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15 Things You Didn't Know About 'The Phantom of the Opera'

Category Broadway

|by Mikey Miller |


The megahit is currently in its 32nd year on Broadway

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart, and Richard Stilgoe’s 1986 musical, The Phantom of the Opera, based on French writer Gaston Leroux’s novel of the same name, is perhaps best known for being the longest-running show in Broadway history. The Phantom of the Opera played its first preview in the Majestic Theatre on January 9, 1988, opening two and a half weeks later on January 26. The musical tells the story of Christine Daaé, a talented chorus girl at the Paris Opera House who becomes promoted to lead soprano and very quickly becomes the obsession of the eponymous phantom, a facially disfigured man who resides underneath the opera. To celebrate Lloyd Webber, one of musical theatre’s greatest composers (whose career is currently being celebrated in Unmasked, a revue of his work, at the Paper Mill Playhouse), we’ve rounded up some facts that you likely didn’t know about the groundbreaking musical.

'The Phantom of the Opera' tells the story of a talented young opera star and her exiled mentor (Photo: 'Phantom')

'The Phantom of the Opera' tells the story of a talented young opera star and her exiled mentor (Photo: 'Phantom')

It’s the only show to have reached 10,000 performances on Broadway
In addition to being the longest-running show to have ever graced the Great White Way, The Phantom of the Opera is the only musical to have reached this incredible milestone. On January 9, 2006, it stripped Cats (another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical) of this honor with its 7,486th performance, and 14 years later, it has played more than 13,000 performances on Broadway. The Phantom of the Opera’s runner-up is the 1996 revival of Chicago, currently housed at the Ambassador Theatre, which will pay its 9,700th performance in just a few weeks.

The version that played at the first preview is the version you can see now
Musicals often go through years and years of development and workshops, and even once they’ve begun performances, the work is still not over. Previews are for reworking, rewriting, and restaging anything that needs to be, but after the first preview on the West End, director Harold Prince immediately ran up to Lloyd Webber and suggested they go on holiday until opening night--the show was perfect. And not one bar of music has been touched since that first preview, something Lloyd Webber has never otherwise experienced in his entire career.

The great Lerner collaborated on the show
Lloyd Webber went through a few lyricists before settling on Charles Hart. After Jim Steinman declined in favor of working on a Bonnie Tyler album, the composer approached Alan Jay Lerner, known for his musical theatre collaborations with Frederick Loewe, which included Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, and Camelot. Lerner joined the Phantom team but became fatally ill, dying from lung cancer soon after. However, some of his contributions, mostly in the act two opening song, “Masquerade,” remain in the show in its present form.

It’s not the only musical adaptation of the novel
Although ALW’s musical version of the novel is absolutely the most popular, it is not the only musical theatre adaptation of Leroux’s novel. Although there are several in existence, only two have become somewhat important. The first is Ken Hill’s 1976 adaptation, Phantom of the Opera, which found success regionally, on tour, and on the West End; in fact, it was the version that inspired Lloyd Webber to compose his. The second is Maury Yeston’s Phantom, which premiered in 1991 at Theatre Under the Stars in Houston and has had productions staged regionally and internationally as well.

There’s a reason why the Phantom only wears half of a mask
If you’re familiar with the logo for The Phantom of the Opera, you know that it features a mask that would cover most of the face, which was the plan in the original costume design. However, in the show, the actor playing the Phantom wears a mask that conceals only half of his face. This is because performing this intense role with a full-face mask proved to be too difficult. The half mask has since become an iconic symbol for the Phantom.

And the masks are custom made for each actor playing the Phantom
This makes a lot of sense considering everybody’s face is different! Over 300 masks have been constructed for Broadway’s Phantoms. And the Phantom’s makeup takes two hours to put on before every show but only 30 minutes afterward.

It was the Rent and Hamilton of its day
You’ve probably heard stories of people sleeping and lining up outside the box offices of Rent and Hamilton when they first came out, to be able to snag coveted rush or cancellation line tickets. The same thing happened with The Phantom of the Opera on the West End. In a 2010 interview with @ This Stage, Michael Crawford (the original Phantom) reminisced about how people would line up around the block at Her Majesty’s Theatre and stay overnight just to experience their own personal “music of the night.”

Christine’s supremely high note is recorded, just in case
Christine Daaé, the incredibly talented soprano, has to show off those high notes! At the end of the title song, when the Phantom first lures Christine into his spooky lair, she sings her highest note in the show, an E6 (more than two octaves above middle C)! In case the actress playing Christine feels she can’t comfortably sing that note that day, she can lip-sync and have the note, already recorded, played instead.

It has a sequel
Phantom is so successful that ALW composed a sequel! Love Never Dies is loosely based on Frederick Forsyth’s The Phantom of Manhattan, a 1999 sequel to Leroux’s original novel. With lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book written by Lloyd Webber, Forsyth, Slater, and Ben Elton, Love Never Dies brings Christine and her husband Raoul to New York City. Oscar Hammerstein I (of course a fictionalized version of Hammerstein II’s father) offers Christine her New York debut, but once again she falls into the hands of the Phantom. Love Never Dies opened in 2010 on the West End and has enjoyed international productions as well as a North American tour.

It is more lucrative than any stage play or film in history
Yes, The Phantom of the Opera has brought in more money in the box office than properties like Titanic, ET, Star Wars, and Avatar. Maybe one day Hamilton might surpass – who knows?

The masquerade scene uses mannequins
Ever wondered how there are so many people onstage during “Masquerade”? That’s the secret!

The show once included animals
Early rehearsals for the original London production included animatronic rats, a white horse, and even real doves that flew through the theater. However, those ideas didn’t last long. What an experience that would have been for audiences!

A Phantom actor holds a world record
We already know that The Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running Broadway show of all time (and even has a Guinness World Record to prove it), but one of the actors from the original Broadway production also has a world record title to his name. George Lee Andrews, who played Don Attilio and Passarino as part of the opening night cast and later went on to hold the roles of Monsieur Firmin and Monsieur André, stayed with the production until September 3, 2011. In Andrews’s 23 years with the show, he played 9,382 performances.

The great Ramin has played all of Christine’s men
Ramin Karimloo, a Tony-nominated actor known for his performances as Jean Valjean, Enjolras, and Marius in Les Misérables and Gleb in Anastasia, is the only person to have portrayed all of the important men in Christine’s life. In the 2004 film version starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum, Karimloo plays Christine’s late father Gustave, and on stage, he has appeared as both the Phantom and Raoul. He even originated the role of the Phantom in Love Never Dies.

It’s all in the family
At the time of writing the musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber was married to classical soprano Sarah Brightman, whom he met when she landed the role of Jemima in the original West End production of CATS. She was his personal muse for this project, originating the role of Christine in both the West End and Broadway productions.

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