The 2nd longest running musical on London’s West End might be at the point of no return.
On July 28, The Phantom of the Opera producer Cameron Mackintosh stated in a column on the London Evening Standard that he and Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Had to sadly permanently shut down our London and UK touring productions of The Phantom of the Opera.” Shocking theater fans the world over, this news comes as a grim sign for the survival of the theater industry. Currently, Phantom is the second-longest running musical on the West End, opening in 1986 to much aplomb, outranked only by Les Misérables (1985). It’s New York production has been running since 1988 and is the longest-running Broadway show to date with over 13,000 shows under its belt. If a juggernaut like Phantom couldn’t weather the impact of the industry-wide suspensions, what chances do other shows have?
Both West End and Broadway suspended all their shows in mid-March earlier this year at the beginning of the global initiative of social distancing to curb the rise of COVID-19 cases. For the most part, outlook has been positive as the assumption is all productions are just on pause and will resume once restrictions have been eased. This hopeful wait of return is supported by a slew of what can only be described as “at-home renditions” of iconic songs from many musicals posted by their respective cast and crew on YouTube. Though these videos have been heartwarming and temporarily fill the hunger for the theater many of us have long been craving, the suspension’s slow but gradual toll is coming to the fore.
In May, Frozen was the first Broadway show announced to not be returning after the lockdown. The popular West End production of Six was reportedly planning a drive-in version of the show in late June. Set up in a way to maintain safe distances during performances, but plans of it fell through weeks later. These instances tell the signs of an industry in struggle, but for a cultural cornerstone such as Phantom of the Opera to fall is a clear signal of peril.
For now, Broadway resumes its show suspension through 2021 and West End’s suspension is set until the end of September, but will most likely be extended. Add to that the global travel bans, it is highly unlikely that any of us will be seeing a Broadway or West End show in the foreseeable future. A dismal dip being that foreign audiences accounted for 2.8 million theatergoers in Broadway’s 2018-2019 season, their highest number yet. Out of the question that numbers all across the demographics will be down this time around. But numerical values aside, the cultural value lost in empty theaters and dark stages may just be the most painful aspect—as the theatrical landscape can only wait until the dust settles.
As one slight but strong glimmer of hope, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has responded to Mackintosh’s statement. He refutes, “As far as I’m concerned Phantom will reopen as soon as is possible.”
All photos from The Phantom of the Opera’s Facebook page.