This story has been languishing away under-reviewed over on so I thought I'd move it over here where it could be better appreciated. This is a true story to the best of my recollection, so the camp and all the people mentioned in this story do actually exist although the people's names have been changed. But I don't own 'em.
Note: The version of the title song from POTO referred to in this story is the one on Colm Wilkinson's Stage Heroes album. For those who haven't heard it, it omits the "In sleep he sang to me" verse, beginning with a slow "Sing once again with me" verse and then picking up to the regular tempo at the next verse. Also, it has no cadenza. Neither the song nor its lyrics which I quote here belong to me, but to Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe.
And now, on with the story!
Filled With a Strange, Sweet Sound
I don't remember the day I arrived at Summer camp that year very well. In fact, I don't remember much of my week at camp that year at all. It's funny. You'd think that every tiny detail of a week that changed my life forever would be vividly and indelibly imprinted in my memory for all time. But nope, just snippets, the highlights, the important bits. But with any luck and a little abstractness I should be able to string those bits together into a half-decent retelling of that week. I hope so, because I've been dying to tell this story to anyone who'd listen for years. I've long since given up trying to disguise it in fiction while still staying as faithful as I can to the events and their sequence as I remember them too. So, here it goes. The story of the week my life changed, the story of the week I discovered Phantom of the Opera. Or perhaps it might be better described as the week that Phantom found me.
I arrived along with two other girls in the rented car driven by my mother. Roberta, a friend of mine from school whom we had volunteered to drive up to camp, sat beside me in the back seat. Melanie, who I had never met before but whom somehow we had also volunteered to drive up there, sat beside Mother in the front. I don't remember how or why we had volunteered to drive her to camp that year, but we had. Roberta and Melanie began chatting about Mariah Kerri or New Kids On The Block (they were both huge fans) or some such thing which I considered nonsense. I did not join in their conversation, as I did not keep up with Pop music except for hearing it when out at school or in malls and the like. instead I listened to Les Miz all the way there. It was the complete symphonic recording, which I had just, shhh, recorded (taped we used to say) off the radio.
We arrived in the evening on that Sunday. For weeks at camp you always arrived on a Sunday night and left on the Saturday morning six days later. That year Roberta was my roommate just as she had been in residence at school the preceding year. I think Melanie might have roomed with us too that week. At least, I remember her always being in our room with Roberta, listening to New Kids on the Block. We were in Birches.
There were a dozen or so cabins at camp, all painted green with white trim on the outside. They were all connected by a wooden boardwalk (also painted green with a white guardrail) and all named for trees: Aspens (which contained the administration and snack bar), Birches (where Tanya, Marianne and I were), Cedars, Dogwoods (where I'd been last year), Great Oaks (the dining hall and lounge), Hemlocks, Junipers, King Maples (the nursing station) and Larches. I remember that at the beginning of that week the sky was clouded white; like milk, a haze the sun shone through but did not dispel.
I don't remember much of what we did that week. I seem to remember that over dinner on the first night we had a performance by Captain Canada, and that after dinner we gathered around a bonfire by the lake for Nana bush stories. but maybe that was the year before. I remember Roberta incessantly playing New Kids on the Block on her little tape recorder and myself being very frustrated that I hadn't brought my own to play Les Miz on. For some reason, I had been under the erroneous impression that we weren't allowed to bring tape players. I remember sitting on the flagstone path at the pretend horseracing (they played horse-race footage and we gambled with pretend money), under the green trees and the milky sky, and pretending to be Fantine trying to win enough money to pay for Cosette. I remember explaining the plot of Les Mis to a mother who was there with her little daughter as we stood in the shallow part of the lake, the only part of it that ever approached comfortably warm, one day before lunch. I remember on one of the evenings, I think it was the Monday, getting up in front of the entire camp and telling them an adventure story off the top of my head. It was something about Smurfs and a malevolent giant bat. But again, maybe that was the year before.
I don't remember how it was that I met Anita or how the subject of Les Miz and hearing Colm Wilkinson sing Bring Him Home came up. I vaguely remember it as being the same day as on which I explained the plot of Les Miz to the mother and daughter in the lake, but maybe not. Anyhow, I thought I didn't have a recording of him singing it. Anita said she had one. She was a young counsellor. I remember her asking me if I would like to hear it and myself saying "yes" enthusiastically. I remember plunking out excerpts from Les Miz on the piano in Great Oaks during free time after lunch.