Stage magic happens in a variety of ways — the reveal of a gorgeous set, a transporting lighting effect, a truthful moment that holds the audience in an unbreakable spell.
And then there is stage magic that brings hearts together.
Take, for example, the love affair between TJ Hogle and Melanie Horton, both appearing in Breckenridge Backstage Theatre’s currently running performance of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” a show about, ironically enough, the mating game.
They first met working on a stage production in a small Colorado theater. Hogle was in the original cast.
Horton joined the show two weeks before opening, replacing one of the departing leads.
“Melanie had recently moved from New York City, where she had made a living as an actress,” Hogle said. “As an actor, that is the definition of intimidating.”
For Horton, her attraction to Hogle was immediate. “I found myself habitually gravitating to TJ wherever he was,” she said. “I appreciated how kind he was with everyone, how humble he was with his talent.”
For Hogle, it was Horton’s talent and beauty that was the hook.
“I could tell there was something about this woman that was different from any woman I had met,” he said.
They began dating, performed in other shows and eventually knew they wanted to share not just time on stage but the rest of their lives together.
Both were cast in the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre’s recent production of “Oliver!” at about the time Hogle was rallying the courage to propose. He even picked out a ring.
“It was expensive,” he said. “I started to lose my mind if she was going to like the ring or not.”
“It was my mother who recommended asking me what sort of ring I wanted,” Horton interjected.
“Good thing,” Hogle said. “It ended up saving us money, and she chose a ring that made her happy.”
The only thing left for Hogle was the proposal. “I carried the ring with me at all times, waiting for the perfect time to pop the question, but nothing felt right.”
Staging a proposal
Finally, Hogle approached Backstage Theatre artistic director Christopher Willard about staging the proposal after one of the “Oliver!” performances, and everyone in the cast got to work to make the moment happen.
“My favorite part of the story was the fact that TJ had no pockets in his costume,” Horton said, “so one of the cast members had to carry it for him in his costume jacket. He was our ring bearer!”
The proposal was staged during the bows following one of the performances, and stage magic happened again. Horton said “yes.”
“Well, I picked out the ring, so yeah,” she said with a laugh.
The proposal between Hogle and Horton was not the first to happen on the Backstage Theatre stage in the past year. Eric Mather proposed to Jenny Weiss after a performance of “Out of Order” last March. Another acting couple, Tim and Faith Moore, met during a production of “Guys on Ice” and got married a year later. In addition, the theater has been the sight of no fewer than five marriage proposals between patrons over the past eight years.
“There’s something about our stage,” Willard said, joking. “It’s fertile ground.”
For Hogle and Horton, who have set a wedding date for November, the joy of performing as a couple — in a show about coupling — is icing on the cake.
“Sharing the stage again, but this time, not just dating, but being engaged,” Hogle said, “well, I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out.”