No Broadway show is meant to last forever, though it once seemed that The Phantom of the Opera might be the one exception to that rule. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical about the universal desire for love first dazzled New York audiences in 1988, two years after it opened in the West End, and it quickly became a cultural phenomenon.
Despite decades of success and its title as the longest-running Broadway show, Phantom was not immune to the effects of the pandemic, and it was announced in September that it would soon come to a close. On April 16, 35 years and nearly 14,000 performances since its opening night, the exceptionally large cast, crew and orchestra will make magic happen in New York City’s Majestic Theatre one last time.
In honour of its impending final performance and the legacy it leaves behind, The Globe spoke to 10 Canadians who’ve been involved with the production – either on Broadway or in Toronto’s 10-year run of the show – about what it is that makes Phantom so enduring:
Laird Mackintosh (Calgary, 1993-1999; Toronto/NYC production 2013-2019; Raoul/Phantom understudy/André/Phantom cover)
“I don’t think we will ever see a show like this on Broadway again. It has a huge cast, a very large orchestra and a massive crew. It’s manually run, not computer automated. It’s a grand gothic Victorian romance and it is operatic in its scale.
When a show runs this long and people are able to stay with the show – including actors, crew, backstage people, wardrobe and orchestra – that is one in a million. People have had children while at the show, bought houses because of the show and found their life partners at the show – myself included. So of course people are very attached and sentimental and sad that the show is leaving, but the biggest thing we’re feeling is a deep sense of gratitude.”
Peter Lockyer (Touring Cast/NYC Production; 2003-2007; Ensemble)
“I ended up performing nearly every male role on stage throughout my time in the show, and during COVID I was able to go back a few times and fill in for people who were out sick. I hadn’t been back in 10 years and it was just fun to go back before it closes and spend some time with the people who became my family.
What makes Phantom so special is the look and the feel of romance that’s so present in the set and the costumes. That’s what people go to Broadway for but it’s actually very difficult, craft-wise, to create that mood and that tone where somebody can walk into a theatre and feel excited. And that’s what they were able to do – it’s like a magic trick. It certainly felt like Phantom was going to run forever. But even if Phantom’s not on Broadway for the moment, I think there’ll be a company of Phantom running somewhere in the world at all times.”
Brian Duyn (Toronto production; 1993-1996; Ensemble/Piangi understudy/Raul cover/Phantom cover)
“I saw the show for the first time after I’d already been hired for it and I was blown away. I wasn’t expecting the spectacle of the special effects. Especially back then, what they were doing on the stage was pretty amazing. And the music in the show is fantastic. ISeeing the reactions of the audiences that would come over and over again was fantastic.
I was so shocked when they announced it was closing on Broadway. I ended up leaving theatre and I’ve been a police officer for the last 17 years, but there was always some comfort in knowing that Phantom was still there – almost like I’d have something to fall back on one day, even though that’s ridiculous. I would like it to just go on forever.”
Samantha Hill (NYC production; 2012-2013; Christine)
“I had a career here in Canada, and I never thought Broadway would be in the cards for me. Phantom opened up so many doors and gave me opportunities that I certainly would not have otherwise had, so I’m incredibly grateful. I even got to be there for the 25th anniversary and do the Tony Awards performance, which was both nerve-wracking and incredible. I think it changed the entire trajectory of both my personal life and career.
I’ve seen Phantom many, many times, and each time it’s still thrilling. I think there are a lot of people who identify as being a bit of a misfit, and this show resonates with them. Plus, the music is incredible and timeless. It’s iconic and there’s no denying that it has withstood the test of time.”
Elizabeth Maclachlan (Canadian tour/Toronto production; 1993-1998; Ensemble/Swing/Christine Alternate/Christine)
“I was trained as an opera singer, and I didn’t think I was going to fit into musical theatre anywhere until this show came around. What Andrew Lloyd Webber did by putting top prima ballerinas together with fantastic opera singers and great actors is exceptional. It was the show that everybody wanted to see. I was really happy to see it make it through the pandemic, to see it still standing on its feet and doing its thing. But everything has its time in the sun and it’s definitely had its heyday. I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of it. It may take a hiatus for a little while, but I’m sure it will be back.”
