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‘The Phantom of the Opera’: A Broadway legend

| Monday, April 24, 2023

Meg Hammond | The Observer

What do you first think of when you hear the words “Broadway Musical?” Some might think of the magical “Wicked,” the tear-jerking “RENT” or the mega-hit “Hamilton.” However, many people think of one show, a show that has won countless awards and accolades, the longest running show in the history of Broadway and the third longest-running show in the British West End district. A show so popular that the opening chords of the titular song are instantly recognizable to any that hear it, even if they don’t know what it is from. I am talking about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic “The Phantom of the Opera,” and as of April 16, 2023, it has concluded its run on Broadway after 35 years and 13,981 performances. 

The musical had a basis in Gaston Leroux’s novel of the same title, a twisted dark romance between an operatic soprano Christine, her childhood friend Raoul who funds the opera, and Christine’s mysterious teacher dubbed as “The Angel of Music” by his pupil, but known to the audience as the titular Phantom of the Opera. The musical delves into the depths and passion between the Phantom and Christine, with her old friend Raoul becoming an unintended rival for Christine’s affections.

While the plot is strong, Phantom is so much more than its story. All elements of the show stand as strengths on their own: the sweeping operatic score, the elegant costuming and live special effects all contribute to a spectacular production. The production design is such a crucial element of any musical, and the love and care put into Phantom translates presently into the show’s presentation. One of the most iconic parts of the entire musical is the titular character’s mask, a plain white mask that covers the right half of the Phantom’s face (despite the show’s poster featuring a mask that would entirely cover a face). The mask is immediately evocative of the show, and its mystery and romance seen within. On a broader scale, the Phantom’s mask is representative of more than just this one show; for many people the mask serves as a symbol of Broadway Theatre as an industry, and has served as a constant presence of the Manhattan theater district for the last three and a half decades. 

The show is a truly important piece of Broadway history, and to a lesser extent the history of the West End as well. Phantom is barely in third-place for the longest-running show for West End’s theaters, debuting exactly a year and one day after the opening of “Les Miserables,” which currently sits in second-place in the competition. However, the current lead “The Mousetrap” has run ever since its debut in November of 1952. While Phantom has concluded its Broadway tenure, the West End production still runs strong. Looking at the other contenders for the longest-running show on Broadway, the 1996 revival of Fosse’s “Chicago” would have to run for 8 years and 2 months more to surpass Phantom as the longest running show, and Disney’s “The Lion King” for one additional year to break Phantom’s record as well. 

So, what’s next? As one door closes another opens, especially for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Recently, Webber’s most recent show “Bad Cinderella,” a reworking of his West End show Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, debuted on Broadway to mixed reviews, leaning negatively. However, as Webber’s Phantom closes, it does not mean that the spectre will cease his grasp on Broadway. “Love Never Dies” is a sequel to Phantom, a move that is not often seen with Broadway musicals. Picking up from the original’s end, the musical shows Christine and Raoul many years later, encountering the Phantom once more, reuniting Christine and the Phantom and shows that after all these years their love never died (Hey! That’s how we get the title!) Perhaps with the end of “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Love Never Dies” might finally see a Broadway production. 

As “The Phantom of the Opera” ends its prolific run on Broadway, the theater world stands forever changed. No matter what happens from now on, Phantom will always stand as one of the most influential and popular shows to ever be staged on Broadway. It may be gone, but for now I find, “The Phantom of the Opera” is here, inside my mind. 

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