NEW YORK, NY.-
The Phantom of the Opera, the longest running show in Broadway history, will give its final performance Sunday, bringing its glittering chandelier crashing down on the stage of the Majestic Theatre for the 13,981st and final time.
Its success was powered by all kinds of engines, perhaps none more striking than the group of die-hard patrons who call themselves Phans. They come from all over the world, drawn by its soaring Andrew Lloyd Webber score and Gothic love story, and have devoted themselves to the show, seeing it as often as possible, of course, but also collecting memorabilia, dressing up as characters, and conversing about it online.
Frank Radice, a Long Island call center operator, proposed to his wife at a Phantom installation in a Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, and Tracy ONeill of Connecticut used the shows All I Ask of You as her wedding song. Elizabeth Dellario, a New York City tech worker, named her cats Christine and Erik after characters in the show. Erin Castro, a Los Angeles office assistant, makes Lego figurines of the cast. Katie Yelinek, a Pennsylvania librarian who has seen it 69 times, said, I can honestly say Ive shaped my adult life around going to see Phantom.
So many Phans. Meet six:
Plenty of Phans have Phantom tattoos, but Alice Dyches has gotten specific with hers. Inked on her wrist are the first three notes of Think of Me, a beloved song in the show, and her midriff shows an address for the Majestic Theatre: 245 W 44th.
Growing up in South Carolina, she fell in love with the music by watching the film; when she was 6, she saw it for the first time on Broadway, on a trip with her grandparents.
The Phantom was Hugh Panaro, and he terrified me, and I kept wanting to go back, she said.
Now Dyches, 22, is a singer-songwriter, living in New York and working at a cat sanctuary on the Lower East Side. Throughout the pandemic, she worried about whether Phantom would survive, but once it reopened, she felt reassured.
Im real sad I thought I had more time to see it, she said. Ive not lived a life without Phantom being on Broadway, and theres always been the notion that if Im having a really crap day, I can go.
And, with that address inscribed on her abdomen, she is wryly watching what happens next.
I hope something good goes into the Majestic, she said, because otherwise Im going to be screwed.
Wallace Phillips didnt even know what The Phantom of the Opera was when he dressed as the Phantom one Halloween. He was 10 years old, growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland; he just thought the costume was cool.
His mother gave him a cast recording and then, in 2010, brought him and his sister to see the show on Broadway.
It was eye-opening, and awe-inspiring, he said. I was enthralled.
Phillips is now 27, living in New York City, where he moved to study animation at the School of Visual Arts. Hes making his way as a freelance filmmaker, while working as an usher at Hamilton.
How much does he love Phantom? At last count, he had seen it 140 times.
Phillips expresses his Phandom through his artistry he hopes one day to make an animated film of the musical, and meanwhile, he does concept art and drawings, some of which he signs and gives to cast members.
Despite all the times Ive seen it, Im always surprised, every time Im there, he said. That overture! That chandelier rising! The theater transforming! It keeps me awed every time.
In elementary school in Kaysville, Utah, Christine Smith had to write a paper about where her name came from. When she asked her mom, she learned that she had been named for Christine Daaé, the young soprano at the heart of The Phantom of the Opera.
I wrote that I was named after some dumb opera singer, Smith recalled.
Her father, who worked graveyard shifts stocking shelves in grocery stores, listened to Phantom to pass the time. She didnt understand the appeal until she saw the movie.
I know it sounds silly, but I just could tell, that was going to be my life, she said. I really learned to love my name.
She picked up a cast album at Walmart, started performing in school shows, and dreamed of playing Christine. Her family couldnt afford to travel to New York, but they made it to a production in Las Vegas, which she eventually saw six times.
Smith, 31, who now lives in Bountiful, Utah, finally got to see it on Broadway twice after the shows closing was announced. In October, she and her husband arranged a flight layover in New York so they could see Phantom, and then, in January, she won a contest to see its 35th anniversary performance.
It made my Phantom heart so happy, she said.
Alessandro Bertolotti, who lives in Codogno, Italy, a small town south of Milan, has seen Phantom roughly 100 times: not just on Broadway and in Londons West End, but also in Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Spain and Sweden.
The most memorable evenings are those where you feel an energy in the public something created by a fusion between the audience and the cast, he said. And then there are shows, like the one in Sweden, where I really enjoyed seeing a completely new staging of Phantom.
Musical theater did not initially interest Bertolotti, 67. Opera was his thing both as a fan and a director. But two decades ago, while in the United States to work on a production of Otello, Bertolotti saw Phantom on the recommendation of a colleague.
It was a revelation, he said. I was fascinated by the music, by the sets, and this vortex of costumes and fast scene changes.
He is planning this summer to see a version in Trieste the first in his native Italy that will star Iranian-Canadian Phantom veteran Ramin Karimloo.
Among all the musicals Ive seen, Phantom will always be the most fascinating and the most engaging, he said. Its part of me now.
PHANDOM FROM AFAR
Yixuan Wu was just 11 when she stumbled across a Phantom DVD in a video store. She was about as far from Broadway as can be in her hometown, Changsha, China but the packaging caught her eye, so she rented it.
She watched it over and over, and nurtured her Phandom online, streaming bootleg recordings from around the world.
I just feel like this story was calling to me, she said.
Flash forward to 2021. Wu had finished art school in China, and moved to New York to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She bought a ticket at the TKTS booth in Times Square, and finally saw Phantom from the right rear orchestra.
I was amazed and surprised by all the colors onstage, she said. You have to see it with your own eyes.
Wu, 25, has now seen the show 61 times, sometimes with a $29 standing room ticket, sometimes by winning a lottery, and once in a while by springing for a full-price seat. She collects merchandise (including teddy bears from the Japanese production), writes fan fiction and makes fan art (illustrations of cast members, many of which she gives to them).
Every time I go into the Majestic, she said, I feel like Im home.
The first time Patrick Compton dressed as the Phantom was at a church event. His congregation in his hometown, Frankfort, Kentucky, was raising money with an evening of scenes from Broadway shows, and he decided to sing something from the musical.
Compton, a duty officer at Kentuckys Division of Emergency Management, had loved Phantom since his parents took him to see it in Louisville, Kentucky, and this was his moment.
In the years since, Compton, 47, has taken voice lessons, recorded his own versions of Phantom songs, taken a weeklong workshop with Phantom alums and auditioned for a number of shows. He has seen Phantom 20 times in New York, and five times on tour.
He had never heard the word cosplay when he started showing up to the show wearing a mask, cape, vest and fedora he just thought it was fun. Now hes done it several times.
To this day I have yet to figure out how a show like that can just emotionally affect you from the very first note of the overture, you get goose bumps, and your hair stands on end, he said. You cant help it. Its addictive.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times