Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A ‘Phantom’ By Any Other Name

Having grown up on the East Coast, I had the luxury of being a repeat patron of the theater in New York City. 

I was introduced to my first Broadway show, “Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat,” while on a class trip in the 7th grade.  I remember the exhilaration of entering New York City – via the Lincoln Tunnel – on that spring day.  Of course, I also remember exactly what I was wearing: purple Candies sneakers; pink and white striped Sergio Valente Jeans; a pink asymmetrical snap top – very Michael Jackson; and, if it got cool, I had my Member’s Only jacket with me.

Being to the Theatre made such an impression on me that I begged my mom to take me to see another show;  Even though my single mom – who worked full-time – didn’t have a lot of money, she would save up and we would see one hit show a year. 

A few of our favorites were: “Cats,” “Les Misèrables,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Rent,” “Lion King,” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” which was my all-time favorite.

So a few years after I moved out to Los Angeles, my grandmother, who lived in New Jersey, asked me what Jason and I wanted for Christmas.  Since she lived on the East Coast, I thought tickets to see “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood would be an ideal gift. 

Nana thought the idea was marvelous.  She suggested that I order the tickets – since I knew what I was doing (at least I thought so) – and then she would reimburse me with a check.  So I called the ticket agency and happily began to make arrangements. 

To my delight, the ticket agent told me that there were indeed seats left.  To my dismay, she also told me that – if we wanted to sit together – we would have to purchase $100 seats.  I was at a loss.  I didn’t want Nana spending an arm and a leg for a production I had already experienced on Broadway.  (Jason had yet to see it, but he’s a guy, need I say more.)  Also, I was a starving writer at the time, so I didn’t have any extra cash to kick in.

So I politely asked the ticket agent to check each and every performance for two seats together – even if they were in the nosebleed section.  After 10 minutes of checking, she told me there were no seats together.

I had this notion that seeing “Phantom” with Jason would be extremely romantic.  Every time I heard the commercial on the radio or television, I would get goose bumps.  So sitting separately just seemed to defeat the purpose.

My thoughts were beginning to stray toward “Rent,” when I heard the representative say, “Wait a minute.”  I waited and she told me that the cast was coming back for one more “special performance” at the Forum Theater.  I couldn’t believe my luck, but little did I know.

After I had purchased the two $30 per seat tickets, plus tax and handling fees, I had the mind to ask the representative if the Forum Theater was in Los Angeles.  She reassured me that it was a local theater in Los Angeles.

You can imagine my surprise when I received the tickets and printed in black and white it stated that the Forum Theater was located on Thousand Oaks Boulevard in Thousand Oaks.  Nowhere on that ticket was the word Los Angeles.  But it didn’t matter because we were going to see a special production of “The Phantom of the Opera.”

After weeks and I mean weeks, of bragging to family, friends and co-workers, the day was finally here.  We dressed in our Sunday best and drove an hour and a half to the Forum Theater.

As soon as we paid $5 to park in the lot at the Thousand Oaks City Hall, I should have known something was wrong.  Once inside, I noticed there was no orchestra as the usher escorted us to our cramped seats. I brushed the thought aside, telling myself it was hidden somewhere in the small 100-seat theater.

Immediately, the lights dimmed and, as my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, I began to inspect my surroundings and I didn’t like what I saw.  Most people were dressed in either jeans or sweat suits and had bouncing babies on their knees.  Babies at “Phantom”? I reassured myself that it was nothing.

I was still in denial when the character that portrayed the Phantom stripped off his cape and played another character – not really disguising the fact that he was the same person.  Like a child believing in Santa Claus, I just didn’t want to give in to the thought that I had been misled to the wrong play; the wrong cast…the wrong plot line?

As I looked up on stage, the Phantom and his mother were being reunited just one year after he was scarred by the big fire in the opera house, while Christine, a non-love interest, suggested that he give singing lessons.  They summed this all up by singing a Barney-like (yup, big purple dinosaur Barney) song about how people will accept you for who you are on the inside and not on the outside if you only believe in yourself.

As the Phantom played “air” piano while sitting on the production’s one prop, a wooden crate with wheels, Jason leaned over and asked me what happened to all the songs from the soundtrack? (Which I had forced him to listen to for weeks leading up to this day.)

At that moment, I looked up on stage and knew I had been duped.  I couldn’t believe how long it took me to realize my ignorance.  Approximately one hour after we arrived, the grand finale was being played out before my eyes.  And then it came to me, this was a children’s production of “Phantom of the Opera;” Hence the aroma of diapers wafting in the air.

After the performance, I was livid.  We paid the same amount to see “Phantom” at this community theater as we would have if we had gone to the Pantages.  I was so upset because Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” had left town and we had missed our chance to see it together.

I was so irate and Jason just kept telling me it was alright, but I just couldn’t let it go.  I felt that I had been duped and was near tears when we finally made it back to our car.

Jason kept trying to talk me off the ledge and, half-way back to the South Bay, I started to lighten up.  I actually did begin to see the humor in the situation.  By the time we got back to Manhattan Beach for lunch, we could not stop laughing.  Both of us were laughing so hard we were crying every time we thought of the big finale at the end and how incredibly dopey the whole production had been.

The good news is that “Phantom” did come back to L.A. a few years later and we were able to get great seats in the orchestra.  I was able to hold my honey’s hand as the faux chandelier almost dropped on our heads while Erik steals Christine away deep into the bowels of the opera house. 

It was the best day ever.

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