An era in Broadway history is over. The Phantom of the Opera, the last of the original British Invasion mega-musicals to still be running in its original production, ended its historic 35-year Broadway run April 16 with a performance that will immediately go into the history books. The invitation-only performance did include two tickets for Playbill, and though we can't tell you how we decided who should get to attend, we can confirm that the injuries were minimal.
Read on, as our two Playbill staffers reflect on that final performance (total Phantom performances: 13,981).
Logan: A million people have said it, but it really was the end of an era. That show was seminal to so many theatre fans. To people of my generation, it’s The First Show for countless. Loving The Phantom of the Opera is truly amongst some of my earliest memories. My parents went to see it on Broadway early in the run and brought back the cast recording on cassette tape. It quickly became mine and mine alone. I had a little tape deck that you could carry and I took it with me everywhere, and I had every note and line memorized pretty quickly—and this is when I was, like, maybe four years old. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say there is a direct line from Phantom to my love of and obsession with theatre—to my working at Playbill!
Talaura: I’m *ahem* a few years older than you, but Phantom was developmental for me as well. I grew up without a lot of access to live theatre, but I watched every Golden Age musical available on VHS. And at some point in my high school days, Phantom somehow entered my periphery. We sang a medley in choir and I asked my uncle for the OCR for Christmas. He wasn’t sure he’d purchased the right thing, so he gave it a listen and was even more confused! In 1989 or 1990, I was in a local clothing store and the hometown radio station was playing. They announced that the small university in my town would be taking a trip to NYC and seeing Phantom. I begged to go. It was hard no from my mom in the middle of the Junior’s Plus section at Anthony’s. BUT I ended up going on that trip with that school (my now-alma mater) two years later. It was my first visit to NYC and Phantom was one of the seven (!) shows I saw that week. (Mark Jacoby was my first Phantom.)
Logan: In the years since, my horizons expanded and I went through a snobby period with Phantom, as many of us do with the things from our youth from time to time. But when I was a full-grown adult living in NYC and saw it on Broadway for the first time, the magic all came back. The melodies are beautiful—and dramatic and suspenseful! Maria Björnson’s physical production is one of the all-time greats, somehow both maximalist and minimalist at the same time. There are moments that give you opulent splendor, and there are moments where nothing more than the swoosh of a curtain transports you instantly to a new setting. It’s genius. There aren’t many shows that, 35 years after opening, don't look archaic and dated. But Phantom really is as impressive and beautiful now as it was in 1988.
Talaura: I don’t think I ever had a snobby period with Phantom. That’s why he likes me best.
Logan: I haven’t been to tons of final Broadway performances, but the energy at this one felt pretty unique. The audience was invite-only and seemed to be predominantly made up of Phantom alum. Responses were enthusiastic throughout, but it wasn’t the fan enthusiasm you sometimes expect on nights like this. I remember there was a single person who applauded following the wild chorus singing in the scene where they’re rehearsing the Phantom’s Don Juan Triumphant opera, no doubt acknowledging how difficult and discordant those few measures of ensemble singing are. There were lots of moments like that, where performances were clearly getting applause from the people in the audience who had played that role, that ensemble track, before.
Talaura: I spotted a lot of former Phantoms and Christines: Hugh Panero, Howard McGillin, Ali Ewoldt, Sierra Boggess. Other composers and directors in the house included Jason Robert Brown, Georgia Stitt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tommy Tune, Bartlett Sher, Sara Bareilles.
Logan: But more than anything—and it took me a while to put my finger on it—I got a feeling of sadness. This was a big deal, losing Phantom. I have never known a Broadway without it. There was so much warmth for the performance and the performers, but there was a palpable sense of loss to the evening as well.
Talaura: Exactly. I think I said something about that at intermission, too. I had expected a more excited buzzy atmosphere, I think largely based on what I was seeing on social media surrounding the other weekend performances. Screaming and half-hour ovations and refusing to leave the theatre. But this audience wasn’t made up of the die-hard Phans that scooped up those final weekend tickets. There were a lot of people there who had been on that stage before. Thirty-five years’ worth of cast were invited. At the after-party, we shared a table and got to know the charming Tim Jerome, who played Monsieur Firmin for several seasons, and a former Piangi, Christian Šebek, stopped by to say hello. We were sitting amongst people who were seeing part of their lives go by for the last time.
See interviews with the cast of Phantom from over the years. And scroll down to read read reflections from our writers' on the closing performance.
Logan: The cast and the performance was pretty astonishing. I hadn’t seen the show in a few years, so I think most of them were new to me and they were all just excellent. Emilie Kouatchou’s Christine was a particular stand-out. Her voice can be light and lyrical, but she has a full operatic punch up her sleeve to use when she wants to, which made for such an engaging performance. The role is a tricky one in terms of gender politics as we all know, and I think Kouatchou does a lot of work to minimize that as much as possible, making her Christine markedly less helpless than what I’m used to seeing.
