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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
at Majestic Theatre

STEADY EMPLOYMENT
By MATT WINDMAN

  Michele McConnell and Christian Sebek/ Ph: Joan Marcus

When Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera first opened at the Majestic Theatre in the late 1980s, it was considered a must-see spectacle. Like the other Cameron Mackintosh-produced musicals that originated in Britain, it had the gimmick of the falling chandelier, just as Cats had the flying tire, Les Miz had the turntable and barricade, and, later on, Miss Saigon would have the helicopter.
25 years later, Phantom is still on Broadway, having become the longest-running show in Broadway history seven years ago. So who’s been attending Phantom for all these years? The entire world, it would seem. When I went to a recent Wednesday night performance, just three weeks after the official 25th anniversary performance, it seemed as if the majority of the audience did not speak English. Besides perhaps Wicked or Mamma Mia!, what other Broadway show has that kind of international appeal? 
 
By now, Phantom is a New York institution, not unlike the stock exchange, the Statute of Liberty or the Empire State Building. The chandelier is no longer a technological wonder. It’s actually a rather low-key, slow-moving special effect. But tourists and school groups keep flocking to the Majestic Theatre because of its institutional status.
 
On a personal note, I have never been a great admirer of the show. I prefer Lloyd Webber’s earlier, rock-based scores such as Joseph, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. I even prefer Maury Yeston’s version of the same story, which is simply titled Phantom and has been performed regionally. But like the rest of the world, I have come to accept Phantom of the Opera for what it is, with all its sappy romanticism and cheesiness.
 
However, I can admit that, compared with many other long-running Broadway musicals, Phantom has always been very well maintained. Who knows whether this is the work of stage managers or Hal Prince himself? But Phantom has never indulged in stunt casting (unlike Chicago) and has always featured strong singers who can handle its vocal difficulties (even if parts of the singing are supposedly pre-recorded). It remains in mint condition. And stylistically, it looks the same as it did 25 years ago. It has even stayed at the Majestic Theatre, unlike many other long-running shows that downsize and move to a smaller theater.
 
Furthermore¸ the show currently features an absolutely splendid cast led by the hunky Hugh Panaro, who has played the title role on and off over the past decade (clocking in more than 1,800 times), and Sierra Boggess, who played Christine in the Royal Albert Hall version of Phantom that was filmed for commercial release and also played Christine in the London version of the ill-fated Phantom sequel Love Never Dies, which New York audiences will hopefully never hear from. In the demanding role, Boggess manages to be both believably innocent and absolutely radiant.
 
I could not help but think about the careers of both of these very talented actors and how both have dealt with so many flops and misfires. If you recall, Panaro was in The Red Shoes, the last Jule Styne musical, and Lestat, Elton John’s vampire musical. In addition to Love Never Dies, Boggess was supposed to be in the first incarnation of Rebecca (long before it entered a state of legal and financial scandal), which got called off. I imagine both appreciate the stability that Phantom has to offer. Regardless of the artistic merits of Phantom, can you imagine how many jobs it has provided actors, stagehands and other workers in the professional theater? 
 
Those who have not yet seen Phantom are urged to do so before Boggess leaves the cast. But even after she does, Phantom is sure to stay in stable condition. I’m not saying you’ll actually like the show, the melodic but derivative score, or the less-than-thrilling chandelier drop. But like heading up the stairs of the Statute of Liberty, it’s a trip we’ve all got to take at some point. 

 


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