Monday, October 03, 2011

"Some of you may recall the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera..."

When I was fourteen, my youngest sibling was born. In the same year, I became a chicken farmer; I read all the books Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes; I made homemade doughnuts for the first time; and I discovered the Phantom of the Opera.  

My first introduction to this story was through English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1980's musical masterpiece. However, being a nerd book lover, the original book by Gaston Leroux quickly made its way into my possession, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There was a strangely pleasant lack of fluidity in the English translation of the original French; and the sad, tragic romance, so similar to other well-loved Gothic novels, as well as a spell-binding introduction into the magical realm of the late-19th-century Paris Opera House all combined to create an intriguing world so different from the practical reality of my own.

My best friend, Hannah, was similarly appreciative of the Phantom.  Never capable of simply enjoying a good story, we immediately began optimistic plans for our own production of Phantom of the Opera.  These plans joined a queue that included a Jane Eyre musical and an Ivanhoe play, if I remember correctly. There might have been more. We were very ambitious.  Hannah worked on musical scores and librettos while I drew costumes and thought about sewing, makeup, and materials.  I played the piano and Hannah sang; she played the piano and I sang... or at least tried to.  

But time crept by quickly, and we were so busy.  Hannah had voice lessons; I went to art classes.  We both learned French and, for a few months, Italian. I don't know when we passed the day that marked us out as being too grown-up to have so many never-to-be-carried-out ideas, but it must have come and gone without us knowing.  Before long, I was in Scotland at Bible college, and Hannah was beginning university studies.  My college days started me down a path that would end up in my immigration to the UK.  Hannah's musical studies were more apropos to our original theatrical plans and took her into the world of opera.

And years passed. 

But how suddenly they fell away and were gone in an instant.  

Yesterday, I found myself sitting with two friends [ironically, both named Hannah] in the Royal Albert Hall, for a twenty-fifth anniversary performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom musical.

It was the third time I've seen it on stage, and I can't qualify it as being the best rendition.

But everything seemed to come together to make it the best experience: timing, a long-loved story, friends' names, music, merging into a beautiful clash of sound and light and memories.

We sat in Hyde Park afterwards, in the golden afternoon sunshine of our waning Indian summer, and basked in the afterglow of our adventure.

Coo was napping in a state of total exhaustion.  She had spent three hours playing in Hyde Park with a very patient [and equally exhausted] Daddy.


  1. Hannah Penn4:49 am

    Great memories! I think I never really reached the age when I stopped dreaming about putting on shows... now, if I'm not performing myself, I'm scheming about things for my students to do. But I still think our Phantom concept was the most fun. : ) So glad I have a job that lets me "play" every day!

    Thanks for sharing your memories of those fun times. Miss you always!

    - Hannah

  2. just wanted to say, i wish you could have gone with us the summer after i graduated...we went to see phantom in montreal at the pantages was amazing! funny thing is, i had the choice of nashville and graceland, or niagara falls, canada and close as we are to canada, you'd think i would have chosen graceland, but had to be phantom!! and i brought the current pastor's daughter with me. :)

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this with me! I am ashamed to say I have not read the source material (that's crazy to me...must remedy.) Have you read Phantom by Susan Kay? It's really wonderfully written.

    What performance of the three you have seen was your favorite?

    I'm ready to see it live again...I hope it tours the US soon! (That or a miracle could occur so I could see it on Broadway!)

  4. You're welcome! You should read the book; I think you'd like it! It's very Victorian gothic. :)

    Out of the three I've seen, the first was my favourite --at Her Majesty's Theatre, in London, on an atmospherically dark December afternoon. It was perfect. I was eighteen, and all by myself in a strange city. Nowadays, I would be totally freaked out to be alone in London but back then ignorance was bliss! :)

  5. How PERFECT! *sigh*

    What do you think of Love Never Dies? I'm not sold on it by any means, but I have a feeling it might be a *very* guilty pleasure...

  6. I have never seen it! I think there's a DVD version out, basically just a film of the musical. I'm sort of afraid to see it, because the way the Phantom of the Opera ends is so deliciously tragic that I don't want anything to change that!


Please don't hesitate to comment if this post has provoked your thoughts! I enjoy reading what you have to say.