brightman. Everyone laughed and she introduced a new song by Andrew about women being the deadlier of the species. She made everyone laugh again when she dedicated the song to all the Norma Desmond’s around the world.
Sarah then sang The Last Man in My Life and Tell Me on a Sunday from Song and Dance and a beautiful rendition of Memory from Cats sung in Italian. Then, all too soon, Act 1 ended to a twenty minute intermission.
Act 2 began with the Entr’acte from Sunset Boulevard and the title track sung by one of the ensemble cast. Then Sarah came out to do the title track from her new album Surrender, which is Norma’s farewell ballad to her pet monkey. After that she sang Chanson D’enfance, a lovely song from Aspects of Love sung entirely in French. McCavity from Cats was next, in which Sarah displayed her incredible skills as a dancer, and then the orchestra did a spirited rendition of the Jellical Ball.
The cast performed Buenos Aires and And the Money Kept Rolling In from Evita and joined Sarah in Pie Jesu from Requiem. She was dressed in an exquisite gold gown with a sequined bodice and a full velvet skirt. It was actually her fifth gown that evening, the others being form fitting and leaving little of Sarah’s ample figure to the imagination!!!
The final set of numbers were from Phantom and I’d been waiting for them all night!!! My Angel began with Twisted Every Way and the orchestra did a fabulous job with the Overture. Sarah then sang my favourite song – the title track of Phantom.
You can’t imagine that Perfection could be perfected but it has been. That incredible Voice of hers is a life form unto itself. When her partner, as Erik, sang – “Sing my Angel of Music, sing for me!” Sarah threw back her head and the most perfect sounds escaped her delicate throat. Her Voice, without a doubt, is ten times as powerful as it was when she and Michael first recorded the sound-track in 1986. At the highest note I wanted to tell anyone with dentures to hold on to their teeth!!!!!! It was so powerful a sound I felt sure it would bring the roof down!!!!!
When she finished to thunderous applause and the lights dimmed, Sarah stood still on the stage, quietly trying to steady her breathing. She blinked several times almost as if she were coming out of a trance, almost as if the Voice had taken control whilst she simply went along for the ride. There are a handful of jealous lunatics who call my Angel “Chipmunk Cheeks” but I’ve come up with a far more accurate description – the Goddess Incarnate. In short, she is Isis born, for only the Goddess could be as perfect!!
The remaining songs All I Ask of You, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again and The Music of the Night were all performed brilliantly and beautifully by that remarkable, multi-talented woman. Sarah also did two encores – Love Changes Everything and a Spanish version of Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina. At just past 10:30 Sarah and the company received a well-deserved standing ovation and left the stage.
Before we left the theatre Mum and I stopped one of the security guards and asked if we could go backstage to see Sarah. The young man was very helpful and did his best to accommodate me. He contacted his supervisor, even explaining about the note, but the S.O.B. said no. It was late and I was too tired to argue so I reluctantly followed the crowd back to the parking garage.
Silently, I bid my Sarah pleasant dreams and a promise that somehow, someday, we would meet. As we headed home to a hot shower and a good night’s sleep I couldn’t help but think of the concert ad. It said – Surrender…you will. Well, I had.