PLAYBILL ON A HISTORIC NIGHT: The Phantom of the Opera; The Power of the Music of the Knight

By Harry Haun
28 Jan 2013

Samantha Hill
Photo by Monica Simoes

Tiny Samantha Hill identified herself at the party as "the Christine alternate," meaning she goes in for Boggess Monday evenings and Wednesday matinees, "but I'll be taking over in March," she vowed. Presumably, it will be a bloodless coup.

Madame Giry, the ballet mistress ruling the Opera House backstage with a big stick and a severe presence, turned out — in this production — to be a blonde. "I left the black hair at the theatre," explained Ellen Harvey. "Tonight was one for the bucket list! To be a part of something this big, to make history in the theatre is quite remarkable so I feel quite blessed to be a part of this company."

And, for a blonde, she remembered her roots — Leila Martin, who originated the role ("I've heard just incredible things about her. I've seen the original photographs and heard the original recording so she's one of those people I have in mind to meet.") and Gale Sondergaard ("Hal Prince asked me how many Gale Sondergaard movies I had to watch to get to Madame Giry. She wasn't a big star, but she was one of those great character actresses, and I'm thrilled when I'm compared to her.").

Kenneth Kantor, who played the Paris Opera manager being scared into a new line of work by the Phantom, allowed that it had been "a very, very long day, but, by the time we got to performing the show, it was just a lot of fun. It was really nice, looking out in the audience and seeing all these well-dressed people. You don't get that very often anymore." And it was even better that some of those faces belonged to Phantom alums. "It was sorta like a high school reunion, seeing all these people."

Instead of a matinee, the cast spent all day rehearsing the after-piece, which Lynne's choreographic assistant, Denny Berry, put in. "We spent a lot of time working on that, and we had to learn the music for it. There was a lot involved," Kantor said.

Actors' Equity prexy Nick Wyman, who specializes in musicals of this vintage (Les Misérables, A Tale of Two Cities), was, of course, in Phantom's original cast, playing the grumpy Monsieur Firmin to Groenendaal's Monsieur Andre — and he was, clearly, happy to be "home" again. "It's a joy to see my old pals from 25 years ago," he said. "People have a connection to shows when they do them. This is certainly one that runs deep. I did it for two years, and I feel very connected to all the people I did it with." He figured there were 100-plus ex-Phantomites at the performance.

Sierra Boggess
photo by Monica Simoes

George Lee Andrews, who put in 9,382 performances in Phantom and holds the Guinness World Record for the longest time an actor has spent in the same show, went directly into Lloyd Webber's Evita last September when he surrendered Monsieur Andre to his real-life son-in-law, Aaron Galligan-Stierle, and now he's hours into unemployment (Evita closed Saturday), but he's okay with that: "I've got a couple of one-shot things lined up but nothing permanent. I'm just going to relax a little bit and look around."

Gorgeous Boggess, fairing superbly for a The Little Mermaid out-of-water, professed to being in post-show heaven and probably was. "I had the most incredible evening," she trilled. "I loved coming out at the end and doing the finale, and the show itself was extraordinary. I'm in it for six weeks — well, five now. I'm here 'til March 2."

And next? "I'm really looking forward to Prince of Broadway because — don't you agree? — we need to keep honoring Hal as long as we can. After tonight, I was, like, 'This is the perfect time for that show to come.' I can't wait for that to happen."

Panaro dittoed that: "I feel so proud to be a part of theatrical history — and to be on the same stage with Harold Prince, for goodness sake. I mean, he's The Man. He gave me my first break as Raoul so the fact that I'm here 25 years later is because of him!"

In honor of this thrilling and historic occasion, Panaro pointedly altered the very last sung line of the show. Pointing directly to Prince who was standing beside him, he sang with great heart and gusto, "You alone have made our song take flight."

The maestro was caught off-guard and turned the loveliest shade of beet red.

Read Playbill staff writer Adam Hetrick's report about the glittering Jan. 26 Broadway performance of Phantom.

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Hugh Panaro, Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo
Photo by Monica Simoes