A LIFE IN THE WINGS

My mom conducted Phantom of the Opera for the first time when she was 7 months pregnant with me. My dad was in various productions of the show as a performer throughout my infancy and early childhood. Needless to say, I heard Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and felt the warmth of theater lights from inside the womb. It’s not a lifestyle that I ever thought was odd or different, but over the years, I’ve discovered that some people find it to be quite interesting. It’s difficult to summarize what my childhood in the theater was like but here are a few of the most memorable moments.

When my mom was pregnant with me, the cast and crew of the LA production of Phantom had a bet going on when I would be born. Michael Crawford was in the LA production at that time. His guess was the closest to my actual birth time and, therefore, HE won the pool of money. With this money, he bought me a baby-sized bracelet with my name engraved on it and wrote me (my mom) a beautiful letter welcoming me into the world. I’ve seen him since and reminded him of this story, which neither of us really remember. 

The "Phantot of the Opera".
The “Phantot of the Opera”.

As Phantom gained popularity, it started opening in various cities and countries around the world. My mom was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to put together and maintain many of the European productions, one of which was in Hamburg, Germany. The production there ran for 10 years and she would often take me with her when she went for auditions, rehearsals or to check in on the production. Many of my favorite memories are from various visits to the Neue Flora theater in Hamburg. Among these are taking my first steps in Hal Prince’s hotel room at the Four Seasons, and (much later) singing in German with the offstage singers during the show.

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The first memory needs no more explanation than I was in Hal’s hotel room, I walked and everyone was excited. Here’s more on the second: I often found it more exciting to hang out with the performers during the show rather than staying with my mother who was purely business when at work. There was a canteen at the Neue Flora which was open throughout the show and served food, drinks, candy, etc. I often planted myself there, waiting for the actors to come in and spend time with me. On one occasion, they were leaving the canteen to do the offstage singing in the second act of the show. I somehow convinced them that I knew the German lyrics and could sing it with them. Much to my mother’s chagrin, they brought me along and I sang the words loud and clear. I was no longer allowed to leave the canteen during the performances after that.

In the Christine Wig and Crown.
In the Christine Wig and Crown.

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly mischievous child but in hindsight, it seems I caused my mom a bit of trouble now and then. One thing she LOVED was when I walked around giving actors notes on their performance. I’m told I went up to a Raoul following the show and told him he did a great job but his voice was a bit too dark for the role. I’d like to see how my mom dug herself out of that hole. Evidently, this is one of many inappropriate notes I gave to actors throughout my childhood. I’m hoping that with age I’ve gained at least a bit of diplomacy when speaking with actors.

"Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
“Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

At a certain point, I think around age 4, I became very frightened of the Phantom and was unable to watch the show. When the touring production went to Cleveland, my mom’s family went to see the show and brought me along with them. As soon as it started, I began to cry and insisted that I couldn’t watch. My aunt took me into the theater lobby where I performed the duration of the show for the ushers. 

In addition to working on Phantom, my mom worked on various other shows including Sunset Boulevard. As I mentioned in a previous post, she would often take me out of school to go on business trips with her. This time, she took me with her when they were rehearsing and opening the Sunset Boulevard tour. The production was still in previews and on one particular night, they were having to start and stop the show many times due to technical difficulties. On the third or fourth time stopping, the production stage manager went to make an announcement to the audience, grabbed my hand and pulled me up on stage. I stood there sheepishly in shorts and Birkenstocks (with socks) while he said “you can’t be mad at me when I have this cute little girl next to me, but we are going to have to stop the show once again. We will resume shortly”. 

Peter Lawrence and I trying to calm the audience.
Peter Lawrence and I trying to calm the audience.

One evening, my mom and I had settled in for a night of take-out and movies. We were lying on the couch in our PJs relaxing when at around 7:55 she got a call from the stage manager at Phantom. They didn’t have a conductor for the 8:00 performance and needed her to come conduct as fast as possible. We hopped in a cab and rode down 9th avenue. We lived at Columbus Circle and what should have been a 5-10 minute cab ride at most took forever due to unexpected traffic. We got out a few blocks from the theater and started running. I sat in the front house left box in my pajamas and watched my mom conduct the show that night.

Another day watching rehearsal.
Another day watching rehearsal.

When I tell people that I grew up in the theater, it’s hard to express how much it truly runs in my veins. I’d say this is partly by choice and partly due to my upbringing. I tried for years to extract myself from the world of musical theater but felt a constant pull to return. The swell of the music, the excitement backstage, the corny/cliché/magical drama of it all, it’s intoxicating to me.

2 thoughts on “A LIFE IN THE WINGS”

  1. Sounds fun! I think there is something special with the way people are brought together with theater (working backstage), especially because the people who do that kind of work are normally artistic and fun. I don’t even remember ever seeing a live performance, which is something I’ll have to add to my to-do list!

    1. Thanks for reading! Yes you should make it a priority, it’s a special experience I think!

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