All the Times Phantom of the Opera Made History on Broadway | Playbill

Special Features All the Times Phantom of the Opera Made History on Broadway

From the first chandelier drop to NYC's mayor declaring a "Phantom of the Opera Day," revisit all the major moments in Broadway's longest-running musical.

The Phantom of the Opera's 35th anniversary Playbill cover

Thirty-five years ago, a new musical took the Broadway stage on the heels of its smash-hit success on the West End. The cultural response, both in London and New York was described as "Phantom-mania," with theatregoers around the nation buzzing about the spectacle-filled melodrama full of mystery, suspense, and romance. 

This year, The Phantom of the Opera celebrates its 35th and final anniversary on Broadway, as its closing date approaches on April 16. Take a look back at three-and-a-half decades of the "Music of the Night" being sung on Broadway.

January 26, 1988: Phantom of the Opera opens on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre

Playbill cover for The Phantom of the Opera in 1988.

Just two years after it opened on the West End, Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway, becoming an immediate cultural craze. Months prior to its January 1988 opening, tickets were already sold out through September 1988. As early as November 1987, fans were camping out overnight in the subfreezing cold, desperate to purchase the next block of tickets for performances. 

Straight off of the West End stage, the Broadway production starred Michael Crawford as the Phantom, Sarah Brightman as Christine, and Steve Barton as Raoul. The cast also included Patti Cohenour, Judy Kaye, and newcomer at the time Rebecca Luker, who made her Broadway debut in the ensemble. Luker took over as the principal Christine the following year.

With record-breaking box office success, reviews that declared the production an instant phenomenon, and a quick cult following of "phans" that returned to the production dozens of times (some, as many as one hundred) throughout its run—it was immediately clear Phantom had secured a special place in Broadway history.

June 5, 1988: Phantom of the Opera Wins The Tony Award For Best Musical

At the 42nd Annual Tony Awards, it was quite the line-up of nominees: DreamgirlsAnything Goes, and Into The Woods, which Phantom famously beat for the Best Musical category. During Sondheim's reigning era in the American theatre, this win wasn't taken lightly, and gave Phantom yet another boost into megahit status. Phantom walked away with seven wins: Best Scenic Design (Maria Björnson), Best Lighting Design (Andrew Bridge), Best Direction of a Musical (Hal Prince), Best Costume Design (Maria Björnson), Best Performance by a Leading Actor (Michael Crawford), and Best Performance by a Featured Actress (Judy Kaye).

May 18, 1989: The first United States tour of Phantom of the Opera launches

A little over a year after its opening at the Majestic Theatre, the Broadway production hit the road with Michael Crawford stepping off of the New York stage to lead the touring cast alongside Dale Kristien as Christine. It opened on May 18, 1989 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Two additional tours emerged after this, the third and final original production tour spanning 18 years, making it one of the longest-running touring theatre productions in the United States. The first national tour (Christine Company) played Los Angeles and San Francisco for a combined total run of almost ten years, with 3,902 performances and 6.6 million patrons. The second national tour (Raoul Company) played an eight-and-a-half-year run, with 3,364 performances and 7.5 million patrons. The third national tour (Music Box Company) played 7,284 performances and in a full-circle fashion, closed in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theatre on October 31, 2010.

January 9, 2006: Phantom of the Opera becomes the longest-running show in Broadway history

The cast of The Phantom of the Opera Joan Marcus

After surpassing Cats' record of 7,485 performances, Phantom of the Opera became Broadway's longest-running show, with an 18 year run at the Majestic Theatre. The special performance was invite-only, save for 200 seats won by fans in a trivia competition. And at the curtain call, a dancer dressed as Victoria from Cats approached the Phantom (Howard McGillin, at the time) onstage to "pass the baton" from one longest-running show to the next. The evening closed out with a masked ball at the Waldorf Astoria to celebrate what was a huge milestone at the time. Little did they know, that 18-year run would nearly double, reaching 35 years on Broadway in 2023. 

