About the author:
Peter Kulok has worked on Broadway for more than 30 years as a business manager, general manager, producer and now house manager in Shubert Organization theaters. For the past decade, his home base has been the Majestic Theatre, home since January 1988 to The Phantom of the Opera. With duties that include the daily running of the house and overseeing everything that happens from “half hour” until the last audience member departs, Kulok has seen just about everything—and though he’s too discreet to dish about famous folks who’ve come to hear the music of the night, he happily shared memories with Broadway.com of life behind the scenes at Broadway’s longest running show.
I have a wonderful job, working every day with about 150 people in the cast and crew at the Majestic Theatre, plus 1,600 patrons who enter the theater eight times a week to see The Phantom of the Opera. Anything can —and often does —happen!
As the authority on the scene at the Majestic, I am out front before every performance. I’ve recently staked out a new spot for myself: Instead of standing next to the front door, I head to the middle of the lobby to greet people and ask if they need extra assistance. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, and I strike up conversations with theatergoers from all over the world.
At this point, most of the Phantom audience is tourists, but there’s a whole segment of what I call “repeaters,” fans of the show who like to keep up with new cast members. People who live in New York don’t necessarily rush to see the show because they feel like it will be here forever, almost like the Statue of Liberty. I sometimes chat with New Yorkers who are seeing the show for the first time with relatives, or for the first time in 20 years.
My office is off the main lobby, and during the performance, I wear a headset that allows me to talk to the stage manager and hear what is going on. While I’m doing paperwork, I listen to the stage manager call the show, so I know immediately if there are any concerns or difficulties. I may not be paying attention to it with one part of my brain, but I have an innate sense of the timing of the performance, so I know right away if a cue was missed or if something isn’t right.
The house manager is in charge of fixing problems that come up during the show, which happens more often than one would think! If someone in the audience falls asleep and starts snoring, I have to wake him up and remind him of theater etiquette. For a musical that attracts so many foreign visitors, we have translation devices in many languages, and sometimes you have to ask the people listening to Japanese commentary between songs to turn down the sound.
A classic story that we tell to this day involved a young woman who arrived at the Majestic for her first day as a porter, the person in uniform who helps people move into the theater and is in charge of keeping the bathrooms clean. On this particular day, a large school group in the mezzanine was stricken with food poisoning after eating dinner at a still-unknown restaurant. They began getting ill one at a time, and then suddenly, they were not making it to the bathrooms. This poor porter spent the entire night cleaning up after people getting sick all over the mezzanine. We tried to tease her by saying, “This was your initiation,” but she never came back, not even to pick up her check!
I’m often asked why Phantom has run for so long, and all I can say is that the show has an “X factor”—a quality that if producers knew what it was, they’d be able to duplicate it on a regular basis. Even before you walk into the theater, the old-fashioned gas lamps on 44th Street help you enter the world of this musical. The designers did such a great job, it almost feels like the theater was built around the show. People come out teary-eyed, fulfilled and rooting for the underdog.
More than 12,000 people a week see The Phantom of the Opera, and in the past 10 years, I’ve heard only two complaints that the show wasn’t what they expected, which is amazing. Audiences love it, and I see no end in sight!