By Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz
Amy LaReau saw her first performance of The Phantom of the Opera in San Francisco in 1995. For this adult skater, who makes London her home, it marked the beginning of an almost 10-year love affair with the timeless musical.
“I had heard so much about the musical, that it was a must-see,” LaReau said. “I had heard ‘The Music of the Night’ many times and liked it, so I was curious and took my mom. Franc D’Ambrosio starred in the title role and he is the longest-running Phantom in the world, having performed the role 2,600 times.”
LaReau, who was skating at Sharks Ice at San Jose in Calif. at the time, was hooked. She loved the extraordinary special effects, from the chandelier bursting from the stage above the audience, to the New Year’s Eve party, to the final return to The Phantom’s lair.
“It was just all so exciting to me,” LaReau said. “I really didn’t know what to expect. At the very end of the show when Meg Giry enters The Phantom’s lair and removes his black cape only to find his mask remaining, I cried because I thought The Phantom died of a broken heart when Christine chose Raoul over him. I enjoyed it so much I went back a few weeks later to see it again.”
And again. And again.
When LaReau’s husband Brian was transferred to London, LaReau settled into skating at Queens Ice and Bowl, just 20 minutes from her London home. She also began attending more performances of The Phantom and to this day has seen the production 18 times in just about every venue imaginable.
“I took my husband Brian to see the performance when we were first dating,” LaReau said. “It returned to San Francisco and I had gone on and on about how it’s my favorite musical so he was curious. He loves nearly all genres of music and enjoyed the performance, I think. At that time it was probably my fifth or sixth time seeing the production.”
Other memorable productions include attending her former high school’s version of the famed musical (Presentation High in San Jose) and two performances at The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
“It was an abbreviated performance but I still enjoyed it,” LaReau said. “In typical Las Vegas style there were many special effects that other productions did not have, such as The Phantom hanging from the chandelier.”
The LaReaus also saw the Broadway production.
“I was so excited we got seats in the second row,” she said. “That particular night, however, The Phantom was played by an understudy. I think it’s tougher to be the understudy, especially for a theater role of that magnitude, but he forgot some of the words to ‘The Music of the Night.’ I knew the words myself and I was kind of mouthing them. The orchestra kept playing and Christine Daaé gave him kind of a funny look, but the poor actor was dumbfounded and didn’t even try to fake knowing the words. He just stood here with Christine Daaé in his arms. I felt sorry for him.”
Since moving to London, the LaReaus have had the luxury of experiencing The Phantom at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End, where it permanently plays.
“It’s easy to get there from our flat. How convenient,” LaReau said. “I have seen six of the various actors who have portrayed The Phantom over here. I have had the honor of meeting Peter Joback, who is a Swedish platinum recording artist and Marcus Lovett, who is from the United States. They are both really nice. Both Peter and
Marcus have had the opportunity to perform as The Phantom on Broadway.”
LaReau also met many of the actresses who have portrayed Christine.
“My very favorite is Sofia Escobar,” she said. “She is from Portugal and recently left the role to start a family. Sofia is a wonderful singer, a very strong soprano.”
The LaReaus have even made The Phantom part of their annual holiday tradition.
“We have seen the performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre the past two Christmas Eves,” LaReau said. “We already have tickets for the Christmas 2014 matinee. It’s really cool because once the entire cast is on stage for the curtain call they sing ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas.’”
Although LaReau loves the music, she still has not included any of the soundtracks in a skating program.
“I would love to someday,” LaReau said. “I came very close to using ‘Wishing You Were Here Again’ for my camp program this year.”
LaReau attends the Dorothy Hamill Figure Skating Fantasy Camp for adult skaters each year.
“That’s the song that Christine Daaé sings at her father’s tomb,” LaReau said. “This year marked the 50th anniversary of my father’s passing so I was going to do it as a tribute to him since he passed away when I was a toddler and I hardly got a chance to know him. I love the song. It’s quite lovely, but I really get emotional every time I hear it and I don’t think it would be possible for me to skate it.”
She also has a secret dream of maybe one day taking part in an actual performance.
“There is something magical about all the performances I’ve seen and I am always thinking about how fun it would be to be on stage as a cast member, even a small part,” LaReau said.
In the meantime, she enjoys traveling with her husband and attending matinee performances if the show happens to be playing in their destination city.
“I would love to see it in another country, especially another European country, or Japan,” LaReau said. “Whenever we travel I always check online to see if The Phantom of the Opera is playing. I guess one might say I am a true ‘phan.’”
“Amy is a bit obsessed with it, but she always has a lot of fun and is thrilled with each performance,” added her husband Brian.