It was a typical July evening in New York — overcast, somewhat dank, and sizzling with the city’s incessant energy. Two fans of the DC superhero Batman stood in front of the Majestic Theatre waiting to fulfill a long-cherished wish: to watch The Phantom of the Opera. Hardcore fans will know of the Phantom’s deep influence on the Cape Crusader’s journey on and off the pages of comics.
This was in 2017. Five years later, Broadway’s longest-running show has been scheduled for its final performance. The chandelier will rise one last time in February 2023, almost a month after the show completes 35 years on Broadway.
Based on the 1910 French novel by the same name by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera tells a haunting love story of a soprano and a masked musical genius living under the Paris Opera House. The musical debuted in London’s West End in 1986 and on Broadway in New York two years later, in 1988.
In its 35-year run, the Phantom has been seen by more than 140 million viewers in 181 cities, across 41 countries. At the end of its last performance, the show would have been performed 13,926 times.
In its Broadway run alone, it sold 19.8 million tickets and grossed $1.3 billion, according to The Smithsonian Magazine.
However, even as it endured wars, recessions, and countless regime changes, the show has failed to recover from its Covid-19 slump.
But bare numbers don’t do justice to the massive cultural influence of the Phantom.
The poster alone — with the white mask and red rose set against a velveteen black background — is an icon for Broadway musicals.
The production’s extravagant musical score, its flamboyant costumes, and the lavish set designs have set the stage for all future Broadway shows, including Hamilton and The Lion King.
The Phantom’s influence rolls off the stage as well, of course.
While wholesale film adaptations often tend to weigh heavily on the original book, the Broadway musical’s production designs have shaped the portrayal of haunted spaces across movies. Gigantic chandeliers in grand but dimly lit halls are now a horror cliché. So is the use of overhanging spaces like balconies, balustrades, and dangling roof beams, for staging confrontations.
The most influential aspect of the Broadway production, however, remains the Phantom himself — the eponymous antihero of the play. The character’s deep need for love and sympathy, his jealousy and murderous rage, combined with his genius intellect, have proved to be the formative cocktail for many an anti-hero character.
Perhaps the most famous is the dual interpretation of the Phantom in Batman and one of his leading rogues, Two-Face. While the dialectic between a misunderstood genius and his need for sympathy carries on across several titles, it’s in Batman: Masque (1997) where it is brought to a head. Many fans and film scholars alike have also pointed out stark similarities between the Phantom and the portrayals of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in the later film and TV installments of the Star Wars franchise.
One of the Phantom’s quirkier yet more loyal on-screen interpretations can be found in an unlikely text, closer home — Om Shanti Om (2007). In the film’s closing scenes, when Shah Rukh Khan’s Om Kapoor delivers the final exposé in an elaborate masque-like dance-and-song routine, it replicates the opera production’s most famous set-pieces.
Combined with the mysterious appearance of Shanti’s ghost, the elaborately dressed masque dancers, and the extravagant set, the fatal chandelier drop impeccably captures the closing scenes of the Phantom’s first act, while still managing to provide a beautiful twist to the cliché.
As the legendary Broadway ends then, its trans-media and transnational appeal will remain undeniable. That its magic still endures is evident in numbers, yet again.
Following the announcement of its final performance, ticket sales skyrocketed, bringing in $2 million within the first 24 hours.