The world has changed overnight. Things that only happen in the movies are playing out right before our eyes and it’s pretty surreal knowing we’re going through a major historical event. As COVID-19 continues to be a big, giant butt hole, humanity has had to learn a lot of new techniques to cope, especially when it comes to quarantine. Looking on the bright side is one of them. For instance, this pandemic may be horrible, but at least we’ve got something of our own now that we can throw in the faces of future generations like our forefathers have in the past.
“Boy, you don’t know how good you got it. Back in my day, they forced us to stay indoors … in the air conditionin’ … told us we couldn’t work for weeks and all we had to occupy us was eatin’ tater chips and layin’ around in our pajamas all day watchin’ Netflix and postin’ self-righteous memes on the Facebook!”
But for me, and maybe for you as well, I’ve found that finding stuff to keep myself entertained has brought me back to some things in my life I’ve neglected, namely my absolute passion for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of The Phantom Of The Opera. And that’s what this episode is about - My life with The Phantom.
I’m Michael Blackston. Join me as we open an enormous theatrical curtain on my Funny Messy Life.
I grew up singing for audiences, and not just normal kid songs, either - songs like I’ve Been Working On The Railroad, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or I Like Big Butts And I Cannot Lie. No, while my first official solo at age five was called, Dead Eye Dick, I quickly graduated to fancier numbers like, The Rainbow Connection and Tomorrow from ANNIE. Then I pulled out the big guns. I think I was eight when I performed Memory from CATS in a competition and I would have won first place if the judges hadn’t been such push overs and gave the win to a little girl who turned a bunch of schoolyard flips to music and called herself a “tumbler”, Halfway through her act, she did something wrong, got scared and ran off the stage, and was eventually coaxed back on. I sang flawlessly, but got second place behind tumble girl. I deserved first place and I know it because my mom and my grandmother told me so. But I’m not bitter.
Anyway, singing Memory was the first time I was exposed to the magic of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. He composed CATS and would eventually become my hero as I started writing plays and musicals.
Jump forward into my teens. Fifteen to be exact. My step-father took my mother and I to New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. During the trip, my mother thought she’d surprise me with a night on Broadway - the Winter Garden Theatre, which was home to CATS. She thought I’d be elated, but alas, I was not. I was fifteen and my interests had temporarily changed from singing and performing to hunting and fishing and being the most obnoxious redneck I could possibly be. I told her I didn’t want to go see a bunch of dudes wearing tights dancing around like a bunch of sissies. I wanted to stay at the hotel while they went to the show.
Mama calmly told me that the tickets had already been purchased and I would love it and I was going and if I argued about it again, she would throw me right into the Hudson river. So I went and it was magical. It changed my mind about theatre right then and my world went from wanting to fish in the rain to wanting to sing in the rain.
Not long after that trip, my step-father surprised us again with a package of tickets at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta. The shows included: The Buddy Holly Story, Annie, CATS again, and The Phantom Of The Opera. This time I WAS excited, but I didn’t know just how affected I would be after seeing Phantom. I think the finale scene where The Phantom is holding Christine’s dress and she rides away in a boat with Raoul and The Phantom wails in despair, “It’s over now - the music of the night” … that moment might have been the first time I cried at a show. It still gets me every time I hear it. It’s my favorite moment in the play because when the actor playing Erik - that’s The Phantom’s name - gets it right, it’ll tear out your heart and leaving you bleeding in the mezzanine … or the orchestra seats if you spent the big bucks.
From that moment on, everything was POTO, which is what cool Phans sometimes call it and is easier to keep typing out instead of Phantom Of The Opera. Phans, by the way and in this case, is correctly spelled with a PH.
First, I went out and bought the original London cast soundtrack with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. I learned it note for note and walked around everywhere singing it. There was a used bookstore in town and one afternoon I found a large paperback that not only went into detail about the creation of the show, but had a step by step photo diagram of The Phantom’s makeup application and in the back was the full libretto. When that book caught my eye, I probably screamed like a fan girl, maybe cried a little, and held the book to my chest like it was an original manuscript of the Bible. You couldn’t have plucked it away from me if the entire female portion of the cast of CATS was just outside the window in their skin tight leotards, grinding away to Mr. Mistopholes.
I read that book cover to cover several times before lending it to a friend who never gave it back. I should have known better. In fact, let me jot ordering it again right onto my to-do list while I’m thinking about it.
For most of my adulthood, you could count on three loves in my life behind God and family. Those were Theatre in general, University of Georgia Football, and POTO. I needed nothing else. I had my Phantom picture frame, I had my official mask I bought from The Really Useful Group that wasn’t exact;y right had too much shine, but I didn’t care. I had my two revues that I performed Phantom numbers in wearing said mask … I was happy.
I dressed as The Phantom every single Halloween until I overheard someone say, “Here comes Michael dressed as The Phantom - again.” After that I gave it a year off, then dressed as The Phantom the next Halloween. There’s something about becoming that character for lovers of the musical that inspires passion and intensity. I never felt that way dressed as Dracula or Batman or a Hooters girl.
But there was a time that I lost my way. I had one kid, then another. I started writing plays and novels and became all consumed with those endeavors until Phantom slowly faded into the rest of the craziness around me.Instead of being a beacon lighting the path to a happy place, it was just another boat lost in the rocky sea of my life.
Then the pandemic hit and suddenly I was finding extra hours that needed filling. Actually, two things happened. The pandemic, yeah, but I also finished my second novel and began my current project, which is finishing my own musical. I started composing and needed something special in the way of inspiration.
One night, right at the beginning of when everyone was being told to stay home and only poke your head out the door to see how cold it is or if we’re going to have six more weeks of COVID, I saw my hero - Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber - videoing himself from quarantine, playing All I Ask Of You from Phantom. I couldn’t believe it. I was getting to see the man perform his own work from his home on his piano. It was one of the dearest things I’d ever experienced and suddenly the light was back, beckoning me to my own piano. Since this reawakening, I’ve made more progress on my show than I ever have. I joined a group on Facebook for Phantom lovers and everyone there has been amazing and helps to keep my creative juices flowing.
I don’t know, I guess everyone has that one specific thing. I have other loves in my life. I can’t seem to stop watching The Office from end to end, then starting right back over again. And there are plenty of other things too, but there’s something special about The Phantom. His deep, consuming love for Christine. His secret lair on the lake beneath the Paris Opera House - a lake that really does exist. The gothic, hauntingly beautiful melodies that pierce you to the marrow from the moment the main theme erupts at the beginning of the show when the mountain of a chandelier begins to rise from the stage and hovers ominously and foreboding above the audience. The knowledge that the time will come when that chandelier will come crashing down, making good on the deadly promises of The Phantom. It’s all a perfect experience that takes you in and makes you want to be there … to really be there.
So while this episode wasn’t necessarily very funny or messy, it does represent an integral part of my life. I plan to hold tightly to The Phantom from now on, because I never want it to be over - the music of the night.
If you enjoyed this episode, there’s a lot more you can listen to and hopefully a lot more to come. All you have to do is subscribe. Most folks do that via Apple podcasts, but it’s available wherever you listen to your podcasts and you can even subscribe at the website, funnymessy.com. Maybe you have a Phantom or theatre story of your own … I’d truly love to hear it and we can be pals. You can get in touch with me at the website in the comments sections of the blog, from the contact page, or if you’d prefer to email me, it’s email@example.com.
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