The Phantom of the Opera, Breaking Records for 35 + Years Closes on
Broadway with Friday Benefit and Sunday Star-Studded Gala.
By: Ellis Nassour
April 13, 2023 – Instead of Cats being labelled “Now and Forever,” that catch phase should have been saved for The Phantom of the Opera. After unprecedented milestone of playing 35 + mostly sold out years at the Majestic Theatre, the curtain will come down on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart’s romantic and haunting Tony-winning musical. On Friday, producers Cameron Mackintosch and Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Company will donate proceeds to four deserving theatrical charities. On Sunday, the last – maybe for now? – performance will begin at 5 P.M., with a star-studded gala to follow. Both are invitation only.
In attendance, along with Andrew Lloyd Webber, original co-stars Tony-winner Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman will be many among the 20 + phantoms, the 40 + Christine Daaés and cast members who’ve been art of this historical event. Many details are being kept under wraps.
Based on the classic novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera, with book by Richard Stilgoe and Lloyd Webber and additional lyrics by Stilgoe, was directed by the late Tony-winning legend Harold Prince. Musical staging and choreography is by the late Gillian Lynne. Phantom has costume and production design by the late Maria Björnson. The latter two have been singled out numerous occasions by Lloyd Webber, Mackintoush, and Price as the creative geniuses behind the show.
POTO world premiered in London in 1986, winning the Olivier for Best Musical. That production will continue. The musical transferred to Broadway in 1988, winning the Best Musical Tony, in addition to Bests for Director, Actor, Supporting Actress/Judy Kaye, Scenic Design/Maria Bjornson, and Lighting/Andrew Bridge. Oddly it didn’t win for its soaring score, probably one of the most popular in Broadway history – right behind Oklahoma! and Carousel. Nor was Gillian Lynne of Cats fame even nominated for her musical staging/choreography.
The Tony category to salute music supervision and direction and orchestrations was nine years in the future so the brilliant work of David Caddick and David Cullen and Lloyd Webber wasn’t recognized.
The three original U.S. national tours combined grossed over $1.5 billion. POTO played in over 170 cities to audiences in the millions – making it the most successful and continuously-touring show in U.S. history. Theatres ripped out walls and did extensive renovations to have the Phantom haunt their venues not just once, but again and again.
The haunting melodies and thunderous crescendos of the title tune; the lilting “The Music of the Night”; the romantic duet “All I Ask of You” on the roof of the Paris Opera as the Phantom hiding high above realizes Christine will never be his; the WOW! of the Act Two opener “Masquerade” with it’s shocking climax; and Christine’s poignant yearning for the past, “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” will be missed. But thanks to cast recordings, DVDs, and access to several major productions over the years, the music will never die.
The musical became the longest-running show in Broadway history on January 9, 2006 – when it surpassed the nearly 18-year run of Cats – another international theatrical event co-produced by Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber.
Phantom has earned an estimated $7-billion playing to over 145 million people in 45 countries and 183 cities in 17 languages. It’s been celebrated with over 70 major awards worldwide. It cities where it had sit-down engagements, it’s been claimed the musical revitalized the economies of those U.S. cities – not only from local ticket sales but from those who came often hundreds of miles. It has been one of the country’s leading tourist attractions – especially, the spectacular Las Vegas run. Since 2010, thousands of high school and university productions have been licensed through R&H Theatricals.
Over a colossal 13,981 performances on Broadway, The Phantom of the Opera has grossed a staggering $1.4 billion. The show has been the largest single generator of income and jobs in New York and U.S. theatrical history. On Broadway, an estimated 6,500 people (including 450 actors and hundreds of musicians – many of whom have remained in the pit since 1988) have been employed over its three decades. It shattered every possible record for advance sales, capitalization, total gross, total attendance, and longevity. The two-disk original cast album spent five years on trade charts; a single-disc highlights recording spent over six years on Billboard’s Pop Album chart.
So, why is Phantom closing? Why not wait to break another record in five years? Certainly COVID didn’t help with theatres closed for months and the lack of tourists domestic and foreign.
When theatres reopened, tourism wasn’t as robust as all thought. In spite of a few dips at the box office, so much money had been made and thousands benefited from employment.
Evidently among those wondering and seeming unhappy is Andrew Lloyd Webber, who seems unhappy he alone could not prevent the closing. “What’s really sad about it,” he stated, “is that it’s not necessary. It could easily, easily run on now … It’s not my decision. But I would also be very conscious if I do go and that chandelier falls for the last time at the end of the first act, that it will rise again, somewhere in New York, much sooner than some people might think.”
Does that seem to indicate that, as sole producer or as producer with willing investors, The Phantom of the Opera will reign supreme again? Keep those masks in and that chandelier in storage. Sir seems to have a trick up his sleeve.
The Theatrical Charities Benefitting from Friday’s Performance
Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative provides students with enhanced theater education to initiate meaningful relationships in childhood for pursuing theater as children become young adults. By fostering lifelong engagement with theater through educational avenues, they provide diverse young people across the nation newfound access to industry success.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: “Through the work of my Foundation in the UK and U.S., I know engagement in the arts changes lives. The Phantom of the Opera’s time on Broadway changed my life, and has had a
huge impact on the lives of the millions who have worked with us or come to see the show. I am thrilled we end our run on Broadway by giving something back to our beloved Broadway and to its young, talented people who will be future stars of this stage, of Broadway and of our whole industry. Thank you, Broadway and Thank you, New York.”
American Theatre Wing’s Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative, an extension of the composer’s work in the UK to promote and fund Arts education for students and young people. The program provides classroom grants to create or enhance theatre programs in the nation’s under-resourced schools, scholarships for afterschool and summer training programs and tuition support for students pursuing theater.
Broadway Bridges, an initiative of the Broadway League, supported by the Shubert Organization, to help guarantee future Broadway audiences, performers and behind-the-scenes personnel reflect the diversity of New York. It gives public high school students the opportunity to attend Broadway shows. Since 2017, nearly 7,000 students across five boroughs have attendedPhantom.
Stephen Sondheim Foundation, established by the composer/lyricist, is the largest beneficiary of future royalties or other income derived from his musical and literary copyrights for not-for-profit charitable foundations to “support of playwrights, composers and lyricists for the theater in the early stages of their careers … in their development and advancement of their careers.”
Prince Fellowship, in association with Columbia University School of the Arts, honors the legacy, career and memory of the Broadway producer, director and Fellowship founder Harold with the goal to support the development of gifted emerging creative theatrical producers. The Fellowship is committed to sustaining the finest traditions of producing by exposing new talent to the producing process in a manner that supports creative involvement.
“Phantom’s farewell to Broadway has proved more thrilling and celebratory than Andrew and I could ever have hoped for, “states co-producer Cameron Mackintosh said, “We chose these charities as a thank you to New York and the Broadway community that has so embraced our success. The proceeds will be specifically aimed at the support and nurturing of new talent, both on and off the stage.”
Robert E. Wankel, chairman and CEO of the Shubert Organization, which owns the Majestic Theatre, said, “The Phantom of the Opera has been the entry point to Broadway for countless young people over the years. In that spirit of welcoming, through this charitable event, we’re delighted to support Broadway Bridges and its goal of having every New York City public school student attend a Broadway show at least once in their school years. We’re proud to have been Phantom’s home for over 35 years.”