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Our Neighbors....Sue and Don Hanson

Category: Phantom of the Opera News
Article Date: December 29, 2004 | Publication: The Pine Journal | Author: Wendy Johnson

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Don and Sue Hanson of Cloquet got an early Christmas present this year. Long-time friend and CHS grad Jason Backe presented them with a pair of tickets for the world premiere of the movie version of “The Phantom of the Opera” in New York City – complete with a walk down the famed Red Carpet!
“He said he thought of us right away because Don has always loved the music from ‘Phantom of the Opera’ so much after we first saw it as a family on Broadway in New York City in 1991,” said Sue.
Backe also knows how much the Big Apple itself means to the Hansons.
“We fell in love with New York City when our son, Ryan, was at West Point,” said Sue. “Every time we went out to see him, we would take the train into the city for the day.”
Backe, now a top hair stylist, is co-owner of Ted Gibson’s Salon on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, along with Gibson, a highly renowned stylist whose clients include well known stars such as Angelina Jolie, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashanti and newswoman Diane Sawyer. Gibson travels the world as stylist to runway models at Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Chanel and does magazine covers for such acclaimed fashion magazines as Vogue and Marie Claire. And Backe, formerly a master stylist for Aveda’s West Broadway salon, has generated a devoted following among some of the world’s top names as well.
“We got Jason’s name in London (yes, London!),” wrote one high fashion reviewer, “and have been hooked since he laid scissors on us... Hat hair be damned!”
Early last fall, one of the Ted Gibson Salon’s clients, who also happens to be head of publicity for Warner Brothers, was in the salon one day and invited Gibson and Backe to the world premiere of “Phantom of the Opera” – and presented them four tickets. It only took Backe a sparse moment to decide who to invite....
“Jason said he thought of us right away,” said Sue. “He’s like one of my own kids, because our families are best friends.”
Backe, the son of Carol and Randy Backe, graduated from Cloquet High School in 1987 with the Hansons’ daughter.
“Carol and Randy were so gracious (about the tickets) because they knew how much we loved ‘Phantom,’” Sue went on. “Otherwise, it probably would have been them who got to go to it! They were very happy for us because they knew how much we love the play.”
The Hansons, always ready to travel at the drop of a hat, accepted the invitation to the world premiere wholeheartedly, along with an equally exciting invitation to the exclusive party following the premiere at New York City’s historic Plaza Hotel.
The original plan was for the movie premiere to be formal, but the dress code was later changed to “business attire.” Sue said that wasn’t a problem for Don – who merely changed his plans from wearing a tux to a suit. But for her, it presented somewhat more of a quandary.
“I was kind of in a panic,” she admitted, “but after trying on 17 different outfits, with my daughter trying to help me figure out what to wear, I called Jason and he said, ‘Just wear what you feel pretty in....’ And so I wore a black skirt that was three-quarter length, and I found a black velvet dress with lace on it on the 50-cent rack at Goodwill that I cut up and made into a blouse! Then, I wondered what I would use for a dressy jacket, and I didn’t know what to do. I was so excited when I found one at the Salvation Army for $5 – just a plain, black vintage coat – and inside was a tag that said it was from New York City! I got all sorts of compliments on it.”
And right after the Hansons found out they were going to the premiere, they found out Dave and Rosetta Johnson of Cloquet were slated to leave on a trip to Venice, Italy, and so Sue called them and asked if they’d bring back masks for them to wear to the premiere (which were suggested but not required for the gala event).
“They were gorgeous, and we got lots of compliments on them!” Sue raved.
When Sue stopped by to pick up the masks at Silver Rose Fashions in Cloquet, Rosetta presented Sue with a gold necklace to wear which she said would be perfect to go with the gold in their masks.
And then, after the Hansons arrived in New York City, Sue noticed most everyone was wearing brooches.
“I haven’t seen a brooch in years and years!” she remarked. “But when we were walking in Central Park, they had a Christmas Mart set up, and I found a perfect gold brooch that went with the mask and the jewelry to wear on my $5 coat. It was perfect! I got compliments from people at the party that I didn’t even know!”
From the time the Hansons’ big weekend at last got under way, Sue said it was “absolutely magical.” They got in to New York City late Friday night and spent the night at Jason’s apartment in Manhattan, right next door to Nicole Kidman’s.
“We could see the Empire State Building right out our bedroom window!” exclaimed Sue. “That was our night light!”
Early Saturday morning, they got up at 5 a.m., after only about three hours of sleep, and went to join in the crowd outdoors at the Today Show.
“This was our fourth time doing it, and we got on television!” Sue said. “We had a sign that said ‘Cloquet, Minnesota’ and brought toys to put in the bag for their toy collection.”
They went from there to Radio City Music Hall’s “Christmas Extravaganza.”
“We loved it!” said Sue. “It was so good! They put on something like six shows a day, with thousand of people at each show.”
They tried to get tickets for the Broadway show “Wicked,” because that was Backe’s favorite play, but found it was sold out through January. They were, however, able to get standing room tickets to see “Chicago” that afternoon before meeting Backe for dinner.
“We didn’t get to bed until one or two in the morning,” said Sue.
They were able to sleep in a little on Sunday morning, and then after they got up, they went shopping, watched people skate at Rockefeller Plaza, went for a walk in Central Park, and looked at the Christmas decorations and window displays in the big department stores.
“The Christmas window decorations in New York City were just unbelievable,” said Sue. “So much of New York was so excited about the world premiere of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ that a lot of the window dressings in the beautiful stores featured masks and different things from ‘Phantom.’”
