“Think of me, think of me fondly, when we’ve said goodbye.”
– “Think of Me” from “The Phantom of the Opera”
After 35 years, the chandelier will fall for the last time on Broadway. And that’s a strange thing for an ‘80s kid to know.
There aren’t a lot of constants in American life, but “The Phantom of the Opera” has been one of them. As a teenage choir student, I obsessed over every note of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s mega-musical, and I had a LOT of company. It seemed to touch every aspect of our life.
Learning to drive? A cassette would magically appear in the passenger seat.
Practicing piano? The Phantom’s dramatically descending chords had to be included.
Singing along? You were … OK, probably out of luck unless you were a tenor or soprano, but it was still fun to try.
It came as no surprise to any of us when “Phantom” broke the record for longest-running Broadway musical and kept on going. By then, it had become more than a show: it was an institution, as much of a monument as the Empire State Building or Times Square.
But every show reaches its curtain. In February, the AP reported, Broadway’s “Phantom” will take its final bow. Far off in Britain, the original West End run will continue … for now. I type those last two words with hesitation, remembering that mega-musicals with mega-budgets aren’t a great fit for a pandemic world that doesn’t readily produce mega-audiences.
But as the light goes out on the Broadway run, I can’t help wondering – what held us all?
“Let the dream begin, let your darker side give in …”
– “Music of the Night” from “The Phantom of the Opera”
It’s fitting that the symbol of “Phantom” is a discarded mask. Because for all its spectacle and song, it’s a story of discovery.
Some of the masks are internal: characters having to discover who they really are and what they want, the basic impetus of any good story.
Some are dangerous, with the Phantom’s obsession disguising itself as love. That’s a mask we still have to watch out for in this day and age – the supposed lover, zealot or patriot who is willing to break what they “love” in order to keep it made in their own image.
And some of that discovery means reaching backwards, facing the past clearly and deciding what it will be to us. Christine ultimately makes it a source of strength. The Phantom draws pain from it and makes it a weapon.
We still face all those choices and more besides.
“You’ll sing again, and to unending ovation!”
– “Prima Donna” from “The Phantom of the Opera”
In this day and age, of course, no show is every truly gone. We get soundtracks and videos and revivals and even movies (of variable quality). Those who want a taste of the experience can still find it, and without having to mortgage the house for tickets.
But in another way, it really is the end of an era. There’s a magic to live theater that nothing else really touches … the sense of the story coming to life for the first time between audience and performer, never quite the same. Broadway’s “Phantom” kept reinventing that story through the generations and the spotlight is a little cooler for its absence.
But the heart of the story still lives. The essential lessons will outlast any broken chandelier.
All we have to do is remove the mask and find them for ourselves.