Thursday, September 4, 2014

President's Page: Bringing PHANTOM to Memphis

"Music of the Night" Cooper Grodin as The Phantom and Julia Udine as Christine Daaé in
The Phantom of the Opera, US Tour.
The Phantom of the Opera always brings back wonderful memories.  I remember when I went to see Phantom when it first opened in New York back in 1988.  As I sat in the audience watching this brilliant show, I thought there was no way on earth Phantom would ever fit on the Orpheum stage and, therefore, would never be seen in Memphis.  I'm so glad I was wrong.

I was so proud to have been involved in the 1983 renovation that restored the Orpheum to its 1928 beauty, but this was another story entirely.  Watching Phantom, I had to ask myself: how do we stay relevant for the next generation of Broadway shows?  At the time, there was already talk of something called Miss Saigon and a stage adaptation of Sunset Boulevard.  So I came back to Memphis and started thinking about how I was going to explain to our Board of Directors that we needed to consider an expansion.  The cost would be incredible and would far exceed the capital campaign of the ’83 renovation by millions of dollars.  Fortunately, but the Board said yes (it must have been my charismatic ways).  If we needed an expansion to stay in the game, then it had to be done. 

So the planning and designing began... and so did the challenges.  Acoustic experts had to be brought in to determine how the theatre seats and the bigger stage would effect sound.  Engineers and contractors had to blow out the back wall to make way for a larger stage, more dressing rooms, a bigger orchestra pit and so on.  This was the scariest thing for me.  Really – what happens when you cut off one of the legs of a chair?  The chair falls over.  I envisioned the whole Orpheum just falling to the ground, reduced to a pile of historic rubble.  

Of course, that didn’t happen.  All the experts came through, and we were finally ready for Phantom!  In November of 1997 the show opened in Memphis to a very appreciative audience.  In fact, we had over 90,000 people see the first engagement, which lasted 5 weeks and 40 performances.  It was so successful the producers decided to return in 2001 for 32 performances. 

It has been over 13 years since The Phantom of the Opera has been to Memphis, and it will finally return to the Orpheum on September 24th for only 16 performances.  Cameron Mackintosh's spectacular new production features the same powerful orchestration, fabulous costumes, and iconic chandelier that has made the show such a classic but it also incorporates new technology, staging, and choreography that will keep you in awe from beginning to end. 

I know I can’t wait.  Will I see you there?  

Pat Halloran
Orpheum President and CEO

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