The Phantom Haunts The Opera Now and Forever

In Broadway, New York City, Phantom, Theatre on August 4, 2010 at 6:26 pm

The Phantom Of The Opera’s Long Run on Broadway.

By Olga Gonzalez Latapi

It’s New York City. The date: January 27th, 1988. The Phantom Of The Opera has just opened its doors, and the reviews are pouring in from the papers, each saying the same. According to The New York Times review: “Yet for now, if not forever, Mr. Lloyd Webber is a genuine phenomenon….” Today, more than twenty years later, this Broadway musical has showed us that it is possible to turn “now“ into “forever.“

Book-cover for Le Fântome de l’Opera by Gaston Leroux.

It all started with a man called Gaston Leroux, a French writer who gave to the world a book called Le Fântome de l’Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s inspiration for the Broadway musical. The novel was published in 1909 and two years later it was translated to English. At first it received little success, but as word spread its popularity grew. Today, it has been remade into countless movies, television series, book spin-offs, stage adaptations and comic strips. The most famous of them all came in 1986 when Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman assumed the roles of the Phantom, the strange man living in an opera house, and Christine, his ongoing obsession. The premiere took place in London, and was a great success. In 1988 it was brought to a place we all know well: Broadway.

After spending twenty-one years in the city, The Phantom Of The Opera celebrated its 9000th performance on September 17th of 2009, becoming not only the longest-running musical on Broadway but also the most seen of all.

But, what about it has captivated so many people? Why has this musical been going on for more than 20 years? For The New York Times it is the “…flamboyant gothic design and…fantastical staging.“ To Bloomberg it is the operatic form, which makes it “the closest thing in musicals to an opera“ and will surely “attract many opera lovers.“  It could also be the “great sweeps of musical sound“ (Daily Mail), the “eerily flickering lights“ or the “special effects“ (Daily Mirror). For me, a loyal lover of the show, it is the unforgettable experience.

You arrive, taking your place in line and tightly holding onto your ticket so the wind doesn’t blow it away. You hear a little “bleep“ telling you your ticket isn’t fake (thank god) and you are allowed to go in. “Up the stairs and to your right“ an usher tells you. You follow her directions and end up on a beautiful red velvet seat, a number of props on the stage in front of you. After a few minutes the lights go down, and after that….not many can describe. The music, the voices, the cast, and the special effects take you on a journey that fulfills all of your dreams and fills all of your senses. When the last scene is played and the curtain goes down you just sit there thinking “Again! Again!“

You continue going to the performances, expecting to be bored by so many, but the boredom never comes. Every performance gives you something that the last one did not. I have seen the show five times and personally…the excitement hasn’t gone away. The last was only a few days ago and it felt just like the first time, maybe even a little better. The songs (like Think Of Me and Music Of The Night) were all new to me, still giving me a tingly sensation. Like everyone before them Paul A. Schaefer (Phantom) and Marni Raab (Christine) brought a new personality to each of their characters. Jennifer Hope Willis, who plays Christine on all nights except Monday and Thursday, explains that they “…are allowed to bring their own touches to the characters, making it a new experience every time.“

Scene from the 1986 musical.

The world disappears all around; your only focus is on the stage. The musical makes the audience not realize where they are, and think they are actually in an Opera House and not in a theater in New York. This ability is what makes it unforgettable, turning itself into an addiction.

The year is 2010 and the haunting story of The Phantom Of The Opera has reached millions. For more than twenty years, this Broadway musical has not only set it’s place as the longest-running show, but it has also found it’s way into the hearts of everyone, leaving audiences around the world, breathless. Today, no one is able to say that its spell is only temporary, or that it won’t last more than a day, because this has already been proven to be false. We will never know what the writer of that first review saw which led him to believe that it wouldn’t be a phenomenon forever. What we do know is that he was wrong.


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