The cultural powerhouse that is 'Phantom of the Opera,' is not just a Broadway hit.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s orchestral score, lavish sets and elaborate costume are all part of the show. The melodramatic romance between the soprano and her handsome beau is accompanied by a love triangle involving a composer, voice teacher, and sewer dweller. There's also the chandelier. The moment before the huge light fixture comes back to life is one of the most thrilling moments in musical theatre.
After 35 years, and almost 14,000 performances on Broadway, "Phantom of the Opera" takes its last bow Sunday. In the near future, posters promoting the show will only feature the iconic Phantom mask with a single red rose in Times Square. The Majestic Theater, which opened the show in 1988, will also be empty.
Musical theater fans were shocked to learn of the show's closure. The longest-running Broadway show always appeared as a stable presence along West 44th Street. It's a costly venture. After the show returned after its pandemic-induced shutdown, its weekly operating costs reached $1 million. And it would often not gross enough to cover those costs. The lavish production could no longer afford to stay on Broadway.
The most dedicated fans of 'Phantom,' or "phans", took the news hardest. They have watched the show hundreds or even dozens of times. Some have tickets for the final show of 'Phantom,' which will take place on Sunday. The show's fantasy has brought them comfort, they have identified with its antihero and made lasting bonds with other theatergoers.
The musical has been such a part of their lives for many phans, that they no longer know what it is about it. It's a constant.
Katie Yelinek is a Pennsylvania librarian who fell in love with "Phantom" in 1993. They create magic and an awe. List these things separately doesn't describe the ineffable combination of parts that make 'Phantom,' unlike any other musical.
Charlie Peterson has been a phan in eighth grade. He said that they would listen to the soundtrack of the musical with their childhood friend during the months following the death of their mother. They still meet up with their childhood friend even though they live on the other side of the country.
Peterson told CNN, 'It gave me a place to retreat when I needed it.' It's like losing another friend.
The musical 'Phantom 'phans have a prodigious devotion to it
Sierra Boggess is one of the most popular actresses portraying Christine in the 'phan-base'. She told CNN that even the most passionate musical theater fans find the show's devoted to be 'incredibly unique'.
Dick Moore, a Denver native, has seen the Phantom more than 200 time. His home is decorated with 'Phantom" memorabilia, he said.
'Each time I watch the show, it feels like the first time', he said to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Center, in 2019, after his 198th viewing. I never tire of it.
Some phans have made 'Phantom,' a way of life. They've been to the Majestic many times to see new interpretations. When the news broke of the show closing, fans were clamoring to purchase tickets for the remaining performances. The date of the show's end was even moved several weeks in order to accommodate fan demand. After the show's ending was announced, it's weekly gross increased from $964,000 up to $1.2million. It grossed $3.6m last week - the tickets for the final performances of the show were not cheap.
CNN reported that Phans were preparing their final goodbyes, with a heavy hearts, in the days before 'Phantoms' final performance. Wallace Phillips is a New York-based filmmaker and animator who has seen the show over 140 times over the past 13 years. He told CNN that he was hoping to squeeze in some more performances of the show before it closed on Sunday.
Ian Petriello Eisenberg heard about the closure while working in Hawaii. "Phantom" was the show which inspired him to study theatre at the University of Texas at Austin. Years later, he was given the opportunity to shadow Broadway veteran James Barbour who played the Phantom of the Opera in 2015.
He quickly booked a ticket to New York for a show earlier this month, eager to relive one of the most memorable nights of his lifetime.
Eisenberg expressed his sadness that the Broadway icon was leaving for good. Even if the show returns, it won't be the same.
Eisenberg is not alone in his sorrows. 'Phantom,' which was halted by the pandemic and reopened on London's West End in 2021 with a half-sized orchestra, shares Eisenberg's pain. Many feared the score would lose its impact with less musicians. Many now worry that the show will lose its magic if it returns to Broadway.
It has become a cultural icon that transcends theater
Some people found that the pandemic made them appreciate "Phantom" even more. Andrew Defrin is a Fordham University theater directing student who has been 'completely enraptured by the Phantom' since he saw it for the first time at the age of 6. He would sing along to the soundtrack while he built sets out of cardboard and proudly wore his own Phantom mask. He didn't watch the show again until 2021, when it was reopened after its Covid-induced suspension.
He confirmed that he will attend the 20th performance of "Phantom" on Saturday. He was planning to bring tissues.
Defrin said to CNN that 'it's truly the end of an era'. I've never seen another marquee at the Majestic Theater. It would be devastating to not see the mask.
Phantom is a relic from the 1980s, when musicals were built around spectacle. 'Les Miserables had a huge cast and an even larger barricade. Miss Saigon had a jaw-dropping helicopter, and Cats a junkyard set. All four mega-musicals share a producer, Cameron Mackintosh. Since 'Phantom,' these shows have closed and been revived.
Fans who could not get enough Phantom were introduced to Gaston Leroux's novel by the musical. Webber's musical was not the first adaptation of the source material. However, parodies and adaptations based on the show's version of "Phantom" can be found in pop culture. This includes films and children's TV.
Defrin admitted that Webber's musical is not without its critics who aren’t wowed with its melodramatic score and script. It's impossible to deny its cultural "phenomenon" status, said Defrin - the iconography of the musical is so well known that the marquee does not even mention the title.
Defrin stated that the closure of the facility would leave a 'hole' in his heart.
Phans bid farewell to Phantom on Sunday
Phillips is one of those phans who accepts the ending with grace, even though it hurts.
He said, "I see it as a fresh start." 'I would love to keep the legacy of the show alive as best I can.
Phillips has said that he hopes to adapt the musical into an animated film someday - another way for 'Phantom" to live on beyond Broadway.
Boggess has only recently come to grips with the importance of Phantom's role in her own life. She's played Christine not only on Broadway, but also in a sequel musical called 'Love Never Dies'.
She told CNN that her most precious memories are those of performing in "Phantom" with Hal Prince. Christine sang the highest note in the musical title song, a high E, which is the highest note she sings.
She said, 'To be able to sing Webber's music is the greatest gift of my life.'
Defrin studied 'Phantom,' eagerly as a director aspiring to be a part of the production. But he will miss the opportunity to share the show with his friends. He has brought over 20 people to the show and it's been an incredible experience to watch someone's jaw fall when the chandelier appears and the organ begins playing.
He said that sharing the "gift of Phantom" with family and friends was a unique experience.
The theatrical landscape will not be completely void of 'Phantom.' It is likely to continue touring, and amateur theaters can obtain the licensing rights. When the Majestic's sign dims Sunday night and the Phantom leaves the theater that he has haunted for the past 35 years, Broadway may feel less magical without it.