BY JACKSON CLINE
Since The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway on January 26, 1988, millions of audience members have strolled through the doors of the Majestic Theatre to enjoy 12,482 performances. In addition to the Broadway production, The Phantom of the Opera has been produced worldwide on six continents and in many different languages. There are few icons as recognizable as the Phantom’s white mask.
Over 350 ensemblists have performed in the Broadway production with countless others performing in tours and sit-down productions throughout the country and around the world.
Many of these ensemblists have chosen to stick around and enjoy lengthy bouts of employment at the Opera Populaire. Of the show’s current ensemblists and swings, over 2/3 made their debut in the show over five years ago. Several have stayed ever since while others have taken leaves of absence and then returned.
What perks does a long run provide for an ensemblist other than financial stability in a business filled with uncertainty?
The simple joy of having a regular opportunity to perform for a living is not lost on female swing Janet Saia, even 16 years into her run in the show. “Truly it is the thrill of being able to do what I love to do ever since childhood: be in the theatre and entertain people with great music and art,” says Janet. “Give people a fantasy - an escape from the mundane- a memory to cherish. Give myself a feeling of accomplishment and a job well done.”
But how does one remain creatively fulfilled after doing the same show eight times a week for years on end? Many actors in long runs discover that maintaining a long run does require immense creativity, just a different type than one uses when stepping into a show for the first time.
“Each actor has to figure out what it is that makes the show fresh every night for them,” says ensemblist Satomi Hofmann. “What excites me changes from day to day, but it ranges from exploring new acting choices to working on vocal technique, from allowing myself to see the show with new eyes to something as simple as interacting with my friends.”
This can be a challenging endeavor, but 100% worthwhile. “As an actor, I do my utmost to remain present throughout the show but nobody’s perfect," says Satomi. "If you’re having a distracted night, you need to find something that brings you back to the moment because, after all, you are there for those people in the seats, striving to give them an amazing experience that will stay with them for the rest of their lives."
30 years after opening night, The Phantom of the Opera continues to give audiences unforgettable experiences night after night, largely thanks to the contributions of the show's passionate, long-running ensemblists.
Get to know Janet Saia & Satomi Hofmann below:
First Performance in The Phantom of the Opera: July 12, 2002
Roles Performed: I am the swing covering 6 singer ensemble women and 2 principal performers – Carlotta and Madame Giry.
Companies Performed In: Music Box National Tour (2000-2001), Broadway (2002-2018)
Favorite Memory: My first night playing Carlotta and standing there ready to sing the cadenza with my legs shaking uncontrollably and a bloody head prop in my right hand, 35 lbs of dress hanging on my hips and 8" of hair piled up on my head! The words in my brain: “You're the queen, you're the cream, you're the greatest Diva!!”
Favorite moment in the show: Right before the chorus goes out to sing the Hannibal opera, we are all crammed backstage left while the orchestra plays the thrilling overture and swag drapes are all lifting up and up. We are getting to our entrance positions, putting on costume pieces and warming up with high notes and warm ups. It is an exciting moment of camaraderie.
First Performance in The Phantom of the Opera: My first performance was in January of 2009- I officially joined the company on January 26th, the 21st anniversary of the show. I don’t remember the date of my first performance since there was an emergency and I had to start early. But of course, we live for those moments.
Roles Performed: Currently - Wardrobe Mistress/Confidante. Understudies - Carlotta and Madame Giry. Because I used to be an internal swing, I’ve performed all of the female tracks except Christine, Meg, and the ballet dancers
Companies Performed In: Broadway Company and The Music Box Tour
Favorite Memory: Sitting in the house, watching the chandelier rise at a performance shortly after I was hired. It suddenly hit me that I was going to be IN this iconic, beautiful show and I just started crying.
Oh- that and the time I went up on my lyrics and sang gibberish. Oh- and doing a special show for families with members on the spectrum. Oh! - and... there are far too many to choose from.
Favorite Moment in the Show: Honestly? Watching "All I Ask of You" from the wings. I have an entrance right afterwards so I get this unbelievable view of the, well, unbelievable view from the rooftop of our Paris Opera House, all underscored by this gorgeous, sweeping music. So what if it’s stage magic that makes you see a vast sky and moonlit Seine lined with buildings filled with tiny windows hiding a myriad of individual lives? I’m absolutely transported by it every time.