Those who don't know what The Phantom of the Opera is are probably living under a rock. If you live in New York, Broadway counts this musical as its longest-running show, so it's pretty hard to miss.
It is an adaptation of the 1910 book by Gaston Leroux and has been adapted into three musicals, over ten movies, and countless other pop-culture points of reference.
However, the most famous adaptation of this book remains Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 masterpiece musical, with the musical score composed by Webber himself.
Many thespians still count this show among their top five choices of Broadway shows in NYC even though it premiered in the 1980s, as opposed to some of the other older American plays like Guys and Dolls and Chicago.
One of the top Broadway shows in New York, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, The Phantom of The Opera, is renowned in the theatre world. It has the honor of being the longest show still running among all the Broadway shows in NYC, with more than 13,000 performances since it premiered.
The Phantom of the Opera premiered in Broadway, New York City, on 26 January 1988 as a part of Andrew Lloyd Webber's production and has been running since then. Easily among the best Broadway shows in NYC, it has garnered a cult status among theatre fans.
It has also been adapted many other times, including a 1925 film that precedes this Broadway NYC rendition by Webber, and other theatrical productions, such as at West End.
In The Phantom Of The Opera's first act, we're shown a cast of actors rehearsing a new play, Hannibal, in turn of the century 1881 Paris.
The scene's highlight is the prima donna, Carlotta, getting hit with a set-piece, rendering her unable to perform.
This deed, of course, is done by The Phantom, whose true identity is not known to the audience yet.
Firmin and Andre are notified that a charismatic chorus girl by the name of Christine can replace Carlotta.
All of this is The Phantom's handiwork, and as Christine is auditioning for her role, she meets and reconciles with an old friend named Raoul.
Meanwhile, she informs him about the Angel of Music sent to her by her father to teach her music. The first act sets three arcs in motion; The Phantom's love for Christine, her involvement with Raoul, and her tussle for the lead role with Carlotta.
Who Is The Angel Of Music?
Initially, the audience only knows of the Angel of Music. In the play, we don't need to sit through many acts to see The Phantom as he approaches Christine himself.
He first talks to her through a mirror and then breaks the suspense and takes her to his cave underneath the Opera.
In his cave, he tries to serenade Christine by showing her an image of her wearing a wedding gown. She faints, and when she awakens, she sees the Phantom's deformed face.
Christine realizes that The Phantom is not a pristine angelic figure as she had pictured him to be. The relation between the two is quite complicated.
Was he acting as her guardian angel all this time before she joined the Opera? Was he mentoring her in some paranormal manner to make her acknowledge her talent?
The complexity and mystique behind their relationship is undercurrent throughout the play. Does Christine see a father figure in him? Is he a mentor-turned-suitor to her? All famous Broadway shows like Wicked have an undercurrent of suspense, but Andrew Lloyd Webber's play brings it to the forefront.
Just as Christine unveils his disfigured face, we get to see the dark side of The Phantom. He warns Firmin and Andre that no one else but Christine gets the lead role, and he threatens and intimidates Raoul to stay clear of her.
Moreover, he created circumstances where Carlotta is forced to give up her role as the lead.
When he gets rebuffed from all sides, his destructive and vindictive side is unleashed, culminating in the murder of Buquet, and ruining Carlotta's voice.
There are specific nuances to him lashing out like this, as he's doing all this out of his perceived love for Christine and his desire to get her what he feels she wants.
Influence On Pop Culture
Like Mamma Mia! and other Broadway shows, the Phantom of the Opera left a significant imprint on pop culture and the world of theater, including many other top Broadway shows.
The depiction of The Phantom colored audiences' views about masked villains, pioneering the trope of the mysterious character hiding behind a mask and inspiring many villains for times to come.
Whenever you see Darth Vader in Star Wars, you will be reminded of The Phantom, and the resemblance is almost deliberate to some point. Both share similar character arcs; disfigured, lacking empathy, and suspicious of humans.
There is also a certain similarity between The Phantom and Batman, with the latter being in the protagonist's role and embodying an anti-hero rather than a villain.
However, the resemblance is uncanny when you consider their elaborate hideouts and use of advanced technology far ahead of the times they live in.
