Broadway’s “Phantom of the Opera” plans to return to the stage carefully

File Photo: Actor Ben Crawford, who plays “Phantom,” is on stage at the Sky Majestic Theater, which is scheduled to reopen in October in Manhattan, New York City, USA, on September 3, 2021. Photo taken on September 3, 2021. REUTERS / Caitlin Ochs

October 24, 2021

Jonathan Allen

New York (Reuters) – Megan Piselno has returned to work after an 18-month pandemic limbo. While rehearsing the return of Broadway’s longest-running show, I was delighted to sing and dance again with her “Phantom of the Opera” castmates.

As the musical reopened in late October, Piselno could think of the first curtain unharmed in the groundbreaking COVID-19 incident, which set aside vaccinated actors at other shows. It was to get to the call.

Outside of the long days at a chilly mirrored rehearsal studio near Times Square in New York City, Piselno relied on what she called lockdown.

“I’m a perfect monk now,” she said during a rush lunch break during a series of run-throughs.

She knew that her work carries the risk of exposure. To play the show’s heroine, Christine, Piselno had to kiss two co-stars every day, remove the mask and sing a full-throat love song at close range.

“Hopefully none of us have it, because if one of us has it, we all have it,” she said. rice field.

When the coronavirus began to devastate the state, the crowded Broadway theater, an integral part of the city’s tourism industry, was the first place closed by the New York government. The sudden shutter news came when some cast and crew themselves became ill during the “Phantom” Matinee at the Majestic Theater on March 12, 2020.

Now, after an unprecedented closure, the theater is one of the last workplaces to reopen. Their return this fall is seen as a test of the city’s efforts to regain a new sense of normality.

Reuters saw the “phantom” company preparing to return. The pandemic left an unmistakable mark.

Within weeks of the show’s darkness, COVID-19 killed Jennifer Arnold, a beloved dresser who had been on the show for over 30 years.

Newly unemployed Broadway workers enter the industry to increase racial diversity in theater companies after U.S. streets were protested last year by anger over the killing of black George Floyd by white police officers. I pressed for a change in delinquency.

In August, “Phantom” producers announced that they had cast a black actor to play Christine for the first time since the show was held on Broadway in 1988. Actor Emily Chow debuts on Broadway as a replacement for Piselno.

For the returned cast, it’s easier to fine-tune and learn the lyrics and staging, and cast non-white actors to the lead role. The entire company needed to be vaccinated, and twice a week I wiped my nose reused as a temporary coronavirus testing site in a nearby theater lobby.

Piselno said he was happy to accept whatever he needed to get back on stage.

When she lived in North Carolina with her parents in the dark days of 2020 and claimed unemployment benefits, she said she “feels almost like a failure.” She sang her part every day and kept it fresh in her heart until she was too sad to sing and stopped.

On the first day of reuniting with her castmate in late September, emotions overcame her again. The composer Andrew Lloyd Webber shook by the studio and told the cast fluently before the cast sang the familiar score.

Piselno’s song melted in tears during the love duet “Everything I Ask You”.

“Sing together! Help her!” The conductor urged the masked choir, whose voice carried Piselno until she regained her composure.

“Think about me”

A few days later, the cast practiced the dance steps by combining streetwear with the bulky pieces of 19th-century-style outfits.

Piselno danced in a bell-like soprano, sang “Think of Me” and drew a scarf with his fingers. In a corner of the studio, Kouatchou quietly projected every move of Picerno.

Kouatchou, the daughter of an immigrant from Cameroon, grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. “Phantom” was the first Broadway show she saw when she visited New York with her high school. I remember she was fixed to Christine.

“I was able to sing that role while I was sleeping,” she recalled.

Still, she was worried about stereotypes. I was worried that there might be some discrepancies in her voice, the opera soprano, and her appearance.

“I didn’t feel like I had a place in the musical theater because no one looked like me singing like me,” she said.

COVID-19 turned the live theater over and created a space for progress.

“The pandemic was terrible,” Kouatchou said. “But without a pandemic, we wouldn’t have been able to have such conversations or change things like this.”

Now, as the phantom begins to announce its terrifying presence in Act 1, a frightened ballet dancer turns to the heroine and sings, “Christine, are you okay?”

Before the pandemic and Kouatchou casting, the lyrics were always “Your face, Christine, it’s white!”.

The old and eerie Christine doll, which stood in the phantom’s hideout, also had undeniably white features. A new doll designed to be racially ambiguous will debut on the night of reopening.

Later that week, Kouatchou first glimpsed one of the new Christine wigs designed for the texture of her hair.

“It’s more curly, more curly, and I love it,” Kouatchou said.

“Points of no return”

During the first full day of stage rehearsals at the Majestic Theater, company members were waiting to show evidence of vaccination in a trash can-lined alley leading to the stage door.

Behind the scenes, a masked dresser, helping the actor change clothes quickly in the darkness of the wings, was testing a replacement for the bite light that he had in his teeth before the pandemic. They experimented with small lamps on their foreheads and gloves, hoping that they would shoot light throughout the stage in the middle of the show and not confuse the audience.

From the orchestra’s seat, John Riddle, who plays the show’s hero Raul, marvels at one of the dazzling spotlights high up in the proscenium. He said the beam was used to illuminate a “constant cloud of dust.”

“The fact that it’s clear now means something to me,” he said. “They say Broadway theaters are the cleanest ever.”

Still, there was some worrisome news from a nearby show. The Disney musical “Aladdin” was forced to close for two weeks shortly after its reopening in September due to too many coronavirus-positive actors.

Marie Johnson, who plays Madame Giry, a ballet mistress in black, said “Phantom” also resigned from the possibility of recording a breakthrough coronavirus case.

“It will happen sooner or later,” she said.

Nine days later, on Friday afternoon, Piselno was in the dressing room when he opened an email containing the results of his last coronavirus test before resuming the night. Relief struck her. It was negative.

That night, spectators in evening dresses, bow ties, and occasionally “phantom” style costumes filled the theater doors looking for evidence of vaccination.

“Welcome to Broadway!” Sounded the COVID safety monitor of a new employee who waved a big sign saying “Mask up” to the audience.

Behind the scenes on the stairs, some members of the company put pictures of vases and Arnold. Arnold lost to COVID-19. Some of the cast and crew paused by the monument before resuming the last few minutes of rush in the nearby dressing room.

The lights of the house dimmed, and the familiar “phantom” -themed descending chromatic scale chords soared from the orchestra pit. Piselno danced across the stage, sometimes imitating the gestures of her hands, as the quatcho watched from the audience. The new Christine doll lurks in Phantom’s hideout, and her face is now silver.

At the final curtain call, the audience barked with delight. Piselno rushed to the stage, bowed, crumpled his face and wept.

(Report by Jonathan Allen, edited by Colleen Jenkins and Diane Craft)

Broadway’s “Phantom of the Opera” plans to return to the stage carefully

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