Phantom: Still One of the Best Shows on Broadway

There is a reason why The Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running show on Broadway.  Presented by Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Theatre Company, the record-breaking musical is celebrating its 25th anniversary at the West End and its 23rd amazing year on New York City's Great White Way.  Seeing it again last night, it still delivers all the elements that made it such a success -- brilliant production values, unforgettable songs performed by talented castmembers, and a story for the ages.

During its near-quarter-century on Broadway, I have seen the show a number of times at the aptly named Majestic Theatre, a grand and historic space for a grand and historic production.  Each seat offers a thrilling perspective of the action on stage -- the orchestra seats obviously provide great proximity to the actors and dancers, allowing the audience to feel the heat from the pyrotechnics and experience the iconic chandelier fly over their heads better than any 3D Hollywood movie could ever deliver; and even the less expensive seats in the back allow audiences to see and better appreciate the incredible special effects, such as the impressive candles rising from the fog.  Over the years, I've sat in the front row, in the back row, and probably every place in between, and enjoyed every performance each time.

The current leads, Hugh Panaro as the Phantom and Sara Jean Ford as Christine, have powerful voices and commanding stage presence, making them worthy successors to all the actors who have played those parts over the last few decades.  They rank up there with the greats, including the legendary originals Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. 

It is impossible for me to get the songs out my head -- "Think of Me," "Angel of Music," "The Music of the Night," "All I Ask of You," "Masquerade," "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," and of course the dramatic title song.  The lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe are superb.

I love many of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals, but The Phantom of the Opera is arguably his masterpiece.  His other beloved blockbusters were spectacles that forever changed musical theater -- Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, and the rest -- but Phantom is unmatched in that it had all the right pieces fitting perfectly together.

The story is what elevates the production to great heights.  It has something for everyone -- action, romance, horror, comedy, mystery, and drama.  The classic French novel by Gaston Leroux has been adapted numerous times, but this musical is a singular achievement of artistry and storytelling.  The book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber is filled with terrific characters and a solid story structure.  The triangle of Raoul, Christine, and the tragic Phantom makes for compelling theater and unforgettable entertainment.  Each act has its share of show-stopping scenes, from the spooky opening auction to the opera rehearsals to the memorable moments in the Phantom's lair to my favorite rooftop encounter to the stairway masquerade that always makes the audience "ooh" and "ahh" every time they see it.  I could go on and on listing all the other impressive highlights that are forever etched in fans' memories.

In addition to the original (and still running) production in London, The Phantom of the Opera is a global sensation and can be seen in Las Vegas, Asia Pacific, South Africa, and Budapest, but seeing it on Broadway after all these years is still a delight, at the same time nostalgic and fresh.  If you have seen it before, do yourself a favor and see it again.  If you have never had the chance to experience it, you're missing a true piece of Broadway history, so come enjoy the music of the night, still captivating audiences after all these years.

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