My sister and I begged Mom to take us to New York to see Phantom of the Opera when we were 12. Mom found out Howard McGillin was playing the role. He had performed in LaBoheme with her 30 years ago at the Public Theatre in New York! “Maybe we can go backstage.” Mom said. I couldn’t believe it. Our first time seeing our favorite show, and our Mom knows the Phantom?! After several friendly correspondences with Howard, he graciously offered us house seats and three backstage passes to the show. OH. MY. GOD.
Before going to New York, mom dug through some old recordings and found a taped performance of La Boheme. I was breathless as I waited to hear Howard’s voice. And what a voice he had! Creamy and smooth, like the Broadway voices of old. And so handsome! I couldn’t wait to meet him.
That summer, we flew to New York, checked in a Milford Plaza, and walked around the corner to look at the Majestic Theatre. “Oh my God, there he is!” we said staring dreamily at a poster of Howard.”He’s beautiful!” His swollen lip protruded under the half mask, making him look sullen and desperate.
On the last night of our trip, we were delirious with excitement as we walked into the lobby of the Majestic. Mom bought us programs and we waited restlessly to be let into the theatre. It felt like this was the culmination of my life to see this show. Finally, the ushers escorted us to our seats. “These seats are amazing! I can see everything” I said. We ran down to look into the orchestra pit, waiting with baited breath for the show to begin. I was almost nervous. My palms were so sweaty, I stained the cover of my program.
Sis and I squeezed each others hands as the lights went down and the actors took their places. “Here we go sis!” I whispered. The Overture made my hair stand on end as the chandelier was unveiled and hoisted majestically above our
heads. I couldn’t help singing under my breath to every song. We were practically falling out of our seats during the Mirror scene. For a moment, we both mistook the conductor’s reflection for the Phantom’s. Suddenly, with a tremolo of violins, Howard’s voice rose up over the audience like a charge of electricity. Powerful. It was as if I had been waiting my whole life for this moment. My armpits were sweating as he swept Christine away behind the mirror. I was gob smacked as the candles rose from floor and the boat drifted into view. “Music of the Night” was like watching my own sexual fantasy on stage. Every other woman in the audience was probably feeling the same thing. Each scene with Howard left me breathless. He was the perfect Erik.
Uncommonly tall with beautiful hands, and his voice was powerful, yet vulnerable at the same time. I felt every emotion. As he emerged from the Angel statue at the end of Act I, his hand came up trembling. After singing in a high childlike voice, he began to cry. I flung myself into mom’s lap sobbing as the curtain descended. The second act sucked me in like a pearl sinking in mud. “Down Once More/Track Down This Murderer” was unbearably erotic and intense. When he cried, “GO NOW, GO NOW AND LEAVE ME!” left me in tears again. Through the dead silence, I heard other audience members sobbing, too. Howard dragged himself to his throne, covered himself with his cape, and disappeared. I cried like a baby.
Once I composed myself, we made our way to the left side of the stage where there was a door. “We’re here to see Howard.” Mom told the stage manager. We waited for what seemed like a eternity to be lead upstairs. Howard was sitting in his makeup chair with a clear smock tied around his neck. He spoke with a gentle voice. He was in his underwear and half of his makeup had been taken off. “Can I see it?” I asked. Howard pointed to the trash can, where I took out the sweaty, spongy blob that had been his deformity. Mom took a picture of us grinning. While he cleaned up, his dresser showed us his dressing room with all his costumes. I got to hold his mask. We were shown the wig room where Christine’s hair was being curled. Then we were then led downstairs and given a tour of the stage. The huge staircase used for “Masquerade” was folded at the back of the stage. I saw the gondola and touched the throne. “This is where Michael Crawford stood!” I said. We stepped all over the stage ecstatically and looked out towards auditorium. “I can’t believe I’m standing here.” I said. The man who played Raoul was giving a tour to a large group of old people. Howard strode across the stage with two signed autographs. “Can I have that?” several people asked. “No, it’s for them.” he said indicating sis and me. We were in seventh heaven. We both hugged him. “You’re so tall!” I said. After saying goodbye, we left the theatre in a state of giddy ecstasy. What a magical night.