In celebration of the 30th Anniversary of "The Phantom of the Opera,” our own Frank DiLella reflects on the show and what it means to him. NY1 will air a special ALL-PHANTOM edition of "On Stage" at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 27.
You always remember your first. It was the summer of 1991 – July, I believe. I couldn’t sleep because the next day I was going to experience “Broadway” – this unknown, mysterious place – for the first time.
For as long as I can remember, musical theater has been a staple in the DiLella household. As a young boy, I was introduced to the worlds of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerry Herman, Leonard Bernstein and Lerner and Loewe by my grandmother Josephine and by my mom, Pat. The very first show I saw was the national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” in the late 80s at The Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia. I was 6, and from the first note of the overture to the final moment of the curtain call, I was transported. The theater has always been sacred ground for me – it’s my temple, my church. So when I imagined visiting a mecca with multiple “temples” – a “theater-land” in New York City – my excitement was hard to contain.
Mom woke me up on that hot summer day. We hopped on the train at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, and two-and-a-half hours later, we were in NYC. After a casual lunch at the now-defunct theater haunt Mamma Leone’s, and a quick purchase at a neighboring gift shop (I bought the original cast recording of “The Secret Garden” on cassette!), we headed to the Majestic. Mom had seen "Phantom" a couple years prior and prepped me for this "grand spectacle."
"Just you wait for the chandelier and the masquerade ball – it’s truly amazing!" she said as we stood in line outside the theater.
As we inched our way closer to the entrance, I vividly remember standing in the doorway gazing at the production photos that covered the glass windows.
An usher greeted us, ripping our tickets - $65.00, the top entrance fee back then! - and we took our seats.
The lights dimmed and an auctioneer appeared on stage.
It was the opening of the show – "the present" – the stage of The Paris Opera House, 1905. The scene progressed, an explosion took place, the overture began, and "The Phantom of the Opera" took flight.
I was "sold" 100 percent on this magical experience, this mega-musical, this thing created by master composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and legendary director Hal Prince. It was my first Broadway show, and like the more than 18 million people who’ve experienced the musical in New York over its 30-year run, I was a convert, a fan. Mark Jacoby was my "Phantom," Karen Culliver was "Christine" and Hugh Panaro played "Raoul."
Almost three decades later, my relationship with "Phantom" continues. On Wednesday, January 24, the Broadway production will celebrate an unprecedented 30 years in New York City (the actual anniversary is January 26). That’s over 12,470 performances!
In celebration of the show’s anniversary, here’s a look back at my coverage of "Phantom" during my tenure at NY1. Cheers to the entire cast, crew and production team for haunting Broadway for three decades strong – past, present and future.