Anthony J. Piccione
Three decades after it first opened in London, I think it is fair to say that the legacy of Phantom as one of the most popular and commercially successful shows in the history of musical theatre is secure. We can debate for as long as we want over whether or not it is overrated. For me, personally, it is one of my favorite musicals of all time, and it deserves much of its popularity, even though I know some may disagree. However, there is no denying that it is one of the most popular and commercially successful Broadway shows of all time, and that it may be a long time before we see a show top its 30 year run on Broadway.
That’s why I’m ready for the show to close.
Before all of you hardcore Phantom fans say anything, please allow me to explain why I believe this show has been running for long enough, in the first place.
First of all, let me just reiterate the core of my argument: The show has been around for 30 years. Think about how long that has been. Back then, artists like Prince and Madonna were still topping the music charts, Donald Trump was merely just another rich guy with bad hair, the most popular TV show in America was The Cosby Show, and the Internet – not to mention blogs, such as this one – hadn’t even been invented yet. So yeah, that was a pretty long time ago. I myself haven’t been around that long, and I suspect that a large portion of this blog’s readers haven’t been around that long, either.
More to the point, most Broadway productions – some of which, quite frankly, are of better caliber – are lucky to make it to 10 years, much less 30 years. Yet this is despite the fact that, while Phantom may be largely deserving of the praise it has gotten over the years, it may not necessarily be any more worthy of its extremely long run than any many other shows are. After all, if shows such as Les Miserables – just to name one example of another classic musical – had to close eventually, despite what a phenomenal show it was, why can’t we say the same about a show such as Phantom?
Furthermore, it would seem that there is some degree of evidence that this show – while still widely revered – is getting to be a bit stale among potential theatergoers, despite what any new changes to the cast there may be, over time. All one has to do is look at the ticket sales of Phantom, and see how they are certainly not as high as they once were. Sure, it may still be enough to keep a production afloat. However, even without considering shows such as Hamilton –which are potentially able to sell out shows for several months in a row – you can see how newer shows are able to still sell just as well, if not more so, than Phantom. So it’s not as if you can expect the industry, as a whole, to suffer if Phantom were to close.
With this in mind, isn’t it worth considering the fact that maybe – just maybe – this show would not still be running, if it didn’t somehow earn the reputation of being an institution on Broadway? (A reputation, it’s worth noting, that many other classics – which are arguably greater than Phantom – have been unable to achieve.)
There are many great talents that are aching to see their newest show produced either in New York or London, and while many of them could turn out to be quite unmemorable, a few of the ones more likely to be selected for production could easily prove to be as big as The Phantom of the Opera once was, or as big as shows such as Hamilton or The Book of Mormon are now.
Earlier this year, Aaron Netsky wrote an article for this website entitled “Who Will Be Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Andrew Lloyd Webber”. The point he was essentially making was that Webber and Stephen Sondheim were the two giants of musical theatre of their generation, and with Lin-Manuel Miranda becoming the latest modern giant of musical theatre, who from this generation will be to him what Webber was to Sondheim? However, what are the odds of such a potential future legend ever making it to Broadway, if shows such as Phantom are allowed to keep going on forever?
If we ever want to see another show that is as big as The Phantom of the Opera – or if we ever want to see another musical composer who is as great, if not greater, than Andrew Lloyd Webber – then it’s worth considering that the odds of that ever happening become more and more slim, the longer our current hit musicals are allowed to continue their seemingly endless run.
As I’m writing this now, I can already picture the responses I might end up getting for writing this column. Some of the people responding might argue that if a show is great and is still doing well, there is no reason for it to close. I can understand how one might arrive at this conclusion, both from a fan’s perspective and from a producer’s perspective. Indeed, why close a classic show, if people are still buying tickets, even if the show isn’t making as much as it used to?
However, there are two points that are worth considering:
First, are you suggesting there is no other show that people would think is worth going to see? There are plenty of more recent Broadway musicals – from Hamilton to The Book of Mormon – that show how there are still shows out there that audiences love, and could potentially continue to enjoy seeing for nearly as long as they’ve had the chance to enjoy Phantom. So let’s not pretend that overall industry sales are going to drastically go down, once this show closes, especially if a show that manages to be more successful (relative to Phantom’s current financial success, anyway) comes along.
Also, if you just don’t want to see the show close simply because you’re a fan, keep in mind that – like nearly every other show before Phantom, that has achieved such enormous popularity – the show will likely find a new life in the world of community theatre. I’m sure the instant this show closes on Broadway, community theaters all across the country will be dying to include The Phantom of the Opera as part of their next season. (It could very well go on to be overproduced by theaters, like some other popular shows are, but that’s a whole separate topic worthy of discussion for another time.)
The point being that even when it’s no longer on Broadway or in the West End, there will still likely be many chances for theatre lovers to see it, and likely for more affordable costs too. That’s exactly what happened with several other classic musicals, such as Les Miserables and Chicago and Rent, when they first closed. So there is no reason that we can expect any different, in terms of the future of Phantom. After years of that, of course, there’s still even the chance of a future Broadway revival, years into the future…
For now, however, it is clear: After a fantastic run of three decades and over 10,000 performances, it is time for us to close the curtains on Phantom. It is a great show with beautiful music, and it is undeniable that it is one of the best modern examples of how theatre can still be a commercially viable art form in the modern era, despite what some may believe. However, I also believe that Broadway producers should be thinking about of the next generation of musicals, and ensuring that they have a chance to be as successful and as popular as those that came before. So as much as I love Phantom, I’m also ready to see this classic musical take its final bow.
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist based in New York City.
To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to follow him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage) and on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione).