Tonight, a new Phantom debuts in a new Schenectady.
Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of “The Phantom of the Opera” features a new scenic design, new choreography and new staging — setting it apart from the original, critically acclaimed, longest-running Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was that original production’s monthlong tour of Schenectady in 2006 that heralded a new era, not just for Proctors but for all of downtown Schenectady.
“When we announced four weeks of ‘Phantom’ most people didn’t believe it would work,” said Proctors CEO Philip Morris, recalling that original tour in March 2006. “They kind of went ‘No way.’ And when it did work it was kind of a transformation, a manifestation of what was possible for Proctors and for downtown Schenectady. And now, eight years later, you can see what was possible and what it has become.”
The 2006 “Phantom” run was the first time Proctors hosted a touring Broadway show for an entire month. It sold more than 77,000 tickets — 96 percent of the available seats over 32 performances. The Chamber of Schenectady County estimated it brought $10 million into the area. Downtown at the time didn’t have the restaurants, hotels and shops it has now. Proctors itself was still undergoing a massive renovation.
The reimagined production, which made its debut overseas in 2012, is in town for 12 days beginning tonight and will conclude after 16 shows with a Sunday matinee June 8. About 80 percent of roughly 42,000 seats had sold as of Tuesday, Morris said.
“There are seats in all sections still available,” he said. “We think it’s doing pretty well. The most amazing thing to me is how different it all is this time around. I can’t get over how much the community has changed.”
Proctors was booked as one of the earlier stops along the new “Phantom’s” U.S. tour, which concludes in October 2015 in San Francisco.
“It says something about who we’ve become in the context of the industry,” Morris said. “It’s part of who we are now. Before 2006, no one in the Capital Region could have done Phantom. No one could have done ‘Wicked,’ ‘Jersey Boys,’ all the bigger shows just wouldn’t have happened for this region. ‘Phantom’ was a monumental change for this theater and for downtown and for the Capital Region.”
Jim Salengo, a Vermont native, had visited Schenectady during the ’90s. He saw downtown at one of its lowest points, and returned in 2006 to take in one of the ‘Phantom’ shows.
“I remember coming in and being completely blown away by how different for the better it all was,” he said.,“by all the people on the streets and the activity that was happening. I was just really impressed by this change that Proctors had gone through and the impact that it could have on Schenectady and downtown.”
Two years later, he accepted a job as executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp., one of the organizations responsible for downtown’s revitalization over the last decade.
“In my mind, ‘Phantom’ was the turning point for downtown,” he said. “It started a new era. It was like all of a sudden, Schenectady can have this, Schenectady is worthy of all these people. I think for a lot of the businesses that were there at the time, the new ‘Phantom’ is going to bring some nostalgia.”
It certainly has for Marc Renson, who says the 2006 arrival of “Phantom” in Schenectady turned his Jay Street restaurant, Ambition Café, upside down and shook it.
“We were so busy,” he said. “It was out of control. We had never seen sales like that. It was the first real big show to come to Schenectady, and the excitement was the same kind of excitement we just felt with the Union College hockey team. It was all Schenectady could talk about.”
Reservations are filling up for the 10 tables Ambition Café allows reservations for. It has 18 tables altogether, leaving room for walk-ins to dine the day of Proctors shows. Reservations are already sold out for the Thursday matinee crowd, Renson said, and the excitement is growing.
“The first time ‘Phantom’ rolled through town it was the storm of the century,” he said. “It was the first four-week show. Nobody knew what to expect. There was so much mystery behind it and so much doubt that this show was going to sell out every single show, which it did. Nobody knew how much it would change Schenectady for the better.”