Theater (along with the other arts) has always been a respected part of my family. We’ve always attended plays and musicals, from performances at church to high school musicals to summer stock theater to traveling Broadway performances and shows actually on Broadway.
We mostly frequent PlayhouseSquare in Cleveland, where I saw “The Phantom of the Opera” on Sunday evening. A far as I can remember, “Phantom” was my first show there roughly 10 years ago.
As a child, I remember seeing “The Nutcracker” at Packard Music Hall in Warren, “Annie” at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron, a performance of “Peter Pan” somewhere and going to the Youngstown Playhouse for other shows.
But then at some point in seventh grade I was introduced to “Phantom” and fell in love. I was always singing along to myself, particularly Think of Me and Masquerade. Fortunately, that same year, “Phantom” was traveling the U.S. with a stop in Cleveland. My mom and I went, and I was in love with the magic of Broadway. (Prior to this I saw “The Sound of Music” on Broadway, and though I loved it, I remember being surprised at the differences between the musical and the movie.)
Throughout high school and college, my mom and I (or myself with another friend and her family) would head to PlayhouseSquare and see a show whose music we loved. Very infrequently do we see something entirely new, mostly because we like knowing a bit of the story or the music; although one should be able to watch a musical with no prior knowledge, there is often so much going on, that there are just too many things to pay attention to.
This year we branched out a bit, seeing three shows this season (my mom saw four), and one was our first drama. “August: Osage County” is a story of how the death of the family patriarch affects his living family. It was depressing and full of anger, totally different from a cheery musical with lots of bright lights and colors, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.
We started the year with “Wicked,” which I don’t think will ever grow old to me, as I have already seen it four times, two of them with front-row, lottery-won seats, and I still love it. This year we took my grandmother, who made the performance even more enjoyable. Watching her get excited over Elphaba’s flying during Defying Gravity is one of my favorite theater moments.
And then this past week we saw “Phantom.” This music also will never grow old or stale or bore me. There are a couple of parts I find a bit slow, but that’s the case with every musical I love. This production took a while to get rolling, finally building rapport and meshing entirely at Angel of Music, which led perfectly into The Phantom of the Opera and continued in perfect enchantment through Music of the Night. It is also perfect that these are the songs with the most effects, when the Phantom and Christine walk down the moving bridge to the gondola that weaves through misty water to his lair below the Opera Garnier.
The Phantom wonderfully exuded his spite, his anger, his love of music and his love of Christine. He emotions are so raw and unpolished that it is hard to not pity him and wish that things will turn out the best for him. No matter how many times I see the musical or listen to the end of the second half, his love always brings me to tears, mostly because he lets go and allows Christine to be happy with Raoul. The Phantom loses what makes the music of the night, but he does what is honorable.
What I am getting at after all of this is that, one, I love the magic that happens at the theater and hope that you someday will experience this magic, too, if you have not already. Secondly, these experiences did not happen that far from home, and many of the theater performances that I have seen happened within a half hour from my house. Yes, going to the theater may not be going somewhere across the globe, but the theater is a new experience and you do have to travel to get there. When traveling, you learn about people and about appreciating things those people do, and seeing musicals is an American tradition. See Shakespeare, and it’s English. Check out a performance of folk dancers or a play in a foreign language. By looking into the experience deeper, it can be more than just a night at the theater.
And for those worrying about the expense of the theater, consider Smart Seats at PlayhouseSquare or equivalents at other theaters. Or the performance or theater might offer student prices or discounts on leftover tickets the night of the show.