Phantom of the Opera

Thirty-four years ago today, Phantom of the Opera debuted on Broadway. It has been performed over 13,000 times, making it the longest-running show in Broadway history. As we know, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the musical, giving it an iconic place in our culture. But I knew nothing about the story’s origins, so I decided to do a little digging.  

French author Gaston Leroux wrote Phantom of the Opera in 1909. Originally published as a serialized story in a Parisian newspaper, it came out in book form in 1910 and was translated into English in 1911.

The idea for the story was sparked by actual events. Leroux was a journalist-turned-novelist who spent the early part of his career as a theatre critic. He also covered a story about the Paris Opera house, Palais Garnier. Leroux was aware that once, during a live performance, a fire in the roof of the opera house had melted through a wire and caused a chandelier to crash, killing one person and injuring several more. It was that accident, combined with rumours of a ghost in that same opera house, that kindled the idea for Leroux’s story. The underground lake that he wrote about actually exists beneath the opera house, and it’s still used for training firefighters to swim in the dark. The impetus to write the story down came from Leroux’s curiosity and belief that the Phantom was indeed real. He did considerable research to prove the truth of the ghost, and even on his death bed, he maintained the rumours were true.

Phantom of the Opera sold poorly initially and was even out of print several times during the twentieth century. Today, the story is considered a classic of French literature, and Leroux’s contribution to French detective fiction is comparable to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the UK and Edgar Allan Poe in the United States.

A Small Production . . . A Big Impact

photo_buddy_1I saw a stunningly good play a while back – The Buddy Holly Story at the Chemainus Theatre. Everything about it was exceptional – the acting, the singing, the entire production. It’s playing through early April; if you can get there, go. You won’t be disappointed.

The whole experience made me think about talent . . . about success . . . about what we value as a society.

There was Buddy Holly himself. I didn’t know much about him going in (other than the fact that he wrote Peggy Sue and he died young in a plane crash). I didn’t realize how hard he had to work to gain recognition for his ‘new’ kind of music. He refused to let society beat his talent down.

The performers also made me think. To say they were good is an understatement. The level of talent was up there with anything I’ve seen in London’s West End or on Broadway. And yet this show is running in a 275 seat theatre in a town of 4,000 located on an insignificant island in the Pacific Northwest. It will make only a tiny blip on the arts scene – a small success by our cultural standards.

We don’t celebrate small (Unless it’s the numbers of the scale). We celebrate big and we chase it too. Actors want their performances to find the widest possible audiences; they dream of movie deals and coveted awards. Writers do too (and anyone who denies it is lying).

Dreams are great things to have. So is ambition and drive. Without it I’d be on the couch clicking between HGTV and the Food Network and I’d probably never write another book. But it seems to me we’re so intent on celebrating those big successes – the famous runs – that we sometimes forget to appreciate the small ones.

Small can be good. Small can be beautiful. Small can represent a large amount of talent. Go to Chemainus. Watch Buddy Holly. You’ll see what I mean.