The chandelier inside the Majestic Theatre, Broadway’s most beloved ghost light, rose again on Friday evening as “The Phantom of the Opera,” the longest running show in Broadway history, returned to its first performance since the industry’s COVID-19 shutdown and, with its soaring path above the audience, brightened the lights of Broadway to a brilliance and grandeur not experienced in 19 months.
Friday evening’s reopening performance—a marathon event for the show’s guests, who made their way through cocktail parties, dinners, and after-parties celebrating the splendor of “Phantom’s” return—was devined to be one of the most special nights in Broadway history, and it was: Few shows in Broadway’s tenure have defined the commercial capabilities of theater and the stylistic characteristics of musicals like “The Phantom of the Opera.” The show, which opened on Broadway in 1988 and has never closed, takes its first post-pandemic bow not just as a monied buttress for the industry, but as a symbol for Broadway’s own endurance.
“There is no Broadway without ‘Phantom,’” Sierra Boggess, one of the musical’s most loved Christines, told Variety before the show.
Friday’s reopening began at an intimate cocktail reception for close friends of the production in the back courtyard of Barbetta, a theater-district restaurant down the street from the Majestic. There, guests like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh, Boggess, and Norm Lewis mingled before the show—and Lin-Manuel Miranda, ever the musical theater geek, traipsed around in a Phantom mask.
“Some things just last forever,” Lewis, who made history in 2014 as the first Black performer to play the Phantom on Broadway, told Variety at the party. “This is a classic, and it always will be. I’m just happy to be here saying hello, seeing everybody who has made this show, and thinking about ‘Phantom’—what it reflects about ourselves and what it means for us as theater people.”
Outside the Majestic Theatre, where lines of fans in Christine Daaé and Phantom costumes filed in to take their seats, guests like Joel Grey, Laura Linney, Liz Callaway, Charlotte d’Amboise, Michael Arden and a handful of Real Housewives, including Luann de Lesseps, Aviva Drescher and Leah McSweeney, walked the reopening night red carpet. And inside, after the audience had donned complimentary Phantom masks for a group photo, Senator Chuck Schumer joined Webber, the show’s creator and musical theater giant, and Mackintosh, “Phantom’s” longtime producer, for a pre-show address.
“We now call the Shubert Organization the Schumer organization,” Webber quipped before the senior senator from New York, who helped to pass the $15 billion Save Our Stages rescue package.
“New York loves the arts. New York loves Broadway. New York loves ‘Phantom,’” Schumer said. “We must never forget that the arts are a great economic engine for New York.”
Mackintosh, his voice quivering, brought the show’s return into more personal focus.
“Tonight is the very first time in this wonderful theater that we’ve not been here with darling Hal [Prince], Gillian Lynne, and Maria Björnson,” he said. “We salute them all tonight.”
Of course, “The Phantom of the Opera” isn’t just musical theater canon because of its global fandom and longest-running tenure. “Phantom” is hallowed because of its inseparability from the late director Hal Prince, who single-handedly produced or directed nearly every iconic show on Broadway—from “West Side Story,” to most of Stephen Sondheim’s catalogue, “Evita” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” The magic and mystery of how “Phantom” comes to life each night—the smoke and mirrors of its enduring production—is a testament to his brilliance. And as the show began and the chandelier rose, its illumination symbolized not only ‘Phantom’s’ powerful iconography, but memorialized the profound loss of Prince, who passed away in 2019.
“Hal’s original production is a masterpiece,” Webber told Variety before the show on Friday. “This, for me, is an evening which is all about him, too. I miss him hugely,” Webber said.
“What’s exciting about this is that we’ve been able to rehearse the show again as if it was a new production, and I know Hal will be watching in the theater tonight.”
And perhaps he was.
During the show, which stars Ben Crawford as the Phantom and John Riddle as Raoul, Meghan Picerno, the last Christine to be hand-picked and blessed by Prince before his passing, broke into tears after Act II’s “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” an aria sent on Friday as a self-evident memorial for the return of theater, for those lost to COVID, and for Prince, who Picerno commemorated with the same song at his memorial two years ago.
But watching “The Phantom of the Opera,” still a stalwart of classic, often campy music theater, is ever a celebration, a reality that was no more evident on Friday than when the audience left the theater after bows to find Webber perched above the street in a DJ booth playing club remixes of “Phantom” classics, all while chorus members danced on the marquee behind him and the theater district came brilliantly alive.
The sight was as unbelievable—and fantastically theatrical—as “Phantom’s” own perseverance, as memorable as a Broadway show returning to performances as it has for 32 years and as an opera ghost, slighted yet determined, in search of love.