International Phantom Fans Week

16 - 20 September 2009


This should be a rather interesting review of the 5 days of Fans Week since I was escorting  my friend Amanda (phantomgirl113) on her very first commercial flight and her first trip to Las Vegas - so expect many events from our two perspectives.


Day One


Like you really want to hear about this, right? Verdict: Virgin America is Tony Stark airlines without the pole-dancing stewardesses. Cool pastel cabin lighting, spacious seating, young and professional flight attendants, and unique in-flight entertainment (like seat-to-seat chatting). Only downside was no free snacks. And even on a 1.5 hour flight, sometimes you need those peanuts. Oh, and Amanda was taking photos and video of absolutely everything in sight.


And as a bonus, Bryan (phantomfett) and Lindsey (PhantomOnABudget) came to pick us up at the airport since they'd flown in a day early and needed to rent a frikkin' minivan to transport the Red Death hat in. Much appreciated, you guys!


Not wanting to pass up good seats for the week's performances, Amanda and I booked it straight over to the Fans Week registration desk upon our arrival at the Venetian. I'd forgotten that conventions often give you some free swag, so the registration process was a pleasant surprise - particularly since there wasn't much of a line when we arrived. In our complimentary Phantom Fans Week 2009 tote bag (with zipper-close and elastic handles for maximum comfort) were a Fans Week embroidered baseball cap, TAO cd, a signal mirror (the ladies apparently call it a compact), a sewing kit, lots and lots of discount vouchers, a Canyon Ranch SpaClub VIP card, and a PLV discount code good for a full year and open to friends and family. We were also alerted that the local Fox station was going to be doing some coverage about Fans Week the following morning at 6am in front of the Venetian and they were looking for convention guests to show up for the taping. Once we'd secured our seats for the week's performances, we headed back to the lobby and got checked in.


Amanda was in awe of the suite, even if we were situated at the back of the property and the view from our window was of the top of a parking garage. Big deal, we weren't here to stare out the hotel window anyway. This was Phantom Fans Week, biotch!

Choosing the Venetian would prove to be a wise investment considering the tight schedule for the week, however. There was barely time to do anything else besides sleep at night, eat between Insider Sessions, and jump back into the fray. Be sure to get on the hotel's mailing list, kids! You never know when a really good deal will come out!


For the performance, please see the "Phantom Las Vegas (Crivello/Hertzenberg (u/s)/Ragone) - 16 September 2009" review.


Day Two


If I may take a page from the libretto of Mamma Mia! -- September 17: What a night!


Morning Session: Anthony Crivello Q&A
When we walked into the Phantom Theatre for the first Insider Session of Fans Week, it was a bit strange to not see the prologue set and the dustcovers in place. Instead, the bare stage held only a single chair, small table, and bottle of water - instantly making me think we were going to see Bill Cosby do one of his comedy shows. But no, we were here to see Anthony Crivello (The Phantom), and I was curious to hear what he would be talking about.


One of the surprises for me was that Anthony's never read the original Leroux novel -- not wanting any outside source to influence him. Instead, he worked only with the libretto and Hal Prince's direction in order to shape his interpretation. I found this intriguing since from the very beginning, I'd seen quite a bit of Leroux's Erik in his portrayal. Oh, and he also said that he didn't watch the movie, which caused a good number of us to break out into spontaneous applause *LOL* He did say he may read the book sometime down the road and see if that affects his interpretation, but for the moment, he goes by what's in the libretto, Hal Prince's direction, and things in himself that he can bring to the part.


I was glad it didn't devolve into a love-fest as I've seen that happen at actor Q&As in the past at other conventions. The audience has some very insightful questions to ask about acting in general, Anthony's process, and how he handles the rigors of being a singer in a region that is terrible for singers in terms of climate.


Sadly, once the session was over, it was over. No opportunity for the audience members to get autographs or photos with Anthony afterwards. Definitely something I'd mention in the survey about how to improve things next year.


