Saturday, October 13, 2007


(A. Lloyd Webber/T. Rice/R. Stilgoe)
(The Phantom of the Opera - role originated by Michael Crawford)

Night-time sharpens, heightens each sensation
Darkness stirs and wakes imagination
Silently the senses abandon their defenses
Helpless to resist the notes I write...
For I compose the music of the night

Slowly, gently, Night unfurls its Splendor
Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender
Hearing is believing, music is deceiving
Hard as lightning, soft as candlelight.
Dare you trust the music of the night?

Close your Eyes –
For your eyes will only tell the truth
And the truth isn’t what you want to see
In the dark it is easy to pretend
That the truth is what it ought to be.

Softly, deftly, Music shall caress you
Hear it, feel it, secretly possess you
Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
In this Darkness which you know you cannot fight,
The Darkness of the Music of the Night!

Close your eyes -
Start a journey through a strange new world
Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before
Close your eyes -
and let music set you free.
Only then can you belong to me

Floating, falling, Sweet Intoxication
Touch me, trust me, savor each Sensation
Let the dream begin, Let your darker side give in
To the Power of the music that I write,
The Power of the Music of the Night!

You alone can make my song take flight
Help me make the music of the night.

I was a latecomer to the theater. In fact, I was late to performing altogether. Up until my third year in high school, I was hardly interested in theater in any kind. I did like opera as a listening experience, but as far as acting was concerned, I was, like many of my contemporaries believed that acting was for others of a different kind of artistic bent (the nice way to say that I didn't want people to have any ideas that I was gay, which I wasn't, but yes, I was and remain a homophobic a-hole).

Things changed when I discovered that there was a voice inside me waiting to be heard (since I'm into euphemisms and parenthetical thought today, the day I first fell in love) and then I took an active interest in what girls did. It didn't help that I was well-nourished by regular doses of my sisters's Mills & Boon and Sweet Dreams romance novels. Little by little, I wrote sappy poetry (as opposed to the agit quality that was the hallmark of this angst-filled phase), and seriously thought of becoming a writer - as opposed to being a lawyer or scientist, which my parents had hopes for me to go into.

And then came the Phantom of the Opera.

Understand, of course, that my closest friends were geeks of the highest order, and I was the worst of them - I disdained sports, loved books more than cars and video games, had a regular column in the school paper, and was even part of the school band. (I would have played D&D but I found it, uh, limiting, and besides, I was more Asimov than Tolkien). So our group definitely skipped over the genesis of the hiphop/rocker wars, the beginnings of grunge, and of course the local band scene. We were hooked on the drama of the Phantom and Christine, disdained Raoul (as we did most of the pretty boys), and celebrated the freakishness of the Phantom. Being different may leave you scarred, but who wants the usual adulation when one can be a genius?

Phantom was the biggest cultural thing that hit us that year. In between readings of David Eddings' Belgariad series and the Dragonlance novels by Weis and Hickman (Wheel of Time wasn't out yet in paperback, and yes, I am dating myself here), Phantom filled our landscape. In the days pre-cable and pre-Internet we managed to get a libretto and listened avidly on cassette.

I liked "Music of the Night" the best (Billy Crystal mocks this song in a famous scene from "Forget Paris"), though "Think of Me" and "Masquerade/Why So Silent" were close --- though the rest of the material was singable --- the premise of the show was a bit flimsy, but the grandeur of its scale was revealing. It was inspirational to me, at the very least, in the way I appreciated musical theater, and theater in general.

Yup, you could call me gay but at least I was in touch with global culture. Or so I believed at the time. Later that year, our class put out a short play which we rehearsed in less than a week - I'm racking my brain for the title but the story was of a sick man who until his deathbed suspected his wife and best friend of cheating together on him. I won the lead at the last minute as our choice for the role begged off. We didn't have a girl to play the wife's part, so we changed the circumstances to that of a young son.

I couldn't play the living "cadaver" the best way possible as I was portly then as now, but still we managed to get a good review from the moderator of the high school drama club, and he encouraged me to consider honing my skills in acting (I didn't know I had any at the time) . . . I even received an invite to the summer workshop of the Cultural Center of the Philippines care of the school but I gave it up to concentrate on my training as a peer counselor.

I left it at that until I was named as one of the officers of the drama club for the senior year. I didn't do much, though we produced two small plays that year. There were a whole lot of other organizations which took priority, so I allowed myself to drift into the background, even for the two plays the class staged which won prizes. We formed our own independent theater guild before we graduated, but again, other things took precedence.

That didn't mean I stopped performing. As a trainer for the next few years, we did a lot of role-playing and depended on structured experiences where my voice was put to good use. I even invested a lot of my own allowance and some hard-earned money to watch plays everywhere.

All throughout the late eighties and early nineties, we lived through a surge of popularity for West End musicals - Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Starlight Express, Chess, and even Aspects of Love and Sunset Boulevard. But Phantom remained my favorite. So it was with some disappointment that I found that Michael Crawford was less than a paragon outside of his performance as the Phantom. Yup, he blows big-time singing material other than his songs in the famed musical.

I wasn't too glad with Joel Schumacher's take in the film featuring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum, but at least the movie got made and I'm sure in time fans would be kinder to it than during its initial release. However it goes, Michael Crawford was the Phantom, for all his faults singing non-Phantom material.

At night, I sometimes have this fantasy that the brilliant singing would take me away and that tortured genius, despite its pain, definitely has its rewards in eternity.

How I wish I would have more moments like that in my life. It doesn't hurt to wish, anyhow.

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