'Phantom of the Opera' takes a final Broadway bow after 13,981 performances
On Sunday night, April 16, the curtain will fall on the longest-running show in Broadway history. The Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber's mega hit musical, is closing after more than 35 years.
The stats are absolutely staggering – since it opened on Broadway in January of 1988, Phantom has played almost 14,000 performances to audiences of over 20 million, grossing over $1.3 billion. An estimated 6,500 people have been employed by the production – including over 400 actors – and it takes a cast, orchestra and crew of 125 to put on the show. On Monday, it will all be over.
"I got the gig of a lifetime. There's no other way to describe it," says Richard Poole, who's been a member of the ensemble, playing small roles, for almost 25 years. "It's given me the ability to have security, to plan ahead," says Poole. "It gives me discipline and structure in my life, and it gives me a constant way to maintain my craft."
Musician Joyce Hammann has been at the show even longer than Poole: "I'm concertmaster at Phantom of the Opera, which is first violin. And holy moly, I've been there 33 and a half years." Hammann is one of several members of the orchestra to have a "Phantom baby" – her son, Jackson just turned 18. "This has been his home away from home," she says. "People [here] have watched him grow up. He had the pleasure of sitting backstage during Saturday matinees sometimes when I wasn't able to get a babysitter."
The Phantom of the Opera, for those who've never seen it, is the story of a disfigured genius who haunts the Paris Opera House, pining away for a young soprano, Christine, who's in love with a dashing count. People die, a chandelier crashes to the stage, but love kinda triumphs ... all set to a sweeping romantic score.
"I was very keen to write something which was a high romance at the time, having done Evita and having done Cats and various things, which ... didn't let me ... go in that direction at all," Lloyd Webber recalled in 2013, for the show's 25th anniversary on Broadway. When he read Gaston Leroux's novel, he found the vehicle and collaborated with Richard Stilgoe and Charles Hart on the adaptation, directed by Hal Prince.
"I think the enduring appeal is because it's so romantic and because audiences escape into it," the late director said for the 25th anniversary. "It has a world of its own. And whatever problems they have out on the street and in their daily lives, they come in here and it's like a little kid tripping on a fairy tale or something. Only this is a slightly dangerous one. But the point is, I think that they escape from reality for a couple of hours and in a romantic world."
"The Phantom being misunderstood, I think is a big symbol for a lot of people," says Ben Crawford, who now has the distinction of being the last Phantom to haunt the Majestic Theatre on Broadway. [Ed. Note: Laird Mackintosh played the Phantom at the final performance on Sunday, April 16, filling in for Crawford who was ill.] Like other Phantoms before him, he has a special relationship with the Phans who've visited the show over and over. Some even send him their own artwork. "They saw that I had dinosaurs in my room," he says, "because when I play with my kids on FaceTime, my son loves dinosaurs, so they 3D printed this velociraptor that's, like, in a tuxedo with a phantom mask. And it came to my dressing room in a box with, like, holes in it so it could breathe."
But even the longest running show in Broadway history has to close at some point. Producer Cameron Mackintosh says Phantom was losing money, even before the pandemic. So, last September, he and Andrew Lloyd Webber announced a final date. "The following week, we were profitable for the first time," Mackintosh said in a phone interview from London. "So, you know, it was the right decision to take at the right time. And, you know, I think people's memory now is back with people saying Phantom of the Opera is one of the great successes of all time, which is what one always prays when a great show finishes."
So, Phantom is going out with a bang – it's been selling out again. Music supervisor and conductor David Caddick has been around since the very beginning – he was music director for a staged reading on Andrew Lloyd Webber's estate back in 1984. He's conducting the final performances on Broadway. "I simply don't know how I'll feel on the morning of the 17th of April," Caddick says. "At the moment, it's about maintaining what we have: keeping the show vibrant. I still give notes to the actors, to the orchestra. We will look to maintain every element of the production through to the very last note."
There are plans for some surprises at the final curtain call. Actor Richard Poole says the closing is bittersweet. "I was retiring anyway," he says. "So, I have a very enviable spot in my life in the fact that I had something to go to, which was nothing!" For the other 124 people employed by The Phantom of the Opera, it's time to find a new gig.
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