Afternoon Session: Cast Q&A

The second Insider Session of the day was a Q&A with the rest of the principals. Mark Andrews, the company manager for PLV and served as our emcee for many of the insider sessions, introduced each cast member as they came onstage. Brianne Morgan (Meg Giry) looked particularly smashing in a lovely black dress, just very… mmmmmmm… *shiver* And the others... meh, they looked okay. ;)


Aside from the my initial drooling due to the above, again this session wasn't about fans geeking out over the actors and asking the same old questions they probably are asked over and over again. We wound up getting a lot of insight into them as actors, who inspired them (Brianne got teary-eyed when she recounted the things her mother did to help her daughter reach for her dreams), how they take care of themselves physically and vocally in the desert, how they deal with being far away from husbands or wives or other family, and the occasional Phantom family insider info (like there was a Giry actress in a production whose backstory for her character was that the Phantom had her hooked on morphine). I myself had a very kooky question lined up for Brianne, but another audience member's question about if they'd ever had a crazy phan experience sorta nipped that in the bud.


Oh, and the final question went to Andrew Ragone (Raoul) from a male phan who was totally not coming on to him with his compliments on Andrew's looks. Seriously, the phan even stressed that in the course of asking his question.


Having missed Kristen Hertzenberg (Christine alternate) after the previous night's performance, I was doubly disappointed that there was no opportunity for the audience to get autographs or photos with the cast. And I was hearing whispers concerning that as we exited the auditorium, so it wasn't just me.


With only three hours between the end of the afternoon session and the performance, there was only time for a quick bite to eat (in this case, with old school phan Kathryn, aka Goblins or Shoes) and then back to the suite to get my costume ready.


Up until the very last second, I was debating on whether or not to wear my complete costume to the performance or not. Sure, there was half-hour between the end of the show and the official start of the Ball if I didn't, but would I be able to see or hear anything in full Venetian garb? Not to mention my tricorn hat might be an annoyance to the people sitting behind me and since the temperature in the auditorium varies throughout the show, I might get a little too hot. Ultimately, I decided just to wear my tuxedo and cloak and save the rest for the Ball.


After helping Mandy out with a few minor adjustments to her costume (and wolfing down a box of $13 cashews from the minibar since we wouldn't be having dinner that evening) we headed down to the theatre a little after 6:30pm.


For the performance, please see the "Phantom Las Vegas (Crivello/Holden/Ragone) - 17 September 2009" review.


Masquerade Ball
Leaving Bryan and Lindsey to the mob of tourists surrounding them in the theatre lobby, I made my way back upstairs in order to don the rest of my costume. Shortly thereafter, Mandy and her new friend Ashley arrived, proclaiming that they'd chased Hal Prince (unbeknownst to him) from the theatre lobby to the Grand Luxe Café at the edge of the casino floor. Even documented it in a very "Blair Witch Project" manner, which I find endlessly amusing. Consequently, Mandy's Meg costume was a bit… disheveled, and she and Ashley had come up to reset Mandy's costume for the Ball. Once ready, we headed back down to St. Mark's Square, possibly catching the attention of a tourist or twenty as we made our way from the elevators and through the shoppes.


The section reserved for the Ball turned out to be merely the two bridges that crossed the canal and the path alongside that joined them. And in hindsight, while it would have been nice to have all of St. Mark's Square for the Ball, you would have actually had to shut down two major restaurants and a few shops in order to do so and you know that wouldn't fly with the Venetian management. So we made due with little tables lining the bridges and mingled there, snacking on desserts and drinks.

