IN “La Bohème,” the lovers Mimi and Rodolfo are pried apart by disease, poverty, failure of nerve and, ultimately, death. When Sarah Joy Kabanuck and David Miller played the roles on Broadway in 2003, some strange magnetism seemed to be forcing them together.
“There was a moment of connection, but it was so intense that we couldn’t be friends,” Ms. Kabanuck, now 30, said of their initial encounters. “Our time together was nothing but awkward.”
Like the conflicted characters they played, they faced many obstacles to happy romance. It wasn’t all that operatic (though he did lose a job at one point). She was married and he had a reputation as a womanizer. Yet as Ms. Kabanuck later remarked: “Love doesn’t necessarily make logical sense.”
Ms. Kabanuck had been an understudy in the Broadway “Bohème” (which was directed by Baz Luhrmann), playing Mimi more than 30 times. She agreed to be an understudy in the Los Angeles production in 2004, and she and Mr. Miller, now 36, discovered that they were to perform opposite each other for a week and a half. On the first day of rehearsal, as they sang the passionate duet “O soave fanciulla,” their eyes locked — and Mr. Miller forgot the words.
“I was out of place and out of time,” he said. “It was enough for me to be late on my entrance. I had all the emotional upheaval of a teenager in love.”
“There was one special kiss that Mimi and Rodolfo would share, and that kiss was very specific,” Ms. Kabanuck said. “In hindsight, there was nothing romantic about it.”
And still, when he kissed her, she momentarily lost her footing. “I was thinking, ‘What was that?’ ” she said. “There was definitely something there.”
After the rehearsal, Mr. Miller decided he had to see Ms. Kabanuck outside of work and invented a reason to call. A question about their schedule quickly turned into an invitation to a movie. That evening they went to see “50 First Dates.”
“I was so drawn to him immediately and tried to talk myself out of it,” Ms. Kabanuck said. Theirs was a clash of outlooks, if not cultures. He wore red cowboy boots, had earrings in both ears and spiked hair. She had been raised as a Baptist fundamentalist and said she remained devout, describing herself as “a little church girl.”
The date led to a few other encounters, but he was about to depart for Piacenza, Italy, for what he expected to be a triumph as the Duke of Mantua in a new production of “Rigoletto.” She drove him to the airport. Neither of them knew what would happen next. She was still married, but very much wanted to be close to him. He later described the experience of looking into her eyes on the first date as “that thunderstruck moment.”
“I was in love,” he said, “not just in my heart but in head, my body, my soul. That was it.”
The Piacenza “Rigoletto” turned into a disaster for Mr. Miller. The audiences booed him and within days he was fired. Devastated, he called his agent, who found him last-minute work as an understudy for Roberto Alagna at the Opéra Bastille.
When he arrived in Paris he sent for Ms. Kabanuck. She was still in California, finishing “La Bohème.” They paid for her flight with their scant savings.
Holed up in a hotel in the Latin Quarter for two weeks, they reveled in their own vie bohème. Only in this version, the two lovers began planning his next career move, an audition for the pop-opera quartet, Il Divo, then being put together by Simon Cowell. She scraped together the last of her money to buy him an MP3 player so he could rehearse.
The player turned out to be a solid investment. He became a member of Il Divo and now tours the world with the group.
Ms. Kabanuck, when she returned from Paris, moved out of the home in New Jersey that she shared with her husband and found an apartment in Manhattan. The decision to leave her marriage and devote herself to Mr. Miller was extraordinarily difficult, she conceded. Still, she added, “from the moment our eyes met through those two weeks of being in Paris and the pain of going through a divorce, I knew that I loved him.”
“I fell in love with his fearless appetite for life and his desire to leave no experience un-experienced. He was so passionate in playing Rodolfo, it was infectious. I loved, and still love, his vision of the world and its potential."
In Hawaii last New Year’s Eve, Mr. Miller proposed in a cabana as fireworks rained sparks on the Pacific.
On Aug. 8, they were married at 632 on Hudson, a Manhattan event space, amid a garden fantasy of trees hung with crystals and artificial birds. Wearing a strapless sheath with a slender jeweled sash and fluted hem by Michelle Rahn, Ms. Kabanuck entered to a processional composed by Mr. Miller.
Aleta St. James, the couple’s life coach, who is also a Universal Life minister, performed the ceremony. Afterward an ebullient Mr. Miller said that his singing has never been better.
“Before, I had a pretty good emotional facility, but it was imitation,” he said. “How I sing now is the real deal. I know how the things I’ve being singing about feel. Everything is freer, easier, and my high notes — I don’t have to work for them. Now, they come from my heart.”