April 29, 1992, hours after the Rodney King acquittal verdict was read out, the cast and crew readied ourselves for our 8 p.m. performance of Phantom of the Opera at the Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre in downtown LA.
Curtain up, the chandelier rose and the sold out performance went as planned through the spectacular opening number of Act II: “Masquerade”, just after 9 p.m. After the full cast costume change, one of the singers and a few dressers went outside for some fresh air and could smell smoke-a lot of smoke wafting from a bit further east: we were soon to learn that The Parker Center Police Headquarters, a few blocks away, was ablaze as rioters attacked and firebombed it and other buildings in downtown Los Angeles.
This of course was 1992, before mobile phone access to instant news, so the audience had no idea what was developing-but we certainly did. Backstage became a hub of controlled nerves as the stage managers desperately tried to get any vital updates while we continued our show.
By 10:37 p.m. at curtain call, from what I can remember, stage manager Barbara Mae Phillips came onstage and spoke to the audience in a calm voice explaining that while they were enjoying the performance, that due to the escalating violence in Los Angeles, the governor had declared a state of emergency and most of the freeway ramps were closed, including the Santa Monica Freeway (Interstate 10) and Harbor Freeway (Interstate 110). The only safe and remaining freeway out of downtown was the Ventura Freeway north (US Route 101). She insisted, “lock your car doors, don’t stop for anyone and get home safe”.
Cast, crew and audience escaped downtown and the theatre was dark for several days. When the curfew lifted and we slowly returned to a sense of normalcy, we were reminded of what had just happened to our City of Angels as teams of National Guard units patrolled backstage halls and front of house of our theatre home; The Ahmanson.