Briefing

The rise and fall of Phantom of the Opera

The longest-running show in Broadway history is closing. Why?

After 35 years and more than 13,000 performances, The Phantom of the Opera will close next February as the longest-running show in Broadway history. Here's everything you need to know:

What is 'The Phantom of the Opera' about?

The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical — based on Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel of the same name — tells the tale of a composer who, while haunting the Paris Opera House, becomes obsessed with a beautiful soprano. It's romantic, tragic, and dramatic, and several of Phantom's songs are well known outside of Broadway, including "The Music of the Night" and "All I Ask Of You."

When did 'Phantom' open on Broadway?

The curtain first went up on Jan. 26, 1988 — two years after Phantom opened in London's West End. Throughout its entire Broadway run, the musical has been performed at the Majestic Theater. Phantom has been seen by 19.8 million people on Broadway alone, grossing $1.3 billion, The New York Times reports. It surpassed Cats as the longest-running show in Broadway history on Jan. 9, 2006.

Why is 'Phantom' ending?

Producer Cameron Mackintosh told The New York Post that before the pandemic, Phantom's weekly running cost was $800,000, and today it's $950,000. "Everyone thinks these shows can go on forever, but you can't run a big show at these margins anymore," he said. "The 35-year run is even more miraculous when you consider how huge it is. There comes a tipping point in the life of any show. The number of losing weeks was rising even before COVID."

While all Broadway shows are attended by tourists, Phantom was especially reliant on out-of-town visitors, and the COVID-caused decline of international tourism also hit the production hard. For Mackintosh, it was important not to "run a great show into the ground," he told the Times. "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."

What makes 'Phantom' such an expensive production?

Mackintosh told the Times that successful, established shows like Chicago and Cats have just one set and a limited number of costumes, while Phantom has elaborate sets and 27 musicians. "It's a different world that Andrew and I created the show in," he explained. "Most of my great shows were created during the '80s, and that world has disappeared. We are in different times."

When is the last show?

It's scheduled for Feb. 18, 2023, about a month after the production celebrates its 35th anniversary. People are snapping up tickets, with Mackintosh telling the Post that on Friday, after it was first reported that Phantom was closing, the show took in $2 million in sales by 8 p.m.

Will 'Phantom' come back to Broadway?

Mackintosh is pretty optimistic, telling the Post he does think it will rise again one day in the future. "The encouraging thing is that there is still a terrific resilience and an insistence to come to shows," he told the Post. For those who need their Phantom fix and the movie just doesn't cut it, fear not — it's still playing in London.

What are theatergoers saying about the show's end?

On Twitter, there was a lot of shock, with many saying they thought Phantom would just be a constant in their lives. "!!! Started to think this would run forever," ESPN reporter Katherine Terrell tweeted. Some lamented the end of an era, while others shared what they wanted to see happen on closing night, with one user joking, "Phantom of the Opera should go out with a bang by actually dropping the chandelier on the audience during the last performance."

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