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The Legacy of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

The Phantom of the Opera has a significant legacy. It is the longest running show in Broadway history, so it would be hard for it not to have made any impact. Phantom celebrated its 10 thousandth performance back in February of 2011. It has the second longest run of a West End musical. Touring multiple countries, it is probably one of the most well known musicals of all time. However, the Broadway production will close in 2023.

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What is The Phantom of the Opera about?

The musical follows Christine Daaé, a chorus girl and the orphan of a famous Swedish violinist. The Paris Opéra House she performs at is putting on a new production. While Carlotta, the resident soprano, is performing an aria, a backdrop falls, leading to speculation that the Phantom is there. The owners try and downplay the incident, but Carlotta walks out. The cast suggests Christine take her role. Since the show sells out, she auditions and cast as the role. She reveals to a friend that her talent is inspired by her tutor, the Angel of Music, that she’s never seen. The Phantom, meanwhile, quickly becomes obsessed with Christine and is insistent that she continues to get the leads in upcoming performances. 

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What’s the history behind The Phantom of the Opera?

The Phantom of the Opera was based on the book of the same name by Gaston Leroux. Andrew Lloyd Webber pitched the idea to Cameron Mackintosh, co-producer of Cats. They screened both movie versions but came up with nothing. Once Lloyd Webber found a secondhand copy of the original book, he had the inspiration to create the musical.

The musical opened in West End in 1986 and Broadway in 1988. It won the 1986 Olivier Award and the 1988 Tony Award for Best Musical. It’s been translated into several languages and produced in over forty countries. There was also a film adaption in 2004. and an edited and shortened production called Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular. This version had no intermission with updated effects. There was also a planned French production in 2016 that was cancelled after a fire destroyed the set and stage floor.

The sequel to the musical called Love Never Dies, is set at least a decade after the original. The exact time is questioned. The production’s announcement stated a decade, but if the original show was set in 1881, it was actually twenty-six years later. Christine gets invited to perform at a new Coney Island attraction. She brings her husband and son, not knowing the person who invited her is the Phantom. Running for a little over seventeen months, the show received mixed reviews.

I’d say the impact of the musical is significant. Not only is there music that is immediately recognizable regardless of if you’ve seen the show, but, I’ve also read several young adult novels inspired by the musical. I’ve had it referenced in academia and my personal life. If you likes theatre, you probably saw the movie at the very least.

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What did critics originally think about The Phantom of the Opera?

I felt intrigued to see what critics have thought about the musical over time. The original reviews felt fairly scathing, with a certain fondness and nostalgia growing over time. 

In The New York Times original review of the musical in 1988, writer Frankie Rich writes: 

“Yet for now, if not forever, Mr. Lloyd Webber is a genuine phenomenon – not an invention of the press or ticket scalpers – and ”Phantom” is worth seeing not only for its punch as high-gloss entertainment but also as a fascinating key to what the phenomenon is about.”

Howard Kissel of the New York Daily News says:

“It is a spectacular entertainment, visually the most impressive of the British musicals. Perhaps the most old-fashioned thing about it is it’s a love story, something Broadway has not seen for quite a while. To say the score is Lloyd Webber’s best is not saying a great deal. His music always has a synthetic, borrowed quality to it. As you listen you find yourself wondering where you’ve heard it before. In this case you’ve heard a lot of it in Puccini, in the work of other Broadway composers and even the Beatles. Nevertheless he seems to be borrowing from better sources, and he has much greater sophistication about putting it all together. There are some droll opera parodies, several beautiful songs, an impressive septet and a grand choral number, all richly orchestrated.2

What do modern critics think of Phantom?

In The New York Times’ later review of the musical, writer Charles Isherwood writes:

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“But soon after the orchestra struck up those thundering, ominous organ chords, I found my expectations upended, my jaded armor melting away. With the distance of more than a decade — and a couple hundred new musicals — since my last visit, I found myself with a new appreciation for this beloved show’s gothic theatricality; the waltzing sweep of Harold Prince’s direction; the grandly soaring melodies of its most celebrated songs; and the surprising vivacity and spark that the new leads, and even the lesser players, bring to this tale of love, obsession and murder in the bowels of a French opera house in the 19th century.”

While critic reviews were fairly harsh, it inspired me to look into public opinion.

What’s public opinion of Phantom?

The public opinion was primarily positive. 

Zoe disagreed with critics.

One fan said it was the best musical.

One fan said it was the only musical he liked.

One fan commended it while saying the Phantom himself aged poorly.

One fan insisted it was part of being cultured.

Have you seen Phantom? Do you intend to before its close?

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