"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Farewell to my Phantom

Back in high school, in the early 90s, I joined a fan club. The fan club was for an actor named Kevin Gray. He played the title role in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and then on tour. I twice saw him perform the role at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

Kevin was the youngest actor to play the Phantom at the time. There was a darkness to his vocal style, punctuated by a wide range of inflections. He painted with his voice, shifting in and out of lilting head voice and thick operatic tones. Kevin's wasn't the prettiest or most pleasing of tones, partially because of his firm commitment to acting the music. His performance was unforgettable.

Months after Kevin and the show left town, I was volunteering for the Washington Opera at the Kennedy Center. I noticed a flyer for the Kevin Gray Fan Club on a basement bulletin board. I joined on a whim. This was back before high-speed Internet and ubiquitous social networking platforms. The fan club relied on a print newsletter. If you wanted to correspond with other members, you added your name, phone number, and mailing address to the last page of the newsletter. The system worked quite well. It resulted in my acquiring several pen pals, the occasional out-of-the-blue phone call from a fellow fan looking to chat, and even a couple of in-person meetings, including a post-show visit with Kevin's fiancée Dodie Pettit.

Truthfully, Kevin was not my all-time favorite actor or singer. But oh was he a fun performer to follow. Like his distinctive vocal approach, Kevin attacked life and his career with a signature passion. I never met him in person, but I did get a personal letter from him once, along with several autographs over the years. He was worthy of his fans. We were a community building off each other's enthusiasm. Participating in the Kevin Gray Fan Club filled a surprisingly deep need.

As I sometimes do, late last week I hopped on imdb.com and surfed names of actors I'd seen in the past. Kind of a do-it-yourself Where Are They Now segment. I looked up Kevin and immediately noticed there was a date listed for his death. He died of heart failure back in February. He was 54.

I won't speak for others, but for this childe mourning has always had a selfish component. The tears that began welling in my eyes as I sat in my apartment listening to the Music of the Night were sparked in part by taking stock of my life journey. Still, the mourning brought into focus how Kevin, and the kindred spirits he connected me to, helped cultivate my creative self during those precarious late teens. I think of that motto Kevin often added to the fan club newsletter. It's something to aspire to in our lives:

"Believe in the magic and soar!"

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