To say it was crowded is putting it mildly. But I managed to spot Michael Lackey (The Auctioneer and Phantom understudy) and made a beeline over to him after checking in at the table. Many of the cast members were in attendance, mostly wearing dressy clothes and painted masks that (I believe) the costume department had made up for them. Only Brianne, to my knowledge, had come in an actual costume: a cream-colored dress reminiscent of Keira Knightley's from "Pirates of the Caribbean" that she had made herself. Scott Watanabe (PLV swing) was working a billowy-sleeved number too, but for the most part is was evening dresses for the ladies and dressy/dressy casual for the gents. I didn't get to do as much networking as I'd hoped, partly because the din of noise made it difficult to make myself heard through my mask (no wonder the Venetians kept silent while wearing these things) but also due to the fact that Michael Lackey and I were sort of pinned down at our table by a reporter from Pleasant enough conversation, but it went on for quite awhile. I also missed out on the second opportunity to have Kristen sign my 2nd Anniversary book and Christine poster. I did manage to get a photo of Kristi Holden (principal Christine) with the poster, though, as the ball was winding down. And best of all, a nice photo with Brianne.


Anyway, the ball was fun, and I got to chat a bit with other phans who were there like Vicki and Teresa (hosts of "All Things Phantom"), and even participated in a group photo with Kristi, Mark Andrews and the two Red Deaths that has subsequently popped up on the RUG website:


Phans Week masquerade ball


I got to meet a few other cast members as well: Donald Williams (Il Muto Solo Dancer) and Danielle White (ensemble), who both signed my book (and amusingly had to explain that I was the person who created it in the first place). I didn't get to meet the ballerinas, but apparently they were curious as to what says on the side of my mask (it says whatever you want it to say, baby). Truthfully, I hadn't thought about it in a long time. I do know that the maskmaker I bought it from in Venezia didn't even know what it said, only that it was in a dead Italian dialect. Here's the quote:


"Ge pati tormenti e affanni sopporteli con rason perché un omo de tanti anni con amor no ha conclusion."


My rudimentary Italian picks up something about suffering and torment and reason and love, but I can't identify enough to get the gist of what it's saying (although it definitely sounds Italian just based on that). And thanks to a well-educated phan, it means this:

"If you suffer from torments or anxiety, you rightly bear them because a man of many years cannot die of love."


Apparently, Lindsey, Bryan, Mandy, Kathryn, our other friend Andy (dressed as Raoul) and I shut down the party since by the time we decided to head back to our suites, all the tables and decorations and partygoers had vanished. Scott Watanabe was still around, though, so we took a few more shots of Lindsey and Bryan, Lindsey did a video recap of the event and then we headed off to see how much of a stir we could cause wandering around the hotel. Highlights of that included being stopped for photos by a couple of drunk guys, a video recording of Red Death descending the escalator, and being stopped by photo-happy tourists in front of the guest elevators while we tried to decide when to meet up for breakfast the next morning.


And thus, Day Two ended with a sigh of relief as I took that blasted costume off in a nice, cool hotel suite.


Day Three


Ladies and gentlemen, there is such a thing as a Phantom hangover. I've experienced it. It's a good thing I decided to take the evening off from Phantom.


Lindsey, Bryan, Mandy and I reconvened for breakfast and regaled in how good it felt not to have those costumes on anymore. Afterwards, we had just enough time to head down to the theatre for the first Insider Session of the day: Wardrobe and Makeup.


Morning Session: Costumes and Makeup

While we weren't allowed to take photos during the actor Q&A sessions, we were given free reign to take photos and video at the wardrobe session. There were four costumes set up near the boxes (Sylvan Glade Ballerina, Red Death, Countess, and the Dressing Gown), and the fans were not stopped from taking photos of these incredibly detailed pieces.


Mark introduced us to Ms. Sam Fleming, Wardrobe Supervisor and keeper of the costumes for all productions of Phantom of the Opera. The first thing she did was read two names: Jason Hammond and Ashley Yarbrough, the two fans who would be missing the entire session, but have the rare opportunity to be transformed by the costume and makeup team into the Phantom and Christine. She then gave us a little insight into her background before proceeding into a PowerPoint presentation abut the logistics of creating the costumes for a production of this size as well as showing us many photos of the original Las Vegas cast during their fittings (Anthony Crivello in a muslin version of the Phantom's costume screams "Beauty School Drop-out" to me). She went through each character one at a time, giving us some juicy info about each, such as:


• The Phantom's Angel Reprise cape being made of chiffon due to weight concerns

• Tim Martin Gleason never smiles when fitting photographs are taken

• Raoul's Masquerade costume includes a padded chest (I wonder if he pads anything else…)

• They removed the tail of the Fish Girl in Masquerade because no one ever wants to stand next to her otherwise

• Madame Firmin's first name is Fifi (and was formerly "Bunny")

• Even the Conductor wears a costume

• If a fabric can be described in less than three words, it can't be in the show.


