A few months ago, I discovered something shocking about my young NYC staff members – they had never actually seen the musical Phantom of the Opera. How could this be? I ranted that, in spite of the schmaltzy and melodramatic plot, it was one of the most spectacular set designs to happen in the theatre in the past 30 years. Production designer Maria Björnson’s elaborately decadent staging set the bar for the emerging over-the-top Broadway shows of the 1980s. This was an historic epoch in New York theatre – a time of descending helicopters, rotating barricades from the French Revolution and honest-to-God cats gloriously ascending to heaven atop skyrocketing tires. Even though I didn’t witness it, I’m sure some young eyes rolled.
In my experience of design, I find I greedily gobble inspiration from everywhere – theatre, movies, travel, publications, Netflix – you name it and I’ll swoop down like a magpie to gather what I need. Seeing that part of our office culture is one of continuous mentoring and education, I like to expose my staff to various things that spark imagination. Sometimes it’s architectural, sometimes not – my ultimate lesson is that everything’s a lesson. So, a few weeks ago, I surprised my young cohorts with a “field trip” to the Majestic Theatre to pay a visit to the melodic bowels of the Paris Opera House. Before the show and during intermission, we talked about the rich buffet of design lessons being served us.
One might ask (as one did) “How can you carry revelations from an overblown baroque stage musical into modern residential design?” “Ah,” I replied, “we architects are like good sausage makers – we use everything!” While the following examples were not scrupulously lifted from the Phantom’s lair, I assert everything ingested gets squirreled away for subconscious source material.
So, for argument’s sake, let’s say the enigmatic Phantom haunted our thoughts while we were working on these projects and allowed us to “open up our minds and let the fantasies unwind.” The first image are handiwork from the show, on the right are ours:
The juxtaposition of murky dark and glittering gilt lines the proscenium of the Majestic Theatre and was equally striking in Bobby McAlpine’s Lake Martin cabin.
The voluptuous drapery from the show’s interim scenes match Susan Ferrier’s touch of seductive drama in this Austin, Texas restaurant.
The Phantom makes his first appearance emerging from Christine’s dressing room mirror. The restrooms in our Montgomery, Alabama office are accessed in a similarly mysterious manner.
Every staircase needs a dramatic flourish at the base. Ray Booth’s theatrical gesture on a staircase in a Charlotte, North Carolina house recalls The Paris Opera House stair’s expressive newel.
Sing once again with me
Our strange duet.
My power over you grows stronger yet.
And though you turn from me to glance behind,
The Phantom of the Opera is there
Inside your mind.
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