The Phantom of the Opera is not just a Broadway icon, it’s a cultural giant.
There is an organ score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, sumptuous sets and elaborate costumes. It’s a melodramatic love triangle between a beautiful soprano, her tough beau, and a misunderstood sewer dweller, composer and vocal teacher. Then there is the chandelier, of course. Few moments in musical theater are more thrilling than the one before the massive lamp roars to life again.
After 35 years and nearly 14,000 performances, The Phantom of the Opera is taking its last bow Sunday on Broadway. Soon, posters will be collected from Times Square advertising a show featuring nothing but the iconic Phantom mask and a single rose, and the Majestic Theater will be empty for the first time since The Phantom opened in 1988.
The news of its closure stunned musical theater fans—Broadway’s longest-running show has always seemed like a steady presence on West 44th Street. But it’s an expensive undertaking – after the show returned from a pandemic-induced shutdown, its weekly running costs approached $1 million, and this is often won’t be rough enough to offset these costs. It became impossible for such a lavish production to maintain its place on Broadway without losing money.
No one took the news harder than the most dedicated Phantom fans – or “fans,” rather. Many of them have watched the show dozens or even hundreds of times. They followed the show around the country and the world, and some even bought tickets for the final performance of Phantom on Sunday night. They found solace in his fantasy, identified themselves with the anti-hero at its center and forged strong bonds with their fellow theatergoers throughout its run.
Many fans have been fascinated by the musical, like Christina under the spell of the main character, for so long that they can no longer pinpoint what makes it so mesmerizing – it has been a constant in their lives.
“I can say that I love the music, the sets, and the fact that the Phantom sacrifices his happiness for Kristin’s in the end,” said Katie Jelinek, a Pennsylvania librarian who first fell in love with The Phantom in 1993. “They create magic and a sense of awe. But listing these things individually does not explain the unspeakable sum of their parts, which makes The Phantom unlike any other musical.”
Charlie Peterson, an eighth grade fan, said they spent the months after their mother’s death listening to the soundtrack with their childhood best friend. Although they now live on the other side of the country from this friend, they still get together to watch a performance of the musical that inspired them in their youth.
“It was the place I could go when I felt like I needed it,” Peterson told CNN. Losing The Phantom on Broadway now “feels like another friend is leaving.”
Sierra Boggess, one of Christine’s most beloved performers among the fanbase, told CNN that the show’s fans are “incredibly special” even among the most enthusiastic musical theater fans.
Take Dick Moore: The Denver native has seen the show more than 200 times, and his home is decked out with Phantom memorabilia from his “35 Years of Chasing the Ghost,” he told CNN.
“Every time I watch this show, it’s like seeing it for the first time,” he said. said Denver Center for the Performing Arts in 2019 in honor of watching his 198th performance. “I never get tired of it.”
Following the Phantom is a way of life for some fans – many of them have made regular trips to the Majestic throughout their lives to catch new interpretations of Christine and the masked maestro. And when the news of the show’s closure came, fans demanded to buy tickets for the remainder of its run – the closing date was even pushed back a few weeks to meet fan demand. About a week after it was announced that it was ending, it weekly gross rose from $964,000 to $1.2 million. Last week, he raised $3.6 million – tickets for the final performances were not cheap.
Fans told CNN days before Phantom’s final production that they were preparing to say goodbye to a heavy heart. Wallace Phillips, a New York-based film director and animator, has watched the show 140 times over the past 13 years. Speaking to CNN before the show closed, he said he hoped to have a few more shows before Sunday.
Jan Petriello Eisenberg learned of the closure while working in Hawaii. The Phantom was the play that inspired him to study theater at the University of Texas at Austin, and years later he got a chance to join a Broadway ensemble for a one-night stand and become the shadow of Broadway veteran James Barbour, who played the Phantom in 2015.
Eager to experience what he described as one of the best nights of his life, he quickly booked a flight to New York for a performance earlier this month.
“I’m devastated that this Broadway icon is gone forever,” Eisenberg said. And if he does come back, he will never be the same again.
Several fans share Eisenberg’s grief: “Phantom” returned to London’s West End with a halved orchestra in 2021 after the pandemic halted all performances. Many feared that his score would lose its influence due to fewer musicians. And many now fear that if the show eventually returns to Broadway, it will lose much of the magic of the original production.
The pandemic has made some appreciate the Phantom even more. Andrew Defrin, a theater directing student at Fordham University, has been “totally fascinated” by The Phantom since he first saw the play at the age of 6. Phantom’s own mask. But he didn’t see the show again until it returned after a Covid-induced shutdown in 2021.
He said he would attend his 20th Phantom performance on Saturday. He planned to bring fabrics.
“It’s really the end of an era,” Defrin told CNN. “I have never seen other marquees at the Majestic Theater. Not seeing this mask would be devastating.”
Phantom is the most enduring relic of the 1980s musicals built on spectacle: Les Misérables had a huge cast and an even bigger barricade. Miss Saigon had its own killer helicopter, and the Cats had a junkyard. (It’s no coincidence that all four mega-musicals are co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh.) But all of those shows have closed, revived, and closed again since The Phantom first hit the stage.
The musical re-introduced Gaston Leroux’s eponymous novel to fans who couldn’t get enough of The Phantom. While adaptations of source material existed prior to Webber’s musical, adaptations and parodies specifically referencing the show’s interpretation of The Phantom can be seen throughout pop culture, including movies and even children’s television.
Defrin acknowledged that Webber’s musical has its fair share of detractors who are unimpressed by its melodramatic script and score. But it’s hard to deny the cultural “phenomenon” he’s become, he said – his iconography is so recognizable that his marquee doesn’t even have the musical’s name on it.
“Of course there will be a hole in my heart,” Defrin said of its closure.
Some fans, like Phillips, are comfortable with the end of the show, even if it hurts them.
“Part of me sees this as a new beginning,” he said. “I would like to keep the show’s legacy as best as possible.”
Phillips said he dreams of adapting the musical as an animated film someday, another way The Phantom can live off Broadway.
In the meantime, Boggess has just come to terms with the seriousness of the Ghost’s role in her life. She played Christine across the ocean – not only on Broadway – and in the sequel to the musical Love Never Dies.
From rehearsing for a Las Vegas production with the original director, the late Hal Prince, to hitting the high E on the musical’s title track, the highest note Christina sings on the show, she told CNN she retained her memories of performing in Ghost “. as one of the most expensive in her career.
“Singing (Webber’s) music is one of the greatest gifts of my life,” she said.
While Defrin has avidly studied The Phantom as an aspiring director, what he will miss the most is running the show with friends. He brought over 20 people with him to the show, and watching someone’s jaw drop as the chandelier goes up and the iconic organ starts to play was a unique thrill.
“There is no such reaction,” he said, sharing the “gift Phantom” with loved ones.
Phantom won’t completely disappear from the theatrical landscape – it will likely continue to tour and licensing rights are available to amateur theater companies. But when the Majestic’s marquee dims on Sunday night and the Phantom finally leaves the theater he’s haunted for 35 years, Broadway will seem a little less fantastic without him.