When “Phantom of the Opera” ends its remarkable Broadway run tonight, Dodie Pettit will be on stage.
The Westporter was an original cast member. She and a dozen or so others will take a well-deserved bow — right after producer Cameron Mackintosh, and just before composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
That caps a memorable weekend for Pettit, who met her husband — Kevin Gray, a 1976 Staples High School grad, and the youngest actor to play the lead — in the show.
On Friday, those “Phantom” alumni gathered for a rehearsal. They met the current cast too.
“Most of the ballerinas were not even born when we opened!” Dodie marvels.
“Phantom” has smashed many records. It’s been on Broadway for 35 years. Tonight’s performance is its 13,981st. It is one of the most successful pieces of entertainment of all time, produced in any media.
To Pettit though, “Phantom” is about the cast, the crew, and the memories they made together.
Plus, she adds, “it’s a fantastic show, with a beautiful score, a romantic story, ground-breaking stagecraft and gorgeous costumes.
But Pettit almost turned down the offer.
In 1987, she had been singing and dancing as a swing in “Cats” for 4 years. A casting director asked her to audition for the role of Meg.
She hesitated. “I already had a good job,” Pettit recalls.
Her castmates urged her to go. After several callbacks, she was one of 2 finalists. She sang for Webber.
He chose the other one.
When she was offered another role — a dancer in the chorus — she said no.
But she reconsidered, and the next day said yes. Fortunately, they’d held the role open for her.
Rehearsals began that fall. The curtain rose on January 26, 1988.
“I had a blast,” Dodie says. She understudied Meg, other roles.
She met, performed with — and later married — Kevin.
She also auditioned 3 times for Christine’s understudy. “(Director) Hal Prince finally said yes. I think he was tired of me.”
After 3 years, Dodie and Kevin joined the national tour. They spent another 3 1/2 years on the road. They played the Kennedy Center twice, and met Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton.
“Bill had a great time. He didn’t want to leave the stage,” she recalls.
“It’s hard to articulate” what returning to the Majestic Theater on Friday was like, Dodie says.
“Backstage, the proscenium, the scenery, the costumes — everything was the same. It was like I’d just left.”
Also familiar: picking up with castmates, most of whom she’d last seen at the 30th anniversary 5 years ago. The rehearsal pianist, and first and second conductors, have all been there throughout the show’s 3 1/2-decade run.
Dodie says, “We all stood around the piano singing, saying ‘This is wild!’ We sounded good! The only difference is, we all look older.”
Seeing the “Phantom” stage again reminded Dodie how great her experience had been.
“It’s an old-fashioned story that brings a tear to your eye,” she says. “The whole thing looks luscious, like grand opera.
“It stamped my life trajectory. I met my husband, and traveled the country. It stabilized our lives. It bought us our house. It gave me a pension.
“I made life-long friends. We shared this great, impossible-to-articulate experience.
“‘Phantom’ gave everyone in it cachet, for anything else they wanted to do.
“And to think I almost turned it all down!”
ENCORE: Dodie Pettit and Kevin Gray are not the only Westport “Phantom” actors. Former Staples Player and Orphenian Terry Eldh covered the role of Carlotta in the Broadway company, from 1991 through ’99.
The 1975 graduate joined Dodie the other night at an informal gathering — with singing, of course — in New York.
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