Fans Gather as ‘Phantom’ Ends a Record Broadway Run
A full house that featured the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, members of the original 1988 Broadway cast, theater industry bigwigs and Phans decked out in masks and capes gathered at theMajestic Theater on Sunday for the final performance of “The Phantom of the Opera.”
The sumptuous musical, with its soaring score and gothic drama, is the longest-running production in Broadway history: The final performance, which was to begin at 5 p.m. Sunday, was number 13,981.
Hours before the curtain, fans began to gather behind barricades across the street, waving and taking pictures and hoping somehow to score a spare ticket. Among them was Lexie Luhrs, 25, of Washington, in full Phantom regalia: black cape, homemade mask, plus fedora, vest and bowtie, as well as mask earrings and a mask necklace. “I’m here to celebrate the show that means so much to us,” Luhrs said.
The Broadway run was, obviously, enormously successful, playing to 20 million people and grossing $1.36 billion since its opening in January 1988. And the show has become an international phenomenon, playing in 17 languages in 45 countries and grossing more than $6 billion globally.
But it was also expensive to run, with a large cast and orchestra and an elaborately old-fashioned set, and had become heavily dependent on tourists from around the world; after the lengthy pandemic shutdown it only reopened thanks to federal government assistance and generous insurance coverage, but then the combination of diminished tourism and inflationary costs led the show to have more money-losing weeks than profitable ones, and that dynamic precipitated the closing.
The show, directed by Hal Prince, is set in 19th-century Paris, and is about a disfigured artistic genius who lives beneath the Paris Opera House and becomes obsessed with a young soprano named Christine.
It is closing on an unexpectedly high note — and not just the high E that Christine sings in the title song. As soon as the closing was announced last September, sales spiked, as those who already loved the musical flocked to see it, and those who had never bothered realized this might be their last chance; the original February closing date was delayed by two months to accommodate demand, and the show has once again become the highest-grossing on Broadway, playing to exuberant audiences, enjoying a burnished reputation, and bringing in more than $3 million a week.
“For a show to go out this triumphantly is almost unheard of,” said the lead producer, Cameron Mackintosh. “It’s beyond anything I’ve ever dreamed of.”
The final day was marked by a combination of nostalgia and celebration. The production organized a preshow red carpet on West 44th Street, in front of the Majestic, where members of the current cast (including Emilie Kouatchou, who is the first Black actor to play the role of Christine on Broadway) and surviving members of the original cast (including Sarah Brightman, who originated the role of Christine) reflected on the show’s run and its closing.
Among those walking the red carpet was Maree Johnson, who first joined the show in 1990 as an understudy in her native Australia; went on to play Christine in Australia, and now plays the opera company’s choreographer. “We all have a very special bond and experience because of the length of the show,” she said. “I feel very honored to be part of it at the end.”
There was also John Riddle, who currently plays Raoul, Christine’s love interest. Riddle first saw the show as a 4-year-old, growing up in Cleveland, when his father heard a radio ad for the musical and decided to take the family to see it in Toronto. “I was completely mesmerized, and I turned to my dad and said ‘I’m going to do this’,” he said. “Now, 30 years later, I’m closing the show on Broadway.”
After the final performance, the show’s company and its alumni were planning to gather for an invitation-only celebration at the Metropolitan Club, with the show’s iconic mask projected on a stairway and portrait studios named for familiar elements of the show (“Chandelier” and “Phantom’s Lair”).
The show, with music by Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart, is still running in London, where the orchestra size was cut and the set was altered during the pandemic shutdown to reduce running costs, and it is also currently running in the Czech Republic, Japan, South Korea and Sweden. New productions are scheduled to open next month in China (the first in Mandarin), in July in Italy (with Ramin Karimloo and a flaming chandelier) and in October in Spain (with a new translation created in partnership with Antonio Banderas).
And will it ever return to New York? “Of course, at some point,” Mackintosh said. “But it is time for the show to have a rest.”