Both Kristen Hertzenberg and Maureen Dodson (Mme. Firmin) modeled the Christine wedding dress and Fifi Firmin's (I'm never going to get tired of saying that) opera gown, respectively, as Sam explained the details of each costume. As it turns out, the skirt of the wedding dress is like a giant suction cup and sometimes makes it difficult for the actress to stand up after being thrown to the floor in the Final Lair scene. Kristen demonstrated by lying on the ground in what Sam referred to as, "The cleavage shot. That's what sells the tickets," (which led to an uproarious amount of laughter from Kristen as well as everyone in the audience) and kicking a leg out in order to gain the leverage to stand back up.


Sam also talked about the "Eternal Audience" as the mannequins occupying the side boxes are referred to. Originally, the side boxes were going to be working boxes for audience members, but that was vetoed because the Venetian felt that no one would want to watch the show from the boxes. Then the boxes were going to be filled with animatronic mannequins (think Disney's Hall of Presidents) that could move their heads and arms. This proved prohibitive due to the amount of cables required. So they ultimately went with plain old mannequins dressed up in retired costumes from the show. Sam said only one mannequin head was modeled after an actual person (a U.S. president, I think - the one with smoking a cigar), but I could have sworn I saw an Al Pacino head in there (Say hello to my little friend, Erik!).


Sam closed up the presentation with a short dedication to Maria Björnson, who, as it turns out, was a huge Elvis fan. When they were constructing the theatre, they salvaged an Elvis bust and gave it a hardhat with Maria's name on it. Once the presentation was over, the red curtains parted to reveal the Phantom's Lair and standing center stage were our two audience members in full costume and makeup:


Phans Week Jason and Ashley


It was an astonishing sight, to be sure. You could tell they were giddy with excitement. Jason even sang a few lines, completely taken by the moment. Sadly, it was time to leave so we didn't get to hear anything about their experience or have Ron Wild discuss the makeup process. But Jason did wind up wearing the makeup for the rest of the day, for we saw him not long after in the Venetian food court having lunch in full disfigured glory!


Afternoon Session: Chandelier Experience

Dana Bartholomew of Fisher Technical Services and a Phantom Las Vegas crew member -- whose name I can't remember at the moment -- led the Chandelier Experience Session in which we learned the secrets of the Las Vegas chandelier. When I'd first heard that there would be a 90-minute session about the Chandelier, I was concerned as to how they'd fill up the time (This is how it falls at full speed. Now let's see it again at half-speed… And now at three-quarter speed… and now at three-quarter speed under show lights…), but as it turned out, I needn't have worried. We were treated to a complete and fascinating explanation of how Fisher Technical designed one of the most astounding technical effects on the Las Vegas production.


The first big surprise for me was that the dome above the audience's heads isn't solid but actually composed of painted fabric covering the trusses of the dome. Because of the requirements of the chandelier (assembling above the audience, the crash and subsequent removal from sight afterwards), the designers had to come up with a way to actually pull it all off. Wires connected to the ring at the base of the dome could accomplish some things, but would not be able to lift the chandelier up and out of sight within the stovepipe at the center of the dome (which is only visible when they lit the dome for us to take a peek). The wires holding up the four pieces of the chandelier connect to gears and pulleys within the ribs that allow the technicians to manipulate each piece's position in space. On their initial test, they had one piece moving in a wide circle on a horizontal axis while another piece moved up and down on a vertical axis (sorta like patting your head and rubbing your stomach). When that came off without a hitch, they realized it might actually work.