In the second act, we see The Phantom attending the masquerade ball and announcing that he wrote an opera in which he wants Christine to be the lead. As he is about to approach her, his eyes fall upon the engagement ring she is wearing, given to her by Raoul.
In a fit of rage, he pulls it off her finger and disappears within seconds. Carlotta and Christine spar while Raoul confronts Giry for some questions.
Giry tells him that The Phantom is many things; among them, a magician, an inventor, a composer, and a scholar.
She tells Raoul how The Phantom was born with a disfigured face, how he was part of a fair, and how he ran away to find shelter in his cave below the Opera.
The Love Triangle
Christine, Raoul, and The Phantom's love triangle is a regular theme throughout the play, and it comes to a culmination point when Christine goes to her father's tombstone to pray.
Here, The Phantom approaches her, disguised as the Angel of Music, but Raoul stops him. In a fit of anger, The Phantom vows revenge on both.
As the new play is premiering, Raoul attempts to lure him. Christine is in the lead role, alongside Ubaldo Piangi, but she doesn't know that it's The Phantom in his place after murdering him.
During the play, he forces her to wear his ring, to which she responds by unmasking his deformed appearance in front of the audience. During this confusion, he drags her into his underground lair, and Raoul follows behind them.
In the cave, he has Christine wearing a wedding gown and wishes to marry her. She tells him that she isn't afraid of his face but his troubled soul.
Raoul reaches the cave and pleads with The Phantom for some compassion. The Phantom rebukes him by saying the world never showed him any love and trapped Raoul in his lasso.
Meanwhile, Christine plants a kiss on The Phantom and expresses compassion for him. This is perhaps the only time we see Phantom reciprocate with kindness and release Raoul for her sake.
Just as they're leaving the lair, Christine returns the ring to The Phantom. He expresses his love for her, but she leaves anyway.
The Phantom comes back to his lair and huddles in his cloak as we see the approaching mob about to lynch him for Buquet and Piangi's murders.
Meg Giry reaches the underground lair but finds the Phantom's mask hidden under the cloak, with no trace of him.
Is The Phantom The Villain Or The Anti-Hero?
The play really allows us to see The Phantom from both sides. While he presents as the play's antagonist, we get to see that he is not a villain at heart.
Born with a stark deformity, he was abandoned by his parents in a fair, and since then, he has been at the receiving end of ridicule all his life. Much of his life is spent in a cage as a circus freak of sorts, where his anger towards society builds up.
We get to see his humane side when he expresses his love for Christine. We are left wondering whether Christine was his first romantic interest, but she is definitely the first person to show some kindness to him.
The Phantom’s Mystique
Giry tries to maintain an air of mystique around The Phantom, and he is surmised to be a lot of things, from a magician to a scholar to an inventor. His use of futuristic technology and his elaborate escapes are quite a shock for 19th century Parisians.
The symbolism around his character, such as his use of screens and mirrors to communicate, his fireballs, his sudden disappearances, all invoke the image of a magician working his tricks.
Some of the gadgets he uses would be considered revolutionary even in modern times. All of this works to maintain an air of supernatural mystique around him.
Among the longest-running Broadway shows in New York like The Lion King, The Phantom of the Opera has seen many cast changes. The original trio of the Phantom, Christine and Raoul was played by Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman, and Steve Barton.
Since then, the play has seen new actors come and go, with more than fifteen Phantoms, eight Raoul's, and ten Christines since its premiere.
The original Phantom, Michael Crawford, went on to win a Tony Award for his role in 1988, and the actress, Judy Kaye, won another award for her featured role as Carlotta.
When we say The Phantom of the Opera is easily one of the best Broadway shows in NYC and the theatre world, we mean it. This statement is corroborated by the fact that, like other shows such as Jersey Boys, this musical has won many awards, with ten nominations for the Tony Awards and winning seven in 1988 alone.
This musical is considered iconic among the thespian world, and its soundtrack includes some of the best musical pieces ever created for Broadway and the West End.
The title song "Phantom of the Opera," performed by Sarah Brightman and Steve Harley, is still considered among the best pieces in Broadway's history.
Are you a theatre student looking to study and enact this musical masterpiece or others like The Book of Mormon? Find yourself a trained acting coach near you with Superprof and perfect those acting chops, whether you're playing The Phantom, Christine, or Carlotta.