It’s exhausting to think about New York Metropolis with out The Phantom of the Opera. The announcement that the longest-running present on Broadway would play its last efficiency on February 18, after 35 years on the Majestic Theatre, made headlines—and made me understand, with one thing of a shudder, that many—maybe most—of the individuals performing in it, and in Broadway’s different musicals, can’t bear in mind West forty fourth Road with out Phantom’s iconic white masks and purple rose looming overhead. However I can.
I additionally recall the frenzied anticipation that attended its arrival in 1988—it was A Refrain Line yet again, Hamilton earlier than Hamilton. When somebody requested, “Have you ever seen it but?” there was just one present they could possibly be speaking about—it appeared you simply hadn’t lived if you happen to hadn’t skilled that swooping chandelier, that magical boat trip on a candlelit underground lake and Michael Crawford’s diabolically seductive singing of “The Music of the Night time.” When the season ended, Phantom snagged 10 Tony nominations and received seven awards, together with Greatest Musical.
I don’t know if the present feels fairly as sensational to the individuals lining up outdoors the theater as of late—some for the umpteenth time. They’re a part of a worldwide viewers that now involves greater than 145 million who’ve purchased tickets to productions in 17 languages to look at Christine swoon for the Phantom whereas Raoul swoons for her. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is a confirmed commodity, a theatrical positive factor, and it’s not simply the most-seen present in Broadway’s historical past. It has additionally made more cash and employed extra New Yorkers—about 6,500 in all, some 400 on the stage, lots of them ex-bunheads dancing the late Gillian Lynne’s choreography.
Certainly one of them was Carly Blake Sebouhian, who was ending up at Faculty of American Ballet however couldn’t see herself becoming right into a ballet firm. So she took singing classes and auditioned for theater, becoming a member of the Phantom solid in 2003. She had simply turned 19 and was by far its youngest dancer. Now, almost 20 years later, she reckons she’s the oldest. She’s left the present to do different initiatives—“It’s a novel factor to have the ability to broaden your inventive muscle mass and do one thing brand-new,” she says—however solely briefly. “They at all times let individuals return, which is absolutely cool. So although there are individuals out and in on a regular basis, it’s form of at all times the identical individuals—like this huge, large household.” In an trade the place most jobs are short-lived, the myriad ballet dancers who’ve cycled out and in of its casts—whether or not in London, New York or the 181 different cities it’s performed—have come, just like the viewers, to depend on The Phantom of the Opera.
It could be tough to wrap our brains round its absence, however it’s no bother to check the artwork of the musical if it had by no means come alongside—which isn’t what you’d say about different landmark exhibits. There’s a by line operating from Oklahoma! to West Facet Story to A Refrain Line that traces the rising significance of a musical’s choreography to its storytelling. With Contact and Movin’ Out, Susan Stroman and Twyla Tharp took that mannequin even additional, entrusting these exhibits’ narratives totally to the dance. For me, that line has at all times represented progress, and regardless of the amount and high quality of Lynne’s work, Phantom stands firmly—proudly, even—outdoors it.
The story may hardly be advised with no ballet refrain. Gaston Leroux’s lurid 1910 novel begins backstage with terrified younger dancers fleeing the ghost they’ve heard rumors about, and when the Phantom lastly exhibits up, his first phrases are “The ballet-girls are proper.” Firstly of the famend 1925 silent movie starring Lon Chaney, the curtain of the Paris Opéra rises on almost 4 dozen dancers in Romantic tutus waltzing on pointe. Regardless of this ballet-centric setting, the musical’s choreography seems to be fairly extraneous—it gives lavish leisure, together with the late Maria Björnson’s opulent units and costumes and the sure-handed course of the late Harold Prince. However Phantom’s dance numbers recall these in old-style musicals and, certainly, within the Nineteenth-century operas which can be a part of the plot.
It’s peculiar, however not likely stunning. For all their expertise and many years of expertise, Prince and Lloyd Webber had been by no means among the many theater artists who noticed dance as the first driver of musicals—though, sarcastically sufficient, as a fledgling producer, Prince was instrumental in bringing West Facet Story to the stage. Working collectively and individually, on exhibits massive and small, Prince and Lloyd Webber made work that targeted on what a veteran of Broadway ensembles as soon as described to me as “park and bark”—musicals the place the dances are ornamental interludes between songs and guide scenes. And with Prince’s history-making “idea” musicals, like Firm and Sweeney Todd, and Lloyd Webber’s history-making spectacles, like Cats and Phantom, that work has been vastly influential.
So it’s important to surprise, a Phantom-less Broadway, what the following record-shattering behemoth will appear to be. The final 10 years of Tony winners run the gamut—they’re romantic extravaganzas (Moulin Rouge!) and critical chamber items (The Band’s Go to); they use choreography in methods conventional (Kinky Boots) and daring (A Unusual Loop); they’re dance-heavy (Hamilton) and dance-light (Enjoyable Residence). For a number of the almost 20 million theatergoers who’ve seen Phantom on the Majestic, it’s been the fun of a lifetime, their one publicity to a ravishing artwork type that New Yorkers typically take as a right. For others, it’s been an obsession, a daily injection of a necessary drug. And, after all, there are the haters, who see its success as proof that vacationers are simply too ignorant to understand Sondheim. For me, it’s been a continuing reminder that in terms of Broadway musicals, the work isn’t completed—Phantom was neither the apogee of the shape nor a trashy leisure for the lots. And I hope the entire above are desirous to see what comes subsequent. For Lloyd Webber, what comes subsequent is Unhealthy Cinderella, an up to date, sardonic model of the fairy story with choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter (Faculty of Rock—The Musical). Its first preview is the day earlier than Phantom closes. Fingers crossed. .