When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with Broadway musicals. I had never been to New York, but growing up in Boston allowed me the opportunity to see quite a few national tours. One of my favorite shows was Phantom of the Opera. I knew all the words to the songs. In my room, I’d blast the soundtrack and try to hit all the high notes. In my spare time, I’d write fan fiction that immersed me and my friends into the depths of the Paris Opera House. And when the show was in town, I’d head into the city and wait by the stage door for the cast members to come outside. I’d grab their autographs on Playbills and pose for photos that would then go up on my bedroom wall.
The role of the Phantom is iconic, but every actor puts their own spin on it. There are nuances that make every production unique. I became particularly passionate about one Phantom – Kevin Gray. In the late 1980’s, he starred in the national tour, and I was lucky enough to see him perform several times. Kevin was truly special. He glided through each performance as if it were a dance, hitting every spot and movement with intention. While his voice was commanding, as it needed to be, it was also hauntingly beautiful. When he sang, I didn’t just hear the words, I felt them. In fact, he brought so much pain and emotion to the role that he mesmerized the audience. We just couldn’t look away.
I waited for Kevin at the stage door several times, but I never got to meet him. After doing some research, I found out that on weekends he stayed in his makeup between the matinee and evening performances. That meant he would never come outside during the day. That’s fitting for the Phantom, huh? Somewhat defeated, I did what any fangirl would do, and I sent a letter to the theatre instead.
A week later, I got a response in the mail. Kevin mailed me an autographed photo of him as the Phantom along with a small handwritten note. “Believe in the magic and soar,” it said.
I will never forget those words.
Kevin was the youngest actor to play the role of the Phantom on the national tour. To me, that proves that age is just a number. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to accomplish. His next role was the Engineer in the Toronto production of Miss Saigon in 1992. I mailed him another letter there, asking if he’d like to read my Phantom of the Opera story. I was fourteen at the time. Again, he wrote me back, politely declining, but only because he wasn’t the Phantom any longer and was devoting all of his time to his new character. He suggested I send the story to a current Phantom instead. He also included a signed photo of himself as The Engineer.
Sadly, Kevin passed away in 2013. He died of a heart attack in his fifties. I find that particularly cruel because to me he was all heart. I don’t know of any other actor or performer who would take the time to correspond with a young fan like me. At 42, I still own those letters, and I think of Kevin often.
I think of him most often at the holidays because Christmas is such an enchanting time. There’s mystery in the stories and traditions, and so much joy in the lights, music, snow, and gift giving. It’s hard not to believe in something bigger than ourselves at this time of year. Whether that’s God, the universe, or some other mystical force is completely up to you.
The New Year also holds so much promise. I’ve always thought of it as a restart or blank slate. In the New Year, you can do or be anything you want. When that ball drops from Times Square or the fireworks go off in your hometown, you get another chance - another chance to soar.
This holiday season, I challenge you to think about all the small moments that have made a difference in your life. Think of the people who have inspired you. Then reach out and tell them if you haven’t done so already. One of the best gifts you can give someone is a compliment. And one of the best gifts you can ever receive is to know that you positively impacted someone’s life. That's everyday magic right there.