Other highlights for me were John Riddle—I’ve seen him be excellent in several things, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard his vocals be quite that strong, bravo! And Monsieurs André and Firmin, played by Nehal Joshi and Craig Bennett, respectively. That pair are tasked with some of the evening’s only comedic moments, and they both rose to that occasion and then some. They kept making me laugh because their reads of the scenes were unique, novel, and different than any other time I’ve seen the show, which is a fabulous thing to be able to say about a musical that’s been running for 35 years.
Talaura: In a last-minute surprise, we learned that Ben Crawford would not be able to go on as The Phantom at the final performance as planned, due to a bacterial infection. Luckily, Laird Mackintosh, a longtime Phantom company member (since 1993!) who has been a Phantom standby and a former Monsieur Firmin, stepped in and gave a performance that has to rank amongst the best and most memorable understudy-to-the-rescue moments ever. Lloyd Webber said in his curtain speech, "I thought it was one of the greatest performances of Phantom I’ve ever heard," and he wasn't wrong!
Almost every character entrance got applause for the first 15-20 minutes of the show, even the monkey music box and Christine mannequin. And, of course, the chandelier. Then the reveal of the proscenium when the cover cloths are pulled away. It felt like every moment needed to be acknowledged and celebrated.
The audience eventually settled in and the ovations became a little more relaxed. Until a standing ovation following Kouatchou’s “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” The song ends on the lyric, “Help me say goodbye” (oof) with her in the downstage left corner, arms outstretched. But as the ovation continued, she folded her hands at her heart and bowed her head, then wiped away a few tears. As did I.
Logan: You could really see how moved she was by that. I also loved that it was an oddly appropriate operatic moment, acknowledging an ovation mid-performance. We don’t usually do that in the musical theatre, but with this show and that performance I think it was more than called for.
We have to talk about the staging, from director Hal Prince and choreographer Gillian Lynne, both of whom have sadly left us. Like Björnson’s designs, their work is just a masterpiece. The storytelling is tight and swiftly paced, and the focus is always on point. They did such a great job of bringing the chaotic world of the theatre to the show, which means there’s often a lot going on—but none of that ever distracts from what you need to see as an audience member.
Talaura: Mackintosh saluted all three during his curtain speech, with photos of them projected behind. “Inevitably, there are many friends and colleagues who are sadly no longer with us, and we miss them all hugely," said Mackintosh during his remarks. "But none so much as our legendary original creative team: director Hal Prince, choreographer Dame Gillian Lynne, and designer Maria Björnson. ... Without them all, and our lyricist and book writer Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, the Phantom would not have become one of the most celebrated successes of all time. You know, Hal always liked to put his shows into a black box, and this was a very expensive black box.”
See the full video of curtain speeches below, from Cameron Mackintosh with introductions of the backstage crew and the original cast in attendance (including Sarah Brightman) to finally Andrew Lloyd Webber and a video montage of all the Phantoms and the Christines to have played Broadway. And scroll down to read what happened the rest of the evening at Phantom.
Logan: Is there anything more perfect for the historic final performance of a beloved musical than said beloved musical’s final line literally being, “It’s over now, the music of the night”? The release of energy after he sang that line was huge, cathartic, climactic, and emotional—many tears were to be found throughout the house, including in this writer’s eyes. Laird gave us a special extra final moment, too, adding a last look at the audience before disappearing into his chair (sidebar: one of the all-time great musical endings). I hear that he did this at the final public performance April 15 as well, but it’s not in the typical staging for the moment.
Talaura: I’m not sure I’ve ever been so hyper-aware of anything being “a moment.” I was also teary during that last lyric. Of course, the show will come back at some point in some way, as Cameron Mackintosh teased during the curtain speech. We’ll have anniversary concerts and salutes to Lloyd Webber in the years to come. We may see a revival. We have our favorite recordings. We have memories and stories of our first encounters with Phantom. It is so much a part of our theatre culture and for many, it’s the musical that got us here. So no, it will never be over. But it won’t ever be the same. That Phantom of the Opera. At the Majestic Theatre. That one. “It’s over now.” And it feels a little like grief.
Logan: It's no surprise to see theatregoers collected at the stage door following a performance, but the crowds at the end of the final Phantom were way more extensive, stretching all the way across 44th street, no less. Several people were holding up signs asking for extra Playbills!
Talaura: I did not give anyone my Playbill! This one might even be a framer for me. And I’m seeing some of you already questioning…yes, I could get one at the office, but it wouldn’t have the special sticker on it! Playbill does the Opening Night stickers, but many of the special anniversary and final performance stickers are created by the production and attached at the theatre. So, you have to actually be at the theatre to get them.
And I feel really lucky to have been there.
Logan: I'll never forget it ever!