Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Phantom Experience

By Misty L. Harris

I used to hate riding the yellow school bus. Back then we called them “cheeses.” The big kids would laugh and point at us when we pulled up to the metro. I couldn’t wait to be one of those kids on the other side! By the time that period came, I was in high school and finally felt like one of the cool kids riding the metro with my big sister! I thought my “cheese” bus riding days were over until I received a really cool opportunity to go on a school trip to see my first Broadway musical, The Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. For years, I dreamed about seeing this musical. In middle school music class, we studied it and I knew all of the music. I went home and begged my parents to go. They said yes and I was elated. There was only one concern - the yellow bus ride there. Although I had years of experience, my mother was not too thrilled at the idea.

For an adult, one to two hours was a long time to ride a bus. There was plenty of conversation and laughter, most of it centered around the bus. Every bump we hit, we flew up in the air. It was uncomfortable but we made the best out of it. By the time we arrived in Toronto, I was amazed (I was fourteen at the time). It may have been the first or second time I had visited the city, so this was a big deal for me! The streets were packed and there was plenty to see. As the “cheese” pulled up near Pantages Theatre, I was in awe to see the mask of the phantom looming over the top of the building. Anticipation reached its peak. I felt special. I have two other sisters and it was rare for us to have family outings without the whole family. Yes, I finally had my parents to myself!!! The theatre was amazing. Inside the stage was overwhelming. It was a dream come true and as the infamous chandelier rose up to the ceiling, I knew I would remember this for the rest of my life. During intermission, my parents bought me a program of the show and a t-shirt and decades later I still have them both. After dinner and a little Toronto sight-seeing, the yellow bus ride home was less intense. We were all talking about the amazing performance we had just witnessed. Every now and then we run into someone who went on that school trip with us and one of the first things mentioned is the bus ride! It’s still a funny memory.

Throughout the years I have seen several Broadway musicals and I have seen The Phantom of the Opera at least two more times. I’ve loved it each time but nothing will compare to the first time I saw it in Toronto with my parents. I will always remember our amazing seats and my dad unwrapping these chewy phantom-shaped candies when the entire theatre was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Candy was prohibited in the theatre at the time and I just knew we were going to get caught. After that, I no longer cared about riding the yellow bus and all of my bad school memories were replaced by this one.

This weekend on Sunday, March 4th at 8 p.m. on WNED-TV, PBS’s Great Performances celebrates 25 years of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera with a special performance at London’s Albert Hall. The cast includes Ramin Karimloo as “The Phantom” and Sierra Boggess as “Christine.” Hear favorites like The Music of the Night and All I Ask of You. If this is your first time seeing it be prepared to be amazed. If this is your second or third time (between the movies and the live musical, I’ve lost count) enjoy it as much as you did the first time you saw it. It will always be my absolute favorite musical. Maybe not so much because of the musical itself (it’s great) but more so because of the experiences that accompanied seeing it for the first time that day.

Watch The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall on PBS. See more from Great Performances.

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