Bright lights, big chandelier: The ‘Phantom’ lure of Broadway
The Great White Way was never my way. The idea of Broadway — the crowds, the cost, the bathos — was an affront to my community theater sensibilities. I imagined Manhattan’s famed theater district oozing excess and ego from every pore.
But at some point I knew that I would have to look into the klieg lights. “Hamilton,” for one reason. Not that I was ever going to score a ticket to the smash-hit musical, but if Broadway is good enough for a Founding Father, then how could I object? I also seemed to be the lone holdout: More than 13 million people attended a show this season, according to the Broadway League.
Stepping into Times Square, I felt a heavy weight on my cultural development and my wallet. Broadway tickets are car-repair expensive, so I had to choose my play wisely. I headed straight for the Oracle of Broadway, the TKTS booth, one of four locations offering discounts of up to 50 percent. I approached an employee helping bewildered patrons and asked him to recommend a play for a Broadway neophyte.
“If you’re looking for classic-y Broadway,” he said, “then ‘Cats,’ ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ ‘Chicago’ or ‘Kinky Boots.’ ”
TKTS was selling tickets to all four, which benefited my budget but enabled my indecisiveness. (The offerings change daily.) I asked him about his first Broadway show. “Your first Broadway play will be different than mine,” he said, “because I went when I was young.”
Was that a cloud passing overhead or did he just throw some shade my way?
I started chatting with an actor starring in the off-Broadway show “Bastard Jones.” He agreed to play a supporting role in my melodrama.
“‘Phantom of the Opera’ is a classic,” said Matt McGloin, who has also performed in the District. “Its reputation is so big, people from around the world come to see it.”
If I were a return theatergoer, he would have pushed harder for “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” a new musical based on a fragment of Tolstoy’s tome. But for my inaugural outing . . . “‘Phantom of the Opera,’ ” Matt said with conviction. “‘Phantom of the Opera,’ ” I said to the man working at window No. 7.
I paid $79, half off the price of a prime seat in the orchestra section.
At the Majestic Theatre, I joined the short queue and opened my bag wide for the security guard. Inside the venue, I hovered near the bar, eyeing a souvenir cup decorated with the Phantom’s mysterious white mask. A woman ordered an apple juice in the cup, paying $10. I opted for the water fountain.
I took my seat three rows from the stage, second cushion from the aisle. All around me, people were taking photos of the classically august theater, one of Broadway’s largest with 1,645 seats. I ducked to avoid a Snapchat-in-progress. (Note: The Majestic bans photography and video, but no one seems to enforce the rule.)
A few minutes after 7 p.m., the lights dimmed, the actors materialized on stage and the little girl behind me ripped open a bag of chips. I was so close to the action that I could see the sparkly red eye shadow on the actress playing Carlotta. I am pretty sure that I gasped, or at least sucked in some air, when the chandelier took flight like a sequined UFO. I marveled at the lavish costumes, the extravagant set design and the ceiling-shattering high notes. The music sounded a bit like the Eucharist of Synth-Pop, but I felt myself letting go, bodysurfing on the waves of emotion.
During intermission, I perused the merchandise and was proud of myself for now understanding the relevance of the music box with the cymbal-clapping monkey. (I didn’t have to sit long for the answer.) The second act started with the little girl breaking into a new bag of snacks and the visual and aural assault of the “Masquerade” scene. I remained pinned to the play for most of the singing and dancing, though sometime around Scene 7, my mind drifted to the Koreatown restaurant near my hotel. I snapped out of my food reverie as the show neared its dramatic finale. The last image of my first Broadway show pricked my heart: the Phantom’s mask glowing like a white lily in a bright ray of sun.
The audience rose for a standing ovation, and I did, too. The cast, musicians, set and costume designers, lighting directors, Andrew Lloyd Webber and, yes, the chandelier worked really hard to keep us entertained for more than two hours. They deserved palm-slapping applause on thankfully straightened legs.
Most of the theaters disgorge at about the same time, and I joined the teeming masses on the sidewalks. Outside the Shubert Theatre, two women asked me to snap their photo by the “Hello, Dolly” sign. They raved about the show, but were disappointed to learn that Bette Midler was on vacation. At least the Phantom showed up for my performance.