For the uninitiated, Phantom of the Opera is a musical with music written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe. It’s based on a 1910 novel of the same name by Gaston Leroux. The musical opened in 1986 in London’s West End. It had been running for 34 years, until March 2020 when the theater had to close because of the coronavirus.
And yet, as theater fans—not just in the U.K. but around the world—waited with bated breath for the reopening of society and the theater, Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of the musical, announced that Phantom of the Opera would be closing permanently. After a run of 34 years since 1986, Phantom of the Opera’s curtains and infamous chandelier will not be rising again, even after other shows open again.
At least, that’s what the original statement was. In the U.K.’s Evening Standard newspaper, Mackintosh wrotean article about how untenable opening theaters back up was in the current pandemic. And since there’s no end in sight, he had to make huge downsizes to his company to make sure it would survive. Mackintosh knew this was coming—he wrote:
In early May I warned Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and the Government that [downsizing] would be necessary unless we received financial help. Despite the recent announcement of a £1.57 billion rescue fund for the arts, this help still hasn’t materialized.
Unfortunately, this meant he had to make some tough decisions.
“Andrew [Lloyd Webber] and I have had to sadly permanently shut down our London and U.K. touring productions of The Phantom of the Opera, but are determined to bring it back to London in the future.”
While his comma use is questionable, his intentions are not—he wants to bring the musical back to London. But he also said that it is closed permanently. These two statements seem contradictory. How can the musical be closed permanently and yet hopefully will be brought back?
Well, the answer lies in a statement made to The Stage by The Really Useful Group, which is owned by Lloyd Webber and produces, licenses, and promotes his shows. The president of the Really Useful Group, Jessica Koravos, said:
What Cameron [Mackintosh] was meaning to say is, we have closed down the production entity that has been that [production of] The Phantom of the Opera for 34 years, and have closed down the physical production. Even before the pandemic hit, we were already in a process of going carefully through the physical production, some parts of it already having been decommissioned. There are systems in that set you could not get the replacement parts for me any more—they just aren’t made after 34 years.
What does that mean? They’re permanently closing down the production of The Phantom of the Opera that’s been running for 34 years, but they’re not permanently stopping showing a production of the musical. It’ll be back as the same glorious musical it’s always been, just with some necessary updates needed. It’s basically a reboot.
The musical is going to return unchanged, with the same work done by the original creative team, including director Hal Prince and designer Maria Björnson. But they needed to update the physical set itself, because it’s been more than three decades and it’s probably getting a little rusty.
Koravos added that they had planned to do a period of closure in a few years to do said renovations, but after the pandemic forced a close, they couldn’t afford to do two. So, honestly, it’s pretty efficient that they’re doing the reboot now instead of in a few years.
Furthermore, once they looked at the set, it became clear that the building itself also needed work. So they need to do repairs on the set and the building, and they can’t even work on the building until the whole set is out.
But, theater fans, the gist of it is that you don’t have to worry, The Phantom of the Opera will be returning in all its glory. They just need to do some renovations and add in some new technology, but the show will continue to be “the brilliant original.”
So when will The Phantom of the Opera be back in London? It’s difficult to say. Koravos said, “Unlike some other shows that can say they will reopen as soon as social distancing ends, we have these other issues which means we are not able to give people a date, and so could not in all good faith keep people hanging on for a genuinely unknown length of time.”
They’re working hard to update the musical and keep it working, so fans just need to be patient. It will be back. The theater venue will be waiting—no other show will take The Phantom of the Opera’s place. Not that it could, anyway.