Phans Week Chandelier


For the assembly sequence, one of the pieces (Piece 2) sits onstage. But with the other three pieces suspended above the audience, that's a maze of wires strung all over the place. To place Piece 2 onstage required the wires for it be let out entirely and another line that comes out of the stage to be attached to it in order to pull it into position (one of the wires for another piece is let out entirely as well so that when their wires intersect, it has enough slack so as not to create any undue tension on the wires. For some reason, it was kinda nerve-wracking to see those wires pulling on each other. When the assembly sequence begins, the stage pullback line is given slack so that the wires can move Piece 2 off the stage and once it's in position, the pullback line is released and the rest of the chandelier pieces are given the green-light to start moving. We were allowed to see them in-flight with the house lights up and it's a strange, beautiful ballet they do. There's also good reason why the Overture is so loud in Vegas: the pulleys create a great deal of noise as they move the chandelier pieces around. We were also told about the safety protocols that automatically stop the sequence should any one piece malfunction. The assembly sequence was shown to us again under show lights with Scott Watanabe leading us into it as the Auctioneer (an audience member recited the Auctioneer lines for the house lights run-through).


We were also told about the crash sequence. It comes in two parts: the pre-crash and the crash. In the pre-crash, the chandelier drops freefall (18 ft/sec) for five feet before coming to a dead stop and shaking. In fact, we were told that the entire auditorium shakes from that sudden stop. It then drops another 30 feet to stop 11 feet above the audience and then is whisked back up over 35 feet into the stovepipe and hidden from view for the rest of the show. All in a matter of seconds. For the show lights demonstration, we were given the opportunity to assume the crash positions underneath the chandelier to experience it firsthand outside the context of the show itself, complete with music cue and Meg scream!


Two other tidbits that came out of the session were how the Phantom gets into position hanging from the chandelier during Il Muto (a very intricate and dangerous-sounding procedure undertaken by the stuntman), and that there is a plate on Piece 2 bearing the Chandelier's name: Maria.



Since I didn't attend the performance that evening (although I was intensely curious as to how the cast would be performing after a notes session with Hal Prince), I took the opportunity to get a little rest and wander around the Palazzo. In my favorite Italian suit, I was mistaken for an employee a total of four times as I strolled through the Venetian and Palazzo properties. You'd think my Christine Daae Testosterone Brigade tie would have given me away.


After the show, I caught up with some friends who had attended the show had a very pleasant late dinner. It was probably the best time I had all week, but I can say no more, for as they say, what happens in Vegas (and that goes for any of you in attendance, too)…


A great way to end the evening and recharge the batteries for the last full day of Fans Week.


Day Four


Morning Session: Phantom Theatre
The final full day of Fans Week started with Production Designer Paul Kelly's Insider Session about the Phantom Theatre. Paul began with a little bit about his background and how he got involved with Phantom. Having seen the show in London, he wrote to the show (I believe possibly to Maria Björnson herself) to say how he loved it and would love to be a part of it in some way. Lucky devil soon found himself serving as Maria's assistant on the Broadway production and later working on the European productions before moving on to film work. He then told us that he had hear early on about plans to stage Phantom in Las Vegas but merely found it curious and wondered how they'd accomplish it. Later, as the project began to develop, complete with many key members of the original creative team, he knew he had to be a part of it.


While they had permission to expand and/or improve upon the original production design, the credo of the Las Vegas production was to maintain the integrity of Maria's work. One of the first things Paul brought up was the auditorium. Originally the boxes were intended to seat actual audience members until the Venetian vetoed that idea. So they decided to expand the set design to stretch out into the auditorium and recreate the boxes from the Opera Garnier. The proscenium arch was even upgraded with all the female figures decked out in glittering jewelry. As far as the show itself, Paul went back to Maria's archives and her original concept sketches for inspiration. In explaining that, we were treated with samples of these little-seen black and white sketches via computer. Candles on the boat, sculptures floating in the lake, the Phantom riding the chandelier down - it was all fascinating for me.


