The Phantom of the Opera Makes History With 25 Years on BroadwayApril 5, 2013 - by Ellis Nassour
The catchphrase “Now and Forever” should have been reserved for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera instead of his other record-breaking musical Cats, seeing as Phantom bumped Cats to the second longest-running Broadway show slot in January of 2006. Seven years later, the first-place winner is celebrating another major Broadway milestone: 25 years and counting in the same theatre it made its U.S. debut, The Majestic.
Phantom’s Silver Anniversary celebration, held January 26th of this year—the same date it opened in 1988—was hosted by two theatrical greats, co-producer Cameron Mackintosh and Tony-winning director Hal Prince, and was graced by several hundred former cast members. (Due to back surgery, Lloyd Webber only participated by video.) Highlights included the show’s memorable “Music of the Night” sung by four former Phantoms and an appearance by the musical’s original Christine, Sarah Brightman, who was married to Lloyd Webber when Phantom made its debut, first in London and two years later in New York.
When Lloyd Webber began working on his adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra, a number of film versions had already made their mark—none of which would surpass the success of this stage “newcomer.” Collaborating with lyricists Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, Lloyd Webber ensured the masterful score would become legend.
And then there are the other elements that have left their mark on the show, such as the indelible stamp of the late Maria Björnson’s stunning production design and Gillian Lynne’s musical staging and choreography—all meticulously maintained. Says Mackintosh, “We really wanted it to shine for this momentous and unprecedented occasion, so a few days before the anniversary performance, all of Maria’s gorgeous costumes were delivered brand new for the next 25 years.”
Stepping into history are current stars Hugh Panaro (an off-and-on Phantom since 1992), Samantha Hill (Christine), Kyle Barisich (Raoul), Michelle McConnell (Carlotta), and Marni Raa, who portrays Christine at certain performances.
Not surprisingly, working together eight times a week has, over the years, led to romance between cast members, behind-the-scenes crew, and pit musicians: there have been 17 “Phantom” weddings over the course of the New York run.
Phantom has won more than 60 major theater awards, including seven 1988 Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and three London Olivier Awards. The original cast recording, with over 40 million copies sold worldwide, is the best-selling cast recording of all time.
Comments Prince: “More than all the accolades and awards we’ve received, I’m proudest of the fact that Phantom has been the largest single generator of income and jobs in Broadway and U.S. theatrical history. Salaries have paid for new homes, cars, and sending children to universities.”
As for cast members, 11 actors have followed in the footsteps of the original Phantom, Michael Crawford, who originated the role in London and on Broadway. At the time, Crawford was far from an unknown, but his name wasn’t on the short list of actors to play the role. But fate intervened in the person of Brightman. Arriving at her vocal coach’s studio early, she heard Crawford ending his session. “We greeted each other,” she relates. “I found Michael to be so charming and his voice mesmerizing. When I returned home, I said to Andrew, ‘You really need to set up a meeting.’” He did!
And the rest is more than a quarter of a century of breathtaking performances in a show that seemingly grows brighter by the decade.
The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Majestic Theatre, 247 W. 44th St. For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or click here.
PHANTOM FACTS & FIGURES
• Over 300 Phantom masks have been custom-made for actors in the title role.
• Current Phantom Hugh Panaro has played the role over 1,900 times, and describes the spellbinding title character as “career-defining.”
• In 1988, mounting the New York production ran a record $8 million; to mount it today the cost would run $18 million.
• Over 375 actors have appeared in the New York production to date.
• 125 cast, crew, orchestra members, and house personnel are involved in each performance.
• The famous Paris Opera chandelier features 6,000 beads and weighs one ton; over the past 25 years, it’s traveled 3,999,960 feet, or about 757 miles.
All photos: Joan Marcus