When misunderstood-monster musical The Phantom of the Opera chandelier-crashes into town once more this month, it will deliver a very special homecoming for one of its stars, Katy native Emily Ramirez. The dancer turned theater actress Ramirez, who plays the young ballerina Meg Giry, has made an epic real life journey from Houston to ballet to musical theater, and now she comes back home to make her final Phantom bow.
After several years on tour with the show, Ramirez was ready to take a break and go back to her husband and life in Chicago in October, but seeing Texas on the touring schedule she knew she wanted to sing on as Meg until she could get to Houston.
“When I saw that the tour was going to my home city, I asked the production company to allow me to do two weeks there,” Ramirez explains to CultureMap. “They were very kind and obliged me. I’ll be performing for every show in Houston and I’ll be finishing off my time in my hometown with my family. I couldn’t be more excited about it.”
A Houston dance journey
While Ramirez’s story might not quite be as dramatic as the show she stars in, it has almost as many twists and turns. Growing up in Katy, she began dancing at an early age, and later enrolled in HISD’s renowned High School for the Performing and Visual Art. Though a commute from Katy, she says her very supportive father would make the drive everyday to get her the best dance and arts education possible. That time on the road and in the studio certainly paid off because after graduation she was accepted into the Houston Ballet Academy.
Ramirez says her Houston arts roots made her the performer she is today, exposing her to the larger world of dance and arts.
“To have access to these dancers and this education, I’m so lucky. I imagine if I grew up even 30 or 45 minutes outside of Houston, I don’t think I would have the life I have now.”
As a part of Houston Ballet II, Ramirez performed in the Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, but she also first took to the Hobby Center stage she now returns to in Phantom, as she was part of the inaugural performance at the Hobby Center’s opening.
“This is my first time performing there since I first opened it. It’s so crazy.”
A ballet life
She began her full professional dance career at Ballet Met in Ohio, but this move too was influenced by her Houston roots. Her final year in HBII, artistic director Stanton Welch encouraged Ramirez’s arabesque onward.
“He was a big supporter of my dancing and was the one who suggested and recommended me to Ballet Met. He said: ’I know you’re going to want to be in a smaller company and be busy all the time.’ He was absolutely right.”
From Ballet Met she went to Charlotte Ballet in North Carolina and that’s when her whole performing life changed after a dance injury. During her recovery time, she wondered if she would every dance again, but thought maybe she could still take to the stage another way.
“My body is an instrument that I can’t really use right now,” she told herself. “But what’s another instrument that I can work on as an artist, that I can build? So I started taking vocal lessons while I was still on crutches.”
This was also around the time she had her first encounter with the beguiling Phantom of the Opera on tour.
“I was four months out of my second ACL reconstruction surgery on my knee when I sat down to watch that show. At the time, I was still up in the air about whether I would have a dance career again. But I loved the show. I thought: I would love to do something like this.”
Back on her feet and pursuing vocal and acting training, she began auditioning with some of her teachers telling her she would make a great Meg, a part she would eventually win in this monumental touring production.
While this newest version of Phantom has some spectacular set and design treats for audiences, Ramirez says that there’s also some subtle differences in the directing too.
“This acting style is a little more Americanized, a little bit more current. I think the women in the cast are allowed a little bit more strength than they have had in other interpretations of it.”
Of course Meg’s life as a 19th-century French ballerina is very different from Ramirez’s experiences in the dance world, but still she does find connections to the character.
“The version of Meg in this iteration of Phantom, she’s a little feisty. She’s a little wily and mischievous. She has a strong personality that’s very much in line with who I am in real life. It’s not necessarily a typical personality type in a classical ballerina because I think the culture tends to be a little bit more refined and demure.”
From ballet to musical theater, Ramirez has grown used to make big performing arts leaps and after-Phantom might be her biggest one yet. She says instead of looking for her next Broadway show, she might try standup comedy. After taking improv and sketch writing workshops in Chicago and continuing to write, she's produced enough material to start a double life rivaling the Phantom’s. Occasionally on the road she finds a local comedy club to hone her routine.
With Houston her last stop as Meg, she won’t say if she’ll hit the local clubs here, but comedy seems the next path on her journey: “I just want to be able to make a living being a creative person and bringing people joy.”
Mischer Neurosciences Broadway at the Hobby Center presents The Phantom of the Opera November 7-18.