When I was in New York, seeing a Broadway show was on my list of essential NYC experiences, along with seeing a Yankees game, riding the Staten Island Ferry, eating a street hot dog and going for a paddle on the lake in Central Park. Touristy? Yes. Unforgettable? Absolutely.
Where would the performing arts be without Broadway? New York City’s most famous street has become a by-word for the best musicals in the business.
There is no shortage of choice but as the longest-running show on Broadway, Phantom of the Opera seemed like the perfect place to start. We ordered our tickets through TodayTix, which offers a cheap and hassle-free way to purchase theatre tickets while you’re travelling. We ordered online and a representative from the company met us outside Majestic Theatre with our tickets just before the show.
Phantom premiered in 1986 and has provided the benchmark for musical theatre ever since. It cemented composer Andrew Lloyd Webber in the Broadway hall of fame and is the most financially successful entertainment event in history. Set in fin de siecle Paris at the fictional Opera Populaire, based on Opera Garnier, Phantom of the Opera is a story of unrequited love – or obsession. The Phantom, a talented musician and magician, falls in love with a young performer, Christine, when he hears her sing.
The musical is based on the 1909 novel by French lawyer-turned-investigative-journalist and novelist, Gaston Leroux. He was intrigued by the legends and rumours surrounding Opera Garnier, Paris’ neo-baroque opera house.
From the beginning, Opera Garnier was shrouded in mystery. In 1861, Napoleon III ordered the construction of the magnificent opera house. When construction workers cleared the site for the building, water bubbled up from the swampy ground and could not be stemmed. The architect, Charles Garnier, designed a water tank to capture the water and provide a stable foundation for the building.
Thirteen years later, the neo-baroque masterpiece was complete but rumours of a lake beneath the Opera house persisted.
One of the project’s engineers, a young man named Eric, reportedly asked Garnier if he could live at Opera Garnier. His request was denied but he was never seen again.
Strange occurrences were reported throughout the years at Opera Garnier, but the most chilling was a tragic accident which resulted in a woman’s death. A counterweight from the theatre’s enormous chandelier fell mid-performance, killing audience member Madame Chopette. It was her first time at the opera.
The beauty of Opera Garnier contrasts perfectly with the chilling idea of what lies beneath the beautiful facade, making it ripe for mystery and intrigue. The rumours of the lake, the disappearance of Eric and the death of Madame Chopette captured the imagination of Gaston Leroux. As he investigated Opera Garnier his protagonist, Erik, was born as the Phantom of the Opera. Despite writing the Phantom of the Opera as a work of fiction, Leroux firmly believed that the Phantom of the Opera did exist.
In the musical, there is a secret lake underneath the opera house, which is the Phantom’s lair. After Christine escapes his lair for the first time, he creates a diversion so he can whisk her away again. He drops the seven-tonne chandelier during a performance, killing a member of the audience.
The sets were dazzling. Opera stages and dressing rooms effortlessly transformed into the Phantom’s watery underground lair, transporting viewers out of their seats in New York City and into the underbelly of Opera Garnier.
The singing, acting and dancing were faultless, but it was Webber’s moving score that made the musical a household name. His music made you feel for the Phantom while you despised him, creating an enigmatic anti-hero.
You don’t have to be an arts buff to enjoy Phantom of the Opera. For thirty years, Phantom has been enthralling audiences of all ages, making it a great show to start with if you’re overwhelmed by options on Broadway. My boyfriend came with me, and while I hoped he’d enjoy it, I knew he was really only going for my benefit. To both of our surprise, he loved the show as much as I did! We capped off the night at Wine Escape, a perfect post-show destination to chat about the show over a few glasses of wine.
Have you been to a show on Broadway? What’s the best musical or theatre production you’ve ever seen?