Broadway’s big blockbuster beast ‘Phantom of the Opera’ is to close, another victim of Covid

Broadway’s longest-running show ever, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, will take its final bow at the Majestic Theatre on 18 February next year, shortly after celebrating its 35th anniversary.

The blockbuster musical is one of the most successful entertainment properties of all time. Produced by Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Group, Phantom has been the longest-running show in Broadway history for well over a decade, and its longevity in New York, London and around the world has been described as ‘unprecedented’. On Broadway alone, the musical has played an unheard of more than 13,000 performances to 19 million people at The Majestic Theatre (245 West 44th Street). The show began Broadway previews at the Majestic on 9 January 1988 and opened on 26 January that year, starring Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman.

The Phantom of the Opera musical is adapted from Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel of the same name. The story is set in 1881, in the legendary Paris of the Belle Époque. A man with a hideously deformed face haunts the underground of the Garnier opera house and torments its occupants. His life changes when he falls in love with Christine Daaé, a young singer who is to play Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust. But the young woman only has eyes for one Viscount Raoul de Chagny… and the Phantom turns from tormentor to tormented.

The show (with music by Lloyd Webber, libretto by Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe and lyrics by Charles Hart) premiered in 1986 in London, before coming to Broadway two years later. In both cities, it was staged by three key figures in the history of modern musicals: Lloyd Webber, the late director Hal Prince, and producer Mackintosh.

The show is a crucial component in the Broadway economy and is regarded in New York as ‘a tourist’ magnet, and has grossed US$1.3 billion since it opened, according to figures compiled by trade body Broadway League.

But the Covid 19 pandemic has hit, and continues to hit, Broadway’s 41 theatres – including the Majestic – hard. Pre-pandemic, revenue easily exceeded US$30 million per week, peaking at US$50 million for Christmas week. But takings have plummeted since 14 September 2021, the date when theatres reopened on the world-famous avenue. Even the mighty Phantom was not immune – the musical ‘only’ grossed US$867,997 in the week ending 11 September, according to the New York Times newspaper; this is not enough to cover the costs of the two-and-a-half hour production, which involves 130 people for each show.

“You don’t want to run a great show into the ground,” Cameron Mackintosh told the NYT. “It’s always been one of my mantras throughout my long career: There’s an art to closing a show, as well as opening one.”

The show might not be gone forever, however. In September, Mackintosh optimistically told the New York Post: “I’m sure Phantom will come back at some point. After I took Les Miserables off, it came back twice! There comes a tipping point in the life of any show. The number of losing weeks was rising even before Covid.”