June 15, 2008: Whoopi Goldberg plays Christine...?

You read that right! Of course, it was a limited engagement run...of roughly one minute. To commemorate Phantom's 20th year on Broadway, Phantom star John Cudia was joined on his boat ride to the underground lair by none other than Whoopi Goldberg, who had the audience in a fit of giggles. Although this moment might not be history-making in the sense of being a major milestone for the production, it's certainly worth looking back on with a laugh.

January 26, 2013: Phantom of the Opera celebrates 25 years on Broadway

Just two years behind London's 25th anniversary, which was commemorated with the now-renowned Royal Albert Hall performance starring Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess, Phantom hosted one of 2013's biggest nights on Broadway, with a special performance followed by a star-studded gala at the New York Public Library. Phan-favorite Hugh Panaro led the cast alongside Boggess who joined for a limited engagement, still riding the wave of her Royal Albert Hall breakout stardom. The evening was full of surprises, with original music supervisor David Caddick conducting the orchestra once more and onstage appearances at curtain call by Hal Prince, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh, and Sarah Brightman. 

But wait...there's more! The onstage festivities concluded with a very special performance of the title song and "Music of the Night" by not one, not two, but three additional Phantoms alongside Panaro: Ramin Karimloo, John Owen Jones, and Peter Jöback. The latter went on to replace Panaro as the Phantom in April of that year. The "foursome" performance went on into Phantom fandom infamy...just ask any phan!

May 12, 2014: Norm Lewis becomes the first Black actor to play the Phantom on Broadway

After 26 years on Broadway, finally, a Black actor took on the role of the Phantom—a long-awaited moment of onstage representation. Joining Sierra Boggess, who played his daughter in The Little Mermaid on Broadway, Norm Lewis donned the mask beginning May 12, 2014. In an interview with Playbill, he described that he felt as though being cast as the Phantom was equivalent in likelihood to winning the lottery. Prior, only one Black actor had played the Phantom before Lewis in all of Phantom history (Robert Guillaume, who replaced Michael Crawford in Los Angeles in 1990). Said Lewis at the time, "There are so many brothers out here who can just sing circles around this show and do a phenomenal job... I was the lucky one that got picked, so I need to do my best and bring my A-game, and then hopefully that will open the door for other people."

Lewis became an instant phan-favorite, and the Associated Press declared his Phantom entrance as being one of the top 10 theatre moments of 2014. His run went through February 2015.

June 13, 2016: Ali Ewoldt and Jordan Donica join the cast as the first Asian Christine on Broadway and the first Black Raoul on Broadway

Ali Ewoldt and Jordan Donica in Phantom of the Opera Matthew Murphy

A principal cast change in June 2016 brought necessary change to the diversity of the actors playing Christine and Raoul, with Ali Ewoldt and Jordan Donica entering the production. They were the first BIPOC actors to play those roles on Broadway. Ewoldt played Christine until November 2018, serving as the principal Christine for the show's 30th anniversary. Donica's run went through January 2017, with a limited engagement return in the summer of 2022.

January 26, 2018: Phantom of the Opera celebrates 30 years on Broadway

Sarah Brightman and Peter Jöback

What do you get when you put together a gala, an Empire State Building light show, a city holiday being declared in honor of Phantom's reign on Broadway, and the kids from the cast of School of Rock? Phantom's big 30 bash! The production called in Phantom alum Peter Jöback for a limited anniversary engagement, alongside principals Ali Ewoldt and Rodney Ingram. The gala performance was held two days before the actual anniversary on January 24. The day started off bright and early with the Phantom cast ringing the Nasdaq stock market opening bell, and Mayor Bill de Blasio declaring January 26 as "Phantom of the Opera Day" in New York City. All of these uniquely New York honors sought to emphasize Phantom's role as an NYC institution, intrinsic to the city's culture as its longest-running, mainstay musical. 

