Tonight, hours after this post goes public, my wife and I will attend a local stage production called Lovesong. It’s our first foray into the offerings of our community theater so we’re really looking forward to it. Lovesong has a run of five evening performances and one Sunday matinee while it’s in town. A check of the theater website indicates about 20% of Thursday’s seats have been sold. By my calculation, that’s about 80% less than any Broadway performance of Phantom of the Opera.
Maybe you heard. After 35 years and 14,000 performances, last Sunday the curtain dropped for good on Phantom of the Opera. Its creator, Andrew Lloyd Weber, was on hand at New York City’s Majestic Theater to offer the cast and crew a personal farewell. He claimed their final performance as the best he’d ever seen. You’ll forgive Andrew for being a little sentimental after all these years.
Whether the stage production, the 2004 movie, the glorious soundtrack, or even the books on which it was based, you’re familiar with Phantom. It’s a captivating story; part haunting and part romantic, with a lead character who has you wondering, “Is he real or imagined?”. Reading Phantom’s synopsis (which you can do here), I realize I overlooked some details of the story the one and only time I saw the show. No matter. The sets and the songs will stay with me for life.
Phantom took my admiration of stage performances to an entirely new level. The one time my wife and I saw the show, in San Francisco in 1997, it literally took our breaths away. The only shows we’d seen prior were the “off-off-off Broadway” offerings; the kind where they recruit locals just to fill out the cast. Phantom left us yearning for more of the best, including seeing something on Broadway (which we did years later with Les Miserables, deserving of its own blog post).
Phantom was also a technical marvel. What other show boasted a giant chandelier swinging out over the audience and threatening to fall? Or a staircase giving the optical illusion of descending several levels as the Phantom dragged Christine downward? Or the subterranean lake the Phantom rowed across, where you swore you were looking at a giant body of water right there on the stage?
Every Broadway production seems to have three or four unforgettable songs. Phantom was no exception. The show kicks off with an orchestral version of “Phantom of the Opera”, turns sweet with Christine’s solo “Think of Me”, and overwhelms with the duet All I Ask of You and especially The Music of the Night. The latter includes one of the most powerful notes I’ve ever heard, when the Phantom sings, “Close your eyes… and let music set you… FREE-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E…!”
Deservedly, Phantom won the “Laurence Olivier Award” for Best New Musical in 1986, the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1988, and pretty much everything else it was nominated for. Besides the London and Broadway productions, Phantom enjoyed nine worldwide tours and one revival. Over its 35 years, Phantom employed 6,500 people and played to over twenty million theater-goers. Phantom even had a short-lived sequel, Love Never Dies, debuting in London but never making it to Broadway.
Sadly, Phantom’s closing can be considered a casualty of the pandemic. The show was suspended from March 2020 to October 2021 (when all Broadway productions ceased). After reopening, attendance was sporadic because patrons were still hesitant. Meanwhile, Phantom’s production costs continued at a staggering $1M/week, which eventually became unsustainable.
Phantom was originally slated to close in February but once theatergoers found out, the show experienced a brief resurgence and lasted another two months. I don’t expect Lovesong to extend its little run at our community theater. Thanks to Phantom of the Opera however, I’m simply excited for the potential of a wondrous stage performance.
Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “Final curtain comes down on ‘Phantom of the Opera'”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.