The Phantom of the Opera is a Broadway staple. It’s one of the productions that tourists come to New York City to see. Last year it celebrated its 25th anniversary on Broadway making it the longest running show in the history of The Great White Way. With grosses over $800 million, it’s the most financially successful theater production to date. In May The Phantom of the Opera made history once again by adding the first Phantom of color, actor Norm Lewis.
The Phantom of the Opera began its epic run on Broadway in 1988 and after 26 years it still packs in the crowds. One might think that after all this time this musical juggernaut might have lost its steam – what with all the new productions dealing with more modern issues – but there is a reason why classics never die. If you haven’t seen The Phantom of the Opera, I’m here to tell you that you should and I have five good reasons to back me up.
The Phantom of the Opera intertwines this theme into the beauty and the beast subplot. The Phantom in all his grotesque glory loves Christine Daaé, a beautiful young soprano. So much so that he will kill to ensure her success at the French opera house. She is his muse and musically they do share a connection, but his disfigured face and criminal behavior prevents her from conceiving of the possibility of returning his love. Another complication for The Phantom is the reemergence of Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, Christine’s childhood playmate and first love. Everyone has their favorite fables about unrequited love. Wuthering Heights…Gone With the Wind… The Phantom of the Opera definitely ranks up there with the greatest love stories told on stage or screen.
There is a new Phantom in town and his name is Norm Lewis. Stepping into a role as iconic as the Phantom can be quite the undertaking, 25 years and several other Phantoms before you, and every die-hard Phantom fan has their favorite. But Lewis holds true to magic and sinister nature of the Phantoms before him. In fact, he adds another dimension to the story of a brilliant man forced to hide in the shadows of an opera house because of the way he looks and is driven mad by the isolation and rejection.
Sierra Boggess has been playing the role of Christine Daaé in various productions since 2006. She first played the role in a production of The Phantom of the Opera in Las Vegas. She played Christine in the sequel to Phantom, Love Never Dies. On Broadway, she reprised the role in 2013 for a six-week engagement. In March, it was announced that she would return along with Norm Lewis. As soon as Boggess utters the first note you can tell how familiar she is with the role. Her voice fills the Majestic Theatre with a power and tenderness that can be felt from the orchestra to the mezzanine. If you are not a fan of opera, Boggess will make you one or at the very least you will have a greater appreciation for the craft.
The music of The Phantom of the Opera was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics written by Charles Hart and additions from Richard Stilgoe, who also wrote the book with Webber. The music and lyrics are one of the reasons why The Phantom of the Opera is the most successful theater productions on Broadway and around the world. Just hearing the entrancing number “The Music of the Night” is enough to fill seats or the beautiful exchange between Raoul and Christine in “All I Ask of You”; the music and lyrics captivates the audience from beginning to end and gloriously illuminates the genius of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
From the lavish sets and costumes, the music and lyrics, to the performers, The Phantom of the Opera harkens back to a time when going to the theater was a complete transformation into another world and the audience felt lucky to be a part of it because it was happening live in front of them. The pageantry and opulence of The Phantom of the Opera holds a mirror to the mediocre productions that somehow get backing and land on Broadway and says, “Tisk…tisk…tisk. This is how you create theater.” Simply put, they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore and no matter your age or generation quality is quality. And the fuel that runs The Phantom of the Opera is excellence.
Photos by Matthew Murphy