Justin Peck (National tour/Las Vegas production/NYC production; On and off from 2006-present; Vacation replacement/Solo dancer)
“Phantom has been a constant in my life, which has been such an amazing thing for a career in the arts. It’s just been there in a consistent, comforting way. The only time we lost that consistency was when we had to shut down for the pandemic, and we weren’t sure we’d ever get to come back and do it again – but we did. We were so lucky to have something to return to and I think it made us appreciate it that much more.
One thing I love about the show is that it’s made up of people from all different backgrounds. It’s not all musical theatre people or ballet people or concert dance people like myself. We’re all entering from different avenues and everyone’s a little bit not in their world, in a way, which I think is really cool.”
Raquel Suarez Groen (NYC production; 2017-present; Carlotta)
“I grew up as a classical trained singer, but I always knew my personality and my soul fit more with musical theatre. So being in Phantom was like the marriage between the two worlds. I had always dreamt of playing Carlotta and now, being able to close out the production in that role, is amazing. I just feel so honoured to be a part of history. I’ve had to constantly remind myself to let it sink in that I, a little Calgary town girl, really gets to perform on a Broadway stage in New York City.
It doesn’t feel real that it’s ending, but someone told us recently that we had to start cleaning out the dressing rooms and that really made it sink in. It’s going to be an incredible loss for me personally, but also for all of Broadway. I don’t know if I’ll really feel like the true loss of it until I see that dressing room empty.”
Harriet Chung (Toronto production; 1993-1996, 1999; Ballet chorus)
“I came to Canada from Hong Kong to train at the National Ballet School, and I knew nothing about Phantom of the Opera or musical theatre at the time. But I sang in a choir back in Hong Kong, so I was excited when I learned there was a job where I could combine my love for both dance and singing. I got the job in Phantom because I was in the right place at the right time. It opened up a new world to me and I never looked back. I basically learned to speak English from the show. I still remember being in rehearsal, finishing my parts and sitting down to watch the rest of it. When that curtain opened, I couldn’t even breathe. It was such a magical experience, and I still have chills when I talk about it now.”
Ryan Silverman (NYC production; 2011-2013; Raoul)
“I’m from a small town – Sherwood Park, Alberta – and I saw Phantom on tour in Edmonton when I was 12 or 13. It was the first live musical I ever saw and I was blown away by it. I immediately said, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do that,’ but I never thought I actually would. So getting cast in the show in New York in 2011 was so incredibly exciting. I loved it so much as a kid, and it still ticks off all the boxes today. It has stunning, lush costumes; it has a full orchestra which you don’t see on Broadway anymore; it has big sets and the big moving pieces; and it has a huge cast so that when they all sing together, it really hits you. And it’s sort of the last of its kind, unfortunately. As a kid, I didn’t know that Broadway shows didn’t all have full orchestras, I didn’t know that the costumes were exceptional – I just knew that what I was looking at was something I had never seen before.”
Mimi Pineau (Toronto production; 1992-1999; Ballet chorus)
“Phantom of the Opera was probably one of the best experiences of my life, both personally and professionally. I think we sort of didn’t know what we were part of when we were there and how special it really was, but it fostered so many friendships and relationships and the experience was much more than just the performance itself. The Broadway production always felt like a sister show to ours in a way, so it really does feel like the end of an era. I know that’s something we say all the time, but I think it really is true in this case. It’s been there for decades, so it’s truly an institution.”
Editor’s note: April 14th: Harriet Chung's name was spelled incorrectly in an earlier version of this story.
Sign up for The Globe’s arts and lifestyle newsletters for more news, columns and advice in your inbox.