Gala performance 10,400 was certainly a glamorous affair on Saturday, January 26, when Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera celebrated its 25th Anniversary on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre. Champagne was flowing throughout the house at intermission and an invited audience was dressed to the nines.
The show itself opened with an extended tribute video and the evening's enthusiastic crowd of alums and ardent Phans greeted every number with vociferous rounds of applause -- though few were greeted louder than "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," magnificently delivered by Sierra Boggess. The actress, who also appeared as Christine Daae in the London production's 25th anniversary performance, said of the Broadway anniversary, "It isn't just one tiny thing. Coming out for both curtain calls after I gave the most I could possibly give to the show and Christine, and for Andrew's music," is what made the night so special. "I always knew I would be in this show, but I didn't know to what extent."
Boggess' mentor and friend "Andrew," known to those of us who can't hit that high "E" as the Lord Lloyd Webber, was conspicuously missing from the festivities, recovering in England from recent back surgery. Yet he was there in the form of a video message, introduced following the performance by director Harold Prince and producer Cameron Mackintosh, who took the stage, hand-in-hand. The pair also offered congratulatory remarks from a variety of other absent family members, most notably choreographer Gillian Lynne (in London staging Betty Buckley in Jerry Herman's Dear World), and original star Michael Crawford.
On hand, in person, was the other original star, Lloyd Webber's inspiration (and former wife), Sarah Brightman. "I knew right from its inception that it was special," Brightman said before the show started. "It's like a jewel. I knew there were some problems with Equity at the time, but I felt very privileged and very lucky to be here," she said of her experience 25 years ago.
The post-performance festivities at the Majestic ended with a shot of confetti and an encore reprise of the title number and "Music of the Night," sung by the evening's stars, Boggess and Hugh Panaro, and three internationally acclaimed Phantoms: John Owen-Jones, Ramin Karimloo, and Peter Jöback (who will join the Broadway cast in April). It was a surprise that the audience didn't see coming. How hard is it to keep such a secret in today's social media-obsessed world? "I didn't Tweet," Karimloo said smiling, clearly impressed with his ability to resist the temptation of a smart phone. "It's easy to keep a secret when I'm traveling and rehearsing and don't have much internet. I'm the worst with secrets!"
The rehearsal process for the celebratory encore with his fellow former Phantoms was minimal, he asserted. However, "You can rehearse until you're blue in the teeth, but it's always kind of ad hoc. You ride the wave of the emotion of the night and the energy of the audience. This finale was a celebration, not a performance. We were there as fans. I wasn't there to perform, I was there to celebrate."
And celebrate they did at the New York Public Library, which featured the Phantom's signature half-mask projected onto its Fifth Avenue façade. More champagne, and other libations flowed freely from a series of strategically placed bars as guests mingled on multiple floors of the darkened building's exhibition hall.
"I think I have a new favorite memory tonight," Panaro said proudly. One of the show's long-running cast members, he joined the show first in 1989 as Raoul and now is in the midst of his third tour of duty in the title role. "All of our alumni were here tonight, and I'd look out during different parts of the show and see all my friends who I've performed with since I was 26 years old," he continued. "This is celebrating 25 years of Phantom, and 25 years of my family, and at the top of the list is Hal Prince, who gave me my first shot at this show."
Prince, the show's Tony Award-winning director, kept a watchful eye during the proceedings, sitting (and occasionally standing) in the house left mezzanine box. "I haven't a clue how often I've seen it," Prince, who checks in on his baby every few months, said. "You're not the first to ask, but it's obviously hundreds of times, and I don't tire of it, which is nice. It's a swell show, swell material, and the people are terrific."
- Hugh Panaro
- Phantom of the Opera
- Sierra Boggess
- Andrew Lloyd Webber
- Sarah Brightman
- Harold Prince
- Ramin Karimloo
- Phantom 25
- Cameron Mackintosh