Then, they went back to the apartment to rest up for their big night and Sue later had her hair done by Gibson.
“It was such a thrill for me to have Ted do my hair,” she said, “because he had just done Angelina Jolie’s hair the week before when she was in New York. It just took him a few minutes, and he did the back combing with his fingers. The salon is so elegant, with beautiful wooden floors and a celebrity room for famous clients. It has only been open for a year.”
After getting dressed, they took a cab to the famed Ziegfeld Theater, which Sue said was “absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous!”
“We arrived, and there was the red carpet!” she said. “We were walking down it at the same time that actress Minnie Driver was, so that was exciting. She was just beautiful, and I was surprised how tall she is – something like six feet. “She’s the only one of the lead actors that I didn’t get a picture of, because I didn’t want to be walking down the red carpet snapping pictures!”
Hanson said the paparazzi was all lined up outside – People magazine, the New York Times, the Globe – but she noticed there was only one photographer inside the theater and at the party afterward, so she figured that someone must have had exclusive rights to shoot it.
The Hansons had elected to wear their masks as they arrived, and since they arrived so soon after the famous actress, they said they overhead folks in the crowd muttering, “Who’s that? Who’s that?” as they went by!
They were seated in the theater’s plush, velvet seats, and all of its 1,200 seats were eventually filled.
“We could tell when someone important would come in because we could hear a murmur go through the crowd and then they would get lots of hugs and handshakes on the way in. Actor Will Farrell was seated only a few rows in front of us.”
The movie’s director, Joel Schumacher, introduced the play, thanked everybody for being there and told some stories about the filming. Then the movie started....
“It was wonderful,” said Sue. “There were times when the audience would burst out clapping, knowing that the actors were there in person, and there were times when the movie was even better than what I thought they would be able to do with it. They stuck very close to the story line of the Broadway musical, probably because original composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was the screenwriter and the producer for the movie.
The film lasted about two hours.
“It went by fast because it was so good,” said Sue. “The voices were so beautiful, and we were just so excited to be there.”
When it was over, everyone got up and started milling around.
“When we approached the top of the elevator,” said Hanson, “Ted told us, ‘Here’s your chance to meet ‘The Phantom’ if you want. He’s standing right over there....’ I went up to him (lead actor Gerard Butler) and said, ‘Congratulations, it was wonderful.’ And he replied, ‘This whole night is just taking my breath away....’”
She saw Butler again later at the premiere party, and he agreed to have his picture taken with her. Afterward, she said he stayed around and “chit chatted” a little bit, and then he asked her if she would kiss him on his cheek, which she did, and in return, he kissed her on her cheek.
“I think I probably reminded him of his mother, because we discovered he’s the same age as my daughter!” Sue laughed. “He was extremely friendly and very excited to be there.”
When the Hansons, who were among some 400 guests at the premiere party at the Plaza, they were greeted by attendants who checked our coats and escorted them up a beautiful staircase with Christmas trees decorated everywhere. Hanson said there were huge hors de ’oveurs trays with cold cuts, cheese and many other delights as well as waiters walking around with trays of hot hors de ’oveurs and beverage centers set up all over. There was also a beautiful dinner buffet set up for the guests, and the room was decorated mostly in red, with red roses everywhere.
“They even had images of roses projected on the ceiling!” exclaimed Hanson. “I came home with roses from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s table, becuase when the party was over, the staff there invited everyone left to help themselves to the roses – and so I thought we might as well take the roses from Webber’s table.”
During the course of the memorable evening, the Hansons were also able to take advantage of photo opportunities with “Phantom” co-star Patrick Wilson (who appeared in “Angels in America”) and lead actress Emmy Rossum, a talented 18-years-old classically trained soprano who played the role of Christine.
“A week ago last Monday, she was nominated for a Golden Globe award as Best Actress,” said Sue, “and ‘Phantom’ was nominated for Best Picture.”
Sue said there were a lot of younger movie stars at the gala event that she confessed she “wasn’t all that familiar with, such as Julia Stiles who appeared in ‘Mona Lisa Smiles,’ along with better-known figures such as Barbara Walters and Joan Collins. At one point in the party, someone even came up to Sue and thought she was “Phantom” co-star Miranda Richardson!
When they turned the lights were turned up at midnight and the party was over, the Hansons were walking out with Sue’s bouquet of roses and an empty champagne bottle that Don had retrieved from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s table, a woman said to them, “Wow, you guys look great! Let me take your picture.’”
“I handed her my camera, and she dropped it!” said Sue. “The battery went flying, and some guy picked it up and gave it back to me. Of course, it had all my pictures from the evening on it, so that was pretty scary!”
They got back to Backe’s apartment at about 1 a.m. and were too excited to sleep for a long time after that. They got up early and had time to watch the Golden Globe nominations announced on television on Monday morning before going out to the airport to catch their flight.
They flew back to Minnesota, arriving at home at 10 p.m. – and then Sue had to open at work at 5:45 a.m. the next morning.
Both of the Hansons are still overflowing with enthusiasm for their latest adventure – with pride in Backe and the success of his business.
“There’s an article about it in the January edition of ‘W’ (an upscale fashion magazine), talking about how up-and-coming their business is,” said Sue. “It’s rated one of the top new salons in the nation. We’re just so proud of Jason, and we’re just so grateful he thought of us and invited us to the premiere. It was like a fairy tale....”


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