The special gala performance invited industry members, Phantom alumni, and a select number of phans who were able to purchase $30 seats in the balcony. Appearances included Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh, Sarah Brightman, and Hal Prince—who celebrated his upcoming 90th birthday alongside the casts and creatives, who sang "Happy Birthday" to him. Prince passed away the following year. The performance closed out with a special rock rendition of the Phantom of the Opera title song sung by Brightman and Jöback, with the Broadway cast of School of Rock playing as an onstage rock band.

The celebration continued through the night at NBC's Rainbow Room, where friends and family of the Phantom cast and creative team had a perfect view of a special Empire State Building, which had a light show timed to a medley of the Phantom score.

October 30, 2018: #PhantomFashion30 Exhibit Opens at the Museum of the City of New York

Photos: Phantom of the Opera 30th Anniversary Mask Auction

In a fundraising campaign benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, 30 fashion designers (Nicole Miller, Kenneth Cole, and Rebecca Minkoff, to name just a few) were commissioned to design their own Phantom masks to honor Phantom's 30th anniversary year. The designs were revealed during an invitation-only event on October 30, sponsored by Bank of America. The 30 masks were on display at the Museum of the City of New York for 30 days, while they were up for bidding through an online auction.

October 22nd, 2021: Phantom of the Opera reopens on Broadway following the COVID-19 shutdown

586 days after Phantom's last performance in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the chandelier rose again on Broadway. Pre-pandemic principals Meghan Picerno, Ben Crawford, and John Riddle returned to their roles, and Senator Chuck Schumer kicked off the evening with a pre-show speech, declaring: "with Phantom opening tonight, we know New York is back."

For those who were unable to get tickets to the anticipated event, a New Year's Eve-style countdown appeared on the megascreens in Times Square, marking the moment the chandelier rose once more inside of the Majestic Theatre.

...And Andrew Lloyd Webber DJs a street party afterwards.

Andrew Lloyd Webber

Smoke machines and multicolor spotlights threw a neon haze over 44th Street, with Andrew Lloyd Webber standing right in the center, atop of a truck, DJing a remix of the title song. The theatre corner of the internet went wild.

January 26, 2022: Emilie Kouatchou begins principal run on Phantom's 34th anniversary as Broadway's first Black Christine

Emilie Kouatchou and company in The Phantom of the Opera

To mark 34 years on Broadway, Emilie Kouatchou made her principal debut as Christine. Kouatchou was the first Black Christine on Broadway, and was cast just a year behind the first Black Christine on the West End, Lucy St. Louis. Kouatchou initially made her Broadway debut as the Christine alternate in October 2021 when Phantom reopened. 

September 16, 2022: Phantom of the Opera announces closure on Broadway

The Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theatre Marc J. Franklin

In a chaotic fashion, unverified reports came early in the day that Phantom would soon close on Broadway, causing a social media spiral between Phantom phans and members of the theatre community as a whole. Later that evening, the news was officially reported: After a historic 35-year-run, Phantom of the Opera would close on February 18, 2023. 

Then it was announced several months later that due to unprecedented demand in tickets, Phantom would extend two months, with a new closing date of April 16, 2023. 

January 26, 2023: Phantom of the Opera has run a total of 35 years on Broadway

The Phantom of the Opera's 35th anniversary Playbill cover

Today, Phantom of the Opera celebrates its 35th and final anniversary on Broadway. With less than a hundred performances left before its closure in April, the mask logo will soon be removed from the exterior of the Majestic Theatre. Considering how it has grown over the decades to become an internationally-recognized symbol, gaining phans all around the world, it certainly won't be forgotten. With all its record-breaking impact, Phantom of the Opera has secured a type of immortality in the collective memory of American theatre, and Broadway will surely "think of [it] fondly" for countless years to come. Broadway shows may come and go, but there's only one angel of music!

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