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As Broadway bids farewell to its longest-running show, one super-Phan recalls growing up with the musical
In my late teens as a newish fan of musical theatre, a friend and I met up in New York City hoping to catch a show. She was an avid fan of The Phantom of the Opera, but I was reluctant to go. I thought it seemed dated, not to mention problematic, and there were many other musicals (Chicago, Hamilton, Wicked) I was more interested in. However, since my friend had journeyed much farther than I, I let her pick, so Phantom it was. My life was forever changed because of her choice.
I fell in love hard and fast with everything about the production and ended up traveling from my home state of Maryland to see the show several more times that year alone. With each visit to the Majestic Theatre (often thanks to TDF), my appreciation grew—not just for Phantom, but for musical theatre overall. I noticed new details to admire at every viewing, and Hal Prince's minimalistic black-box vision juxtaposed with Maria Björnson's maximalist design never ceased to captivate. My fixation on Phantom actually helped determine my career path. I approached the show the way a theatre journalist would, leaving every performance with fresh questions burning in my brain. It inspired me to add a theatre history major to my digital journalism degree at Marymount Manhattan College, and it's why I'm a theatre journalist today.
One of my final visits to Phantom was its 35th anniversary performance on January 26, 2023. As I climbed the velvet-clad staircase at the Majestic in a pair of regrettably steep black stilettos, everything felt hauntingly familiar. Admittedly, the atmosphere was markedly different from the 30th anniversary. Given the show's final performance on Broadway is April 16, there was an air of bittersweetness as we celebrated while grieving.
As I moved through the crowd, I kept bumping into friends I'd made during my years of fangirling over Phantom. We'd lock eyes or I'd feel a hand on my arm and our reconnections always ended in hugs. Eventually, I ran into a young man I had befriended at the 30th anniversary. We were both teenagers at that time; now we are both grown up and working in the theatre industry. "You know, we met five years ago today, right here," he said with a smile. "You met a completely different girl," I replied as I recalled my last five years of growing, learning, pandemic-ing, graduating and starting my career. Phantom was the one constant through it all. No wonder its impending closure feels like losing the last part of my adolescent self.
Phantom has served as an outlet for me to process all the life-changing experiences I've had since 2018, both good and bad. Although I'm not a 19th-century soprano grappling with the death of her father while being mentored and manipulated by a masked man behind a mirror, Phantom conjures raw, conflicting emotions that resonate with me. Over the years, I've looked to the character of Christine Daaé when I find myself questioning my self-image. At the outset, she's a naïve and vulnerable young woman who latches on to someone she thinks she can trust to guide her. By the end, she's taking back her life on her own terms. Yes, she endures trauma, but she never loses herself or her values. She does not abandon her softness while gaining strength. In fact, despite all the Phantom does to her, she shows him the kindness he always yearned for. That's what I love most about the musical: the complexity and nuance of Christine's self-empowerment. Her strength is in her ability to stay true to herself—even the parts of herself that were taken advantage of. That hits close to home for me, and I try to remind myself that I don't need to leave those parts of myself behind because of the experiences I've endured.
As I watched Phantom during that 35th anniversary performance, my focus kept alternating between Christine and a memory of my 19-year-old self giddily running up those stairs five years prior, full of wonder, joy and innocence. Like Christine, the challenges I've faced don't mean that I've lost myself. I'm more mature now, perhaps even a little jaded. However, the same heart that fell in love with this show and built so many long-term friendships because of it still beats within me. The reason I am writing this article today (as I desperately try to score tickets to Phantom's final performance on Sunday) is because my inner child will live on through my undying love for this musical long after it closes.
Top image: Meg Masseron at the Majestic Theatre. Photo courtesy of the author.