Meghan Picerno was again at work after 18 months of pandemic limbo, overjoyed to be singing and dancing once more along with her “Phantom of the Opera” castmates as they rehearsed for the return of Broadway’s longest-running present.
Because the musical’s late October reopening neared, generally all Picerno may take into consideration was making it to the primary curtain name unscathed by the breakthrough COVID-19 circumstances that had sidelined vaccinated actors at different reveals.
Outdoors lengthy days in a cold mirror-lined rehearsal studio close to New York Metropolis’s Instances Sq., Picerno had put herself again on what she referred to as lockdown.
“I am a full-on monk now,” she stated throughout a rushed lunch break between back-to-back run throughs.
She knew her job got here with dangers of publicity. Taking part in the present’s heroine Christine required Picerno to kiss two co-stars each day and to sing full-throated love songs with them unmasked and at shut vary.
“Hopefully, none of us have it, as a result of if certainly one of us have it, all of us have it,” she stated.
The crowded Broadway theaters, important to the town’s tourism business, had been the primary locations closed by the New York authorities because the coronavirus started to ravage the state. Phrase of the abrupt shuttering got here throughout a “Phantom” matinee on the Majestic Theatre on March 12, 2020, as some solid and crew themselves had been falling sick.
Now, after an unprecedented shutdown, the theaters are among the many final workplaces to reopen. Their return this fall is considered as a take a look at of the town’s efforts to revive some new sense of normalcy.
Reuters watched because the “Phantom” firm ready for its return. The pandemic left unmistakable marks.
Inside a couple of weeks of the present going darkish, COVID-19 had claimed the lifetime of a beloved dresser, Jennifer Arnold, who had been with the present for greater than three many years.
After protests crammed U.S. streets final yr in outrage on the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer, newly unemployed Broadway employees pushed the business to make overdue adjustments to extend racial range in theater corporations.
In August, “Phantom” producers introduced that they had solid the first-ever Black actor to play Christine for the reason that present opened on Broadway in 1988. The actor, Emilie Kouatchou, would make her Broadway debut as an alternate for Picerno.
For the returning solid, there have been tweaks to lyrics and staging to be taught, making it extra simple to solid non-white actors in principal roles. The whole firm was required to be vaccinated and twice every week went to get their noses swabbed at a close-by theater foyer repurposed as a short lived coronavirus testing website.
Picerno stated she was pleased to embrace no matter was wanted to get again on stage.
In the dead of night days of 2020, residing again in North Carolina along with her mother and father and claiming unemployment advantages, she stated she “virtually felt like a failure.” She sang her half every single day to maintain it contemporary in her thoughts till the singing made her too unhappy and he or she stopped.
Emotion once more overcame her on the primary day reunited along with her castmates in late September. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had swung by the studio to ship a pep speak to the solid earlier than they sang by way of the acquainted rating.
Picerno’s singing dissolved in tears through the love duet “All I Ask of You.”
“Sing alongside! Assist her!” the conductor urged the masked refrain, whose voices carried Picerno till she regained her composure.
‘THINK OF ME’
A number of days later, the solid practiced dance steps in a mixture of avenue garments and the bulkier elements of their Nineteenth-century-style costumes.
Picerno drew a shawl by way of her fingers as she danced and sang “Consider Me” in her bell-like soprano. Off in a nook of the studio, Kouatchou silently mirrored Picerno’s each transfer.
Kouatchou, the daughter of immigrants from Cameroon, grew up within the Chicago suburbs. “Phantom” was the primary Broadway present she ever noticed, on a visit to New York along with her highschool. She remembers being transfixed by Christine.
“I may sing that function in my sleep,” she recalled considering.
Nonetheless, she apprehensive about stereotyping, that some would see a mismatch in her voice, an operatic soprano, and her look, which was not the form of “petite white woman” who appeared to all the time get solid as a present’s ingénue or heroine.
“I did not really feel like I had a spot in musical theater as a result of I did not see anybody who regarded like me who sung like me,” she stated.
COVID-19 had each upended dwell theater and made house for progress.
“The pandemic was horrible,” Kouatchou stated. “However we would not have the ability to have conversations like this and alter issues like this if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.”
Now, because the Phantom begins making his terrifying presence recognized in Act One, a frightened ballet dancer turns to the heroine and sings: “Christine, are you alright?”
Earlier than the pandemic and Kouatchou’s casting, the lyric had all the time been: “Your face, Christine, it is white!”
The previous, creepy Christine doll that stood within the Phantom’s lair, her options unmistakably white, additionally was out. A brand new doll, designed to be racially ambiguous, would debut on reopening night time. Later that week, Kouatchou bought her first glimpse of one of many new Christine wigs designed to match her hair texture.
“It is curlier and frizzier and I like it,” Kouatchou stated. — Reuters