The crowd exploded in cheers during The Phantom of the Opera’s Saturday matinee as the chandelier began its slow ascent to the domed ceiling of the Majestic Theatre. The audience relished the moment because it was the last time they’d witness this moment and the cast was also electric, delivering an energized and emotional performance that the audience was thrilled to be part of.
The Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beloved musical is lowering its curtain for good on Sunday, April 16. As Broadway’s longest-running show, it has served as the largest generator of income and jobs in Broadway and U.S. theatrical history, and has attracted audiences for decades.
Musical-theater fans were stunned in September when the show, which opened in 1988, announced that it would be ending its storied and record-breaking run at the Majestic Theatre this year. The musical’s haunting love story, iconic mask logo and soaring melodies—including “The Music of the Night” and “All I Ask of You”—have become part of the fabric of Broadway. Ahead of the closing, Mayor Eric Adams bestowed keys to the city on composer Lloyd Webber alongside actor Sarah Brightman, who originated the lead role of soprano-in-distress Christine Daaé.
It’s been a hard pill to swallow for Phantom‘s legions of devoted fans—and for the show’s actors, many of whom have been with the production for years. Raquel Suarez Groen has played the show’s temperamental diva Carlotta Guidicelli since 2017, making a powerhouse entrance eight times a week with the “Hannibal cadenza”: a high-drama vocal passage that she sings a cappella, decked in a 20-pound dress and holding a severed head. “It’s absolutely thrilling,” Suarez Groen says. “It feels like you’re being shot out of a cannon.”
It’s not just the role that she will miss. Many cast members have been part of the production for such a long period of time, and have bonded with each other. “It’s weird, because we’re used to having our dressing rooms be like a second home, so it’s kind of like you’re moving out,” she says, as she packs up her personal belongings during an interview. “It’s more than just a job. You create a family with the people you work with.”
“It’s tough to see stuff being taken out of the building,” says Greg Mills, a swing performer who has been with the Broadway company full-time since 2012. “Everything’s been done slowly, instead of pulling off the Band-Aid quickly.” During the pandemic, he had to cover several parts when members of the cast became ill, but he assumed that things would return to normal once the crisis had passed. “It just seemed like Phantom would always be there,” he says, adding that it’s been an “incredible run.”
Many fans shared that assumption, and ticket sales have rocketed since the closing was announced. An initial end date in February was moved back to April, and weekly revenues hit $3 million last month—the highest take in the production’s history. But Phantom had been struggling at the box office for a while before, and especially since the shutdown: The same lavishness that has made it so popular—the large cast and orchestra, the elaborate set and costumes—has increasingly cut into its ability to run at a profit.
Although the show is coming to a close, it thrived for so many years, as evidenced by its astounding 35th year anniversary, which Phantom reached with much fanfare, on January 2.
“I think it’s a very deep story and lesson for young people to not judge and treat each other based on the way they look, whether it be deformed from birth like the Phantom, or born green, like Elphaba. These are exaggerated things,” veteran actor and former Phantom, Hugh Panaro, says during an impromptu interview in the vestibule of the Majestic. “I think the Phantom personally is a metaphor for the part of ourselves that the world finds unlovable.”
Carlton Moe, who plays the pompous tenor Ubaldo Piangi and Carlotta’s counterpart, says that although the company has been mourning the end of the show—“Sad isn’t the word—grief is the word, and everyone processes grief differently,” he says—there is also some joy to be found in preparing for the final performance. “We are trying to just be present, and enjoy it for what it is,” Moe says. “It’s all a bit surreal, and a bit exciting for me.”
“We feel this sort of responsibility to the show—to maintain its appeal and its luster,” Moe says. “That feeling carries on all the way to the end.” His castmate Suarez Groen agrees: “I think it’s become even more sacred than ever before.”
Sacred may seem like a lofty word for a Broadway musical, but for the many people with deep attachments to The Phantom of the Opera, the sentiment is appropriate.
My father took me to see the musical when I was 5 years old; it was also the last show we saw together before he died, and walking into that theater holding his hand as a wide-eyed girl is a lifelong memory that I cherish deeply. The “Music of the Night” may soon be over, but its spirit will not leave the hearts of those of us, in the company and beyond, who have loved it so dearly over the years.