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'Phantom of the Opera' ends record run with final Broadway bow

Since opening in January 1988, Andrew Lloyd Webber's megahit musical has wowed New Yorkers and tourists alike, becoming a symbol of the famous theatre district. It wrapped up the historical run on Sunday night

Published: Apr 18, 2023 12:39:10 PM IST
Updated: Apr 18, 2023 06:15:23 PM IST

'Phantom of the Opera' ends record run with final Broadway bow 'Phantom of the Opera' ends record run with final Broadway bow Image: Cecilia Sanchez/ AFPTV / AFP

After 35 years and almost 14,000 performances, the curtain fell for the final time Sunday on the longest-running show in Broadway history—"The Phantom of the Opera."

Since opening in January 1988, Andrew Lloyd Webber's megahit musical has wowed New Yorkers and tourists alike, becoming a symbol of the famous theater district.

The melodrama about a masked musical genius who haunts the Paris Opera House and whose heart aches for the young soprano Christine has been seen by 20 million people and grossed over $1.4 billion in ticket sales.

But producers decided it was time to end the record-breaking run after the show struggled to rebound from Broadway's 18-month closure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Spectator Daniel Wright said that while he'd seen the show multiple times, the final night was "extraordinary."

"There were so many moments when I teared up, goose bumps, it was just a well-crafted show," the 56-year-old told AFP.

"There are reasons why it has been around for 35 years. It's a timeless classic, it has touched so many people's lives."

The show, adapted from Gaston Leroux's French novel of the same name, won seven 1988 Tony Awards, including best musical, and became the longest-running show in Broadway history on January 9, 2006.

The production estimates that it has employed 6,500 people, including 450 actors, over the years.

Sunday's show in front of a sold-out crowd at the Majestic Theatre off Times Square was performance number 13,981.

The 1,600-strong audience stood and applauded wildly as Lloyd Webber joined original and current cast members on the stage for the final curtain call.

The septuagenarian British composer, who has been commissioned for King Charles III's coronation, dedicated the show to his son who died of cancer in March.

"Thank you all, thank you everybody and thank you New York for being such a wonderful home for us," he said.

Despite its many mega-fans, a lack of turnout since Covid-19 spelled the show's Broadway end.  

British producer Cameron Mackintosh told the New York Times in September last year that the production began incurring losses due to the slow return of international visitors to the Big Apple after the pandemic.

Rising production costs, which were at $950,000 net a week, were also a factor.

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Got to come back

It takes about 125 actors, musicians and technicians to put on the musical, which sees a chandelier crash to the stage during one of its most memorable acts.

"There comes a point, with any show, where there is a tipping point, where the number of good weeks has declined sufficiently that actually it's outweighed by the number of losing weeks, and at that point there's only one sensible decision to make," Mackintosh said.

Still, amid the final bows, Mackintosh underscored the show's triumph.

"In our wildest childhood dreams, we could never imagine the success of Phantom," he said.

The announcement that "Phantom" was ending its run boosted ticket demand so much that the closing date was pushed back from February to April.

In the run-up to the final performance this week, the last tickets were selling for more than $500 on booking sites.

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Extensive renovations are now due to begin at the Majestic Theatre.

The accolade for longest-running musical on Broadway now belongs to "Chicago," which premiered in 1996, ahead of "The Lion King," which opened the following year.

The 41 Broadway theaters near Times Square that make up New York's cultural and touristic heart average between 200,000 and 300,000 spectators every week, bringing in more than $30 million in weekly revenue.

"The Phantom of the Opera" premiered in 1986 in London, where it continues to be performed.

Dedicated fans Christina Lewis and her teenage daughter Sparrow are ready to travel to the Big Smoke to get another "Phantom" fix, having seen the show at least 11 times.

"It's sad it's going out but we are very, very excited to be able to be here and see the final curtain call. We cried a few times throughout the night," said 36-year-old nurse Lewis.

The pair were among audience members already clambering for a return of the production, with fellow spectator Richard Rodriguez, 38, saying, "It's got to come back, bring back the Phantom!"

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