Nineteen Years Later

Nineteen years ago right this second I was walking from the old Hop & Grape at College and Yonge to the Pantages Theatre to see The Phantom of the Opera. Nothing would ever be the same for me again.

It’s obvious now that Phantom changed my life. But imagine if thirty-year-old Steve–who’s writing from Bogota, by the way–could’ve visited eleven-year-old Steve A Christmas Carol-style on October 18, 1991 and told him, “Watch out, kid–everything’s about to be different.” I would’ve seen what he meant within minutes of the show’s opening, as the signature notes of the overture shook the theatre and sent chills quite literally up my spine. But it wasn’t just the musical: everything else, from the all-consuming sense of occasion to the Pantages Theatre itself, made the evening memorable. That night, a very firm line was drawn between my pre-Phantom existence and everything that would follow.

(Two asides. Firstly, I still think that’s the best all-around Phantom cast I’ve seen so far, with the incomparable Peter Karrie in the title role, Rebecca Caine as Christine, and Byron Nease as Raoul. Ironically, at the time I was more disappointed not to be seeing Colm Wilkinson, who was Toronto’s original Phantom. Two years into his run, Wilkinson began taking sabbaticals to visit his family in Ireland. I actually saw Phantom during all three of his extended absences and thus never saw him play the part; I did, however, see him in Les Miserables seven years later. Secondly, the Pantages–now called the Canon–remains by far and away my favourite theatre on earth. I’ve been back on numerous occasions since seeing the final performance of Phantom on October 31, 1999; it’s where, in October 2005, I saw Billy Crystal’s one-man play 700 Sundays, which along with the first Phantom and Tommy at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium is the most special night I’ve spent at the theatre. And it’s where I’ll be this coming November 19, seeing Wicked. Oh: and on October 18, 1991 I sat in Mezzanine row M seat 107. My seat for the final performance? Mezzanine row M seat 107. Yes, that was deliberate. Anyway–moving on!)

Of course, I couldn’t have known that then; neither could my parents, who might’ve thought differently about taking me to see Phantom if they’d have known what they were unleashing. And on October 18, 1991 I’m sure I couldn’t have even conceived of myself as a thirty-year-old, couldn’t have imagined that nineteen years later on I’d be in Bogota, Colombia (at a place called the Hotel de la Opera!) reflecting on a lifetime of theatregoing that’s grown to include twenty-three subsequent performances of Phantom. It’s amazing the places life takes you–and it’s amazing how something as seemingly insignificant as going to a play can totally change a person. The power of the music of the night, I suppose.

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