About to celebrate its 30th anniversaray, Phantom of the Opera has grown to mainstream popularity never seen before. When my dad bought our family’s first CD player, the first CD he purchased was Phantom. With the newfound ability to skip tracks, I fixated on the Overture and eponymous track, played on repeat. There was something about the synthesized descending organ arpeggio that captivated my imagination.
Then Phantom came to Los Angeles. The image of the mask at the top of the Ahmanson theater in downtown LA loomed large over the freeway whenever I passed. Everyone was talking about the famous chandelier that fell down, the beautiful music, the exciting plot. I finally had an opportunity to see the production with my father, stepmother, and grandfather. As a child, I was thoroughly fascinated by the stagecraft. The production felt like magic and I couldn’t figure out how any of the technical wizardry was accomplished.
My favorite memory of this production was not the chandelier, which was thrilling, or the costumes and set, which were all relatively strange and new to me, inexperienced in theater as I was. No, my favorite moment was during the song “Masquerade” which my grandfather, hearing aid turned low, thought was a song about foreign aid to the Soviet Union titled “Moscow Aid.”
Not long after, I became hooked on musical theater and found a home in the community of friends and artists I met. Most musical theater artists, playfully or otherwise, have a litmus test for “street cred” amongst their compatriots and audiences at large: Webber or Sondheim. If you like Sondheim, you’re into the cool, underground, indie rock of musical theater, filled with angst and intelligence. Lloyd Webber, on the other hand, came to represent the commercial, Top 40 pop of musical theater. So, I became a Sondheim devotee and Sir Lloyd Webber was the stuff for my out of town, out of touch relatives.
Only, it isn’t that way at all. Phantom, through ALW, invested thoroughly in a Wagnerian idea of “Gesamtkunstwerk” or “total artwork.” This idea that a theatrical or musical experience should resonate in all facets of the work, while certainly not new, was pushed to new heights by work like Phantom.
Most importantly, in the 30 years it has been on stage, Phantom has been enjoyed by millions of people and as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to appreciate that piece of the puzzle. Yes, it’s fun to have a club of people who understand and love what you love, but it’s also fun to share what you love with people who might never have experienced it before.
Phantom has become a calling card for musical theater, an entry point for so many people who have come to enjoy more and more productions through the years. With lush music, spellbinding spectacle, and beautiful performances, it has lasted across decades. I have had the pleasure now of seeing friends perform in its Broadway run and tours. For many, Phantom was their first Broadway performance.
At this time in our culture, and this point in my life, I find it more important to find ways that people can find common ground and less important to exclude myself. When I look back, Phantom has very much been a part of my musical theater heritage and will continue, I hope, to provide joy for millions of audience members in the decades to come.
Don’t miss the spellbinding 25th anniversary concert of Phantom of the Opera, available on BroadwayHD for subscribers.