Paul then went through the show scene by scene in mostly chronological order pointing out the changes that were made for the Vegas production. Hal Prince ("OMGHALPRINCE!!!") apparently wanted to give the audience more of a backstage peek of the opera house so the first change was the addition of the fly floor. Introduced during the overture, it makes its key appearance during the hanging of Buquet (a stunt included since the original Buquet dummy never was very convincing and sometimes confused the audience). Hal -- pardon me, Mr. Prince -- didn't care for the hard edge of Christine's dressing room mirror when it slides back as the Phantom takes her into his domain, so the new mirror effect was developed (I still wish there was some way to suck out some of that smoke before Raoul enters, though). For the labyrinth, they tried to give the scene as much depth as they could, considering they only had an additional three feet of depth compared to the stage at The Majestic Theatre in New York. As those who have seen it for themselves, they accomplished it through forced perspective using three stone arches and a mirror at the rear of the stage. Paul also informed us that the boat itself comes in from a point that is actually beyond the back of the stage. I'm not exactly sure how that works, but I'm along for the ride. This scene also has - or doesn't have, as the case may be - the first new element that was cut from the Vegas production: the Phantom and Christine descending the last steps and boarding the boat on stage. Since it didn't really add anything to the scene, no one missed its elimination.


"Why mess with perfection?" was Paul's comment about the Phantom's Lair, so very little was changed in this scene, save for the additions of the breakaway mirror and the boat's "headboard." The manager's scene finally got itself a grand set of doors based n those at the Paris Opera (improving on the plain black wall the characters come though in the original production). And that brought us to the first *major* upgrade for Vegas: the Il Muto set.


I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting them to show us the sets live, but sure enough, after showing us the newly conceived set in model form, they opened the curtains to show us the real deal. Detail-geek that I am, I eagerly started snapping photos of everything I could focus on as Paul talked about the new designs (such as including his dog in the painting behind the Countess' entourage). I sometimes feel that this set is a bit overwhelming, especially compared to the empty stage Christine sings "Think of Me" on, but it does fit with the baroque pseudo-opera. We were disappointed when Paul had them close the curtains so he could move on to the next scene, but he assured us that there would be more to share.


Moving along, Paul jumped to the Don Juan scene, another part of the show that got a bit of a makeover: The Don Juan scene. Now some may disagree with Sam Fleming's talk of elevating the styles of the Don Juan costumes beyond peasantry (and it's true, there isn't much of a difference), but there was no denying that the backdrops took a few steps up the social ladder. The new set, while keeping the traditional banquet table and curtained bedchamber, took the peasant tavern and turned it into a castle with great stone arches and its own chandelier. And again with me being a shutterbug.


Paul then backtracked to the rooftop set, something that was first added with the Broadway production. He indicated that the film "Moulin Rouge" and its rooftop vista of Paris was an influence, so he added to the set in that manner (and also the clouds. Pretty sure the Broadway and tour don't have the clouds).


The transition between the Rooftop and the Masquerade Ball was another scene where they did a lot of new stuff, and some of it got cut out. Via slides of the model, Paul said that originally, there were going to be three stages to the transition: 1) the Opera House façade, 2) the Grand Foyer (ultimately removed) and 3) the Staircase. "And fireworks!" Hal Prince apparently suggested, so they threw those in too.


Fireworks? Indoors? Uh, sure. No problem.


The Graveyard scene only had the addition of a crypt on either side of the central one for Christine's father to help pad out the set. To be honest, I hardly notice them.

The Final Lair, of course, has the Raoul Roach Motel (aka the Torture Cage) as its new feature. As we know from previous reports, it was intended to be in the original production but was ultimately cut. The intention behind it was to have something that was more menacing, dangerous and evil. I don’t know; I still love the part where Christine puts herself bodily between the Phantom and Raoul while he's got the Punjab lasso around his neck as well as the moment after the kiss when the Phantom is standing next to Raoul and holding the candle and you're not sure what he's going to do. You just don't get those dramatic opportunities with the torture cage.


Jumping back to the Transition, the Opera House façade was raised for our viewing pleasure and its forced perspective (something Maria enjoyed using as a device), was demonstrated by Paul walking up next to its tiny doors. As for the staircase, the Vegas version was made a little glitzier and the steps themselves filled out. In explaining this, Paul said that Maria originally made the steps partially see-through (ie: like bleachers at a sports stadium) so that it wouldn't look like one giant lump onstage. In upgrading the staircase, Paul's team circumvented this possibility by making the steps black and gold on the top and bottom of the steps and put little stars in for some sparkle. The handrail was also recreated with inspiration in wrought iron and gold. Even the newel post was blinged up a bit.


For the curtain call, Paul said that the producers wanted a little extra magic kick at the end of the show so they added the Phantom's magical appearance out of thin air for his bow. Have to admit, it's a nice little "pop" to cap off the evening.


Afternoon Session: Hal Prince Keynote Address
Since you can all see Hal Prince's keynote address for yourselves due to the kind generosity of Lindsey, instead of a play-by-play rundown of what he spoke about, I'll wrap this review up with general notes about what it was like for me to be there and some highlights that I found interesting.


Most of the cast was in attendance for Mr. Prince's session, and I took a few moments before the show to talk with Anthony Crivello when he wasn't signing autographs. I guess that was why it really didn't really strike me that I was going to be in the same room with the legendary multi Tony award-winning director until he stepped out of the wings to a standing ovation.


Previous to that, producer Scott Zeiger provided a brief introduction, saying that "Phantom: the Las Vegas Spectacular" was Hal Prince's creation, his vision. And then there he was, signature glasses and all.


I think "Keynote Address" is a lofty title for what was basically Mr. Prince talking about the Las Vegas production, his history with the show and then taking questions. Not that I'm complaining, and even Mr. Prince said that he'd have a tough time trying to tell new things to a group of such dedicated fans anyway.


Hal (forgive me for addressing him in such a casual manner) started in by talking about what drew him to the original Phantom of the Opera project: it was a romance and there were so few romantic musicals around. He also said they took a great deal from Leroux's book to lay the foundation of the musical (he also said he enjoyed the book very much).


In recounting the development phase, he related his exploration of the Paris Opera, a tour that took him from the subterranean lake all the way to the top of the dome on the roof. Probably to placate Phantom fans, he started off with the lake, its purpose and how they would occasionally drain it until only a few feet of water remained so they could stick a ballerina in a boat and take publicity shots (I don’t know about you, but I'd love to see some of those photos). He also mentioned the Dancer's Lounge, situated directly behind the stage and how the ballerinas would "entertain" wealthy young male patrons there during performances -- to which I noticed the cast all turned simultaneously to look at Brianne. But Hal quickly assured us that the ballerinas entertained these patrons in a limited fashion and with utmost decorum. He also said that the dressing rooms are of the same proportions as the dressing room set in the show, which I found interesting since I didn't imagine they actually looked anything like that.


Hal went on to say how Maria Björnson was brought aboard, having picked least likeliest of samples of her work for the August Stindberg play, "Creditors" (consisting of wood and slatted windows) as the most appropriate for the project. Amusingly, he noted that after they had planned out all the sets, they had apparently forgotten about the costumes, but Maria assured him that she could draw 50 costumes a day and keep them on schedule.


He also brought up something that he's said before in interviews, but I feel needs to be mentioned again. For him, the metaphor of the musical is "Don't judge a book by its cover." It is a story of a man unfortunate enough to have been born grotesque and has hidden away his entire life, and a girl who reacts to that grotesqueness as anyone naturally would, but over the course of the show falls in love with him and seeing him in an entirely different light. And at the end of the show, the audience should want Christine to have stayed with the Phantom, but know she couldn't, because if she did, it wouldn't be believable. Speculation and fantasies are fine, but leave it to fanfic. DO YOU HEAR ME ALW?!? DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH?!?!? Anything more just ruins the beauty of Erik's sacrifice and nullifies his redemption.


Hal also gave us some insight into Raoul, the much-maligned third wheel and all-around phan punching bag. He saw Raoul's character arc as starting out as a wealthy, spoiled, willful, almost feckless young man who's used to getting what he wants. But over the course of the show, he becomes protective, brave and active due to his genuine love for Christine. He also called Andrew out as being a very good Raoul!


The Q&A portion of the session dove into various topics, from casting the original Phantom production to Hal's career, to his take on theatre. Some highlights for me were:


• Mandy Patinkin was Hal's first choice for the Phantom.
• Steve Barton essentially created the concept of a juvenile leading man role in Raoul.
• Michael Crawford sang for Hal Prince at his first meeting with the director and within two minutes had the title role.
• Hal's being a lonely child (yet having a good family and lots of friends) and enjoying privacy, his own company and the fantasies he came up with in his head, reminds me very much of myself.
• Amusing anecdotes regarding how stupid the plots of musicals were back in the day (Ethel Merman unknowingly passing top secret info to the enemies of the US via graphite in her teeth, anyone?)
• He's not keen on pop-style music in theatre since he feels it doesn't lend itself to developing characters.
• He doesn't like camp (Uh oh. I'm in trouble…)

And finally, when asked if he missed anything that was cut from the original version to the Vegas version, "No, not a damn thing!" was his reply!


But I still miss the apple!porn.


After a standing ovation for Hal, the surprise that had been alluded to was then announced: Hal would be at a table in the lobby signing autographs. I think all the requests by fans earlier in the week during the cast Q&A sessions must have prompted this last-minute change in plans. Thankfully, I'd been carrying around my copy of the PLV Alphabet book, so after grabbing some autographs from the cast after the session ended, I snagged a spot near the end of the line and had Mr. Prince sign my copy, which he did, right on the front cover. One of the most treasured items in my Phantom collection? I think so!


Hindsight being 20/20, of course, I should have waited to be the last in line so I could have talked to him a little more and possibly shown him my portfolio, which I also happened to have on me. But I never was good at the networking thing.


For the performance, please see the "Phantom Las Vegas (Crivello/Holden/Ragone) - 19 September 2009" review.


Day Five


The Farewell brunch was a quiet, intimate affair. And in my traveling clothes, I felt a little underdressed since this happened to be a very upscale restaurant. But we did get to chat a little with Mark and JD and a friend of JD's who joined us at our table (turns out Mark worked on the Paris production of "Les Miserables." How cool is that?) Not all that many phans in attendance, but the food was excellent and the staff was very courteous and attentive. The add-on was worth every penny.


Stories were shared, pictures were taken, and there was much loitering afterwards as phans so often do. I feel sorry for anyone who has to wait around to clean up after us. We never seem to leave.


Killing Time
After brunch, Mandy, Lindsey, Bryan and I headed back to kill some time wandering around the property before Mandy and I had to catch our shuttle to the airport. It would actually be Mandy's first time venturing outside the usual locations associated with the Fans Week events. Not really much to note here except right after we left the restaurant and were waiting for the elevator (next to a couple of security guards apparently escorting a worse-for-wear guest back up to his suite), Sarah Brightman's "Think of Me" was just finishing up over the sound system which promoted Mandy to break into spontaneous ToM finale choreography right there on the spot (drop to knees and bow. The whole shebang). Which completely weirded out said guest and guards. Man, did they get the hell out of the elevator ASAP.


Once we got to the airport, we met up with Andy who was taking the same flight back as we were and got to chat for quite awhile at the gate.


So two months after the event, that wraps it up my review, folks. Goodbye Venetian hotel and your luxurious accommodations! Goodbye fellow phans; I'll always remember the fun conversations and overpriced food we shared! And I think I'll miss you most of all, Masquerade Hip-Swish!


See you next year!