GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Kara Klein, from Broadway's Longest-Running Show Ever

On the day The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway, January 26, 1988, a 5-year-old girl in Phoenix was probably prancing around her family's living room, doing rudimentary arabesques and jetés. When Phantom became the longest-running show in Broadway history on January 9, 2006, that girl was on the stage of the Majestic Theatre, doing much more refined versions of those steps in her role as a member of the Ballet Chorus of the Opéra Populaire.

She's Kara Klein, age 23, whose nascent career in ballet was detoured when she decided to try her luck in theater—and got the first job she auditioned for: ensemble in the national tour of Phantom of the Opera. She was only 18 at the time, and now she's been in the Broadway cast for a year. For most of 2005 she had the featured role of Meg Giry, filling in for Heather McFadden while McFadden was on maternity leave. This year she's back in the Ballet Chorus (and an understudy for Meg).

As part of the Broadway cast, Klein helped make theater history on January 9 when Phantom played its 7,486th performance and surpassed Cats as Broadway's endurance champ. She and her fellow ballerinas performed a special dance (choreographed by Phantom's original choreographer, Gillian Lynne) as part of the "third act" created for the evening, which also featured appearances by producer Cameron Mackintosh, director Harold Prince, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, many original cast members and those who have played the Phantom and Christine over the years, as well as a performer in a cat costume bowing to the current Phantom, Howard McGillin. Everyone joined in to sing "Masquerade," with lyrics written just for the occasion. "It was incredible to hear 150 voices up on that stage and know that everybody at some point had stood on that stage and performed in Phantom," says a still-giddy Klein, who has also performed in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and City Center Encores!

Most of her adult life has been occupied with Phantom, and most of her life since toddlerhood has been occupied with dance. She started with Mommy & Me gymnastics and was dancing on her own around age 4. She had a friend who performed in pageants. "I saw her and I was like, 'Oh, I want to do that!'" Klein recalls. "From the age of 5, 6, I wanted to be on stage—dancing, singing, whatever. I loved to perform."

Voice lessons began at 8, and from the age of 10 on, she spent her summer vacations at youth programs run by such companies as Boston Ballet and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. She twice won Dance Masters of America's Junior Miss Dance for the Pacific Northwest and competed for the national title. Used to being away from home for summer dance training, she decided to do so full-time for her last two years of high school. Her family was then living—as they still do—in Vancouver, Wash. (just across the border from Portland, Ore.).

"It came to the point where I was kind of already at the top in Vancouver. I knew that if I wanted to go further, I needed to be around other kids that have the same motivation and goals to become a professional dancer," Klein says. So when she was 16, she moved cross-country on her own to attend the North Carolina School of the Arts for her junior and senior years. Upon graduating, she was accepted into Nashville Ballet.

Before Klein started traveling for dance, she had moved around with her family. She was born in San Jose, Calif., but the family moved to Phoenix while she was a baby. When she was 7, they relocated to the Northwest, first to Salem, Ore., and then Vancouver. It was her father's job with M&M/Mars that had prompted the moves, though by the time she was at North Carolina her father was selling hearing aids. One day, while chatting with a new client who had been an opera singer, he told her about his daughter the dancer/singer. The customer was Ellen Faul, who had taught Sarah Brightman, the original Christine in Phantom. The next time Kara was home on a school break, she went to meet Faul and sang for her. Impressed, Faul told her to contact the voice teacher Joyce Hall if she ever went to New York.

And she did, when she was in New York during her senior year to audition for ballet companies. Afterward, Hall told Klein that as a young ballerina who sings, she'd be perfect for Phantom. Years earlier, Klein's mother had told her the same thing, but she didn't believe it. "When I was 14, I was in New York and I went to see Phantom with my mom," she explains. "I had no idea there were dancers in the show, and my mom was like, 'Look, Kara, you could do that.' I was like, 'Shut up, Mom! I'll never be able to do that.'" Klein had always enjoyed musical theater but thought a career in it was an impossible dream, and she hadn't participated in school plays because she was concentrating on ballet. "Every time I saw a musical when I was younger, I was like: I want to do this," she says. "I connected with it, but I never thought that I would make it there, that I was good enough to actually pursue it."

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Adrienne Onofri Adrienne Onofri, one of BroadwayWorld's original columnists, created and writes the Gypsy of the Month feature on the website. She also does interviews and event coverage for BroadwayWorld, and is a member of the Drama Desk. Adrienne is also a travel writer and the author of the book "Walking Brooklyn: 30 Tours Exploring Historical Legacies, Neighborhood Culture, Side Streets, and Waterways," published by Wilderness Press.