It was March 2020 and it was the beginning stages of the coronavirus pandemic. I had plans to take my daughter to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, at the Majestic Theatre. A few individuals were wearing masks just the row behind us, but the ravages of the disease were yet to hit the United States. Phantom was the last show I saw, and I’ve held onto the memory ever since.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera will return to the Great White Way this Fall, like so many other shows that have been gutted by COVID-19. And I couldn’t be happier that the dramatic musical has made it through the dark times to emerge again for fans to enjoy. Prior to last year’s spring, I hadn’t seen the musical in decades, and I was shocked by how much it still thrilled me after all this time. It was like coming home.
The silver lining was the joy of introducing one of the best musicals of all time to my daughter, who was 12 at the time. I was taken to Phantom as a child, and I’ve now instilled a tradition with my own child of attending the show. She told me afterward that she wants to bring her own children to see it when she’s older. Suffice it to say, my daughter loved it. Having seats right below where the chandelier dropped didn’t hurt.
But her approval was never a given. When I was young, we had nothing like all the devices kids have nowadays to entertain themselves with. With iPads, iPhones, constant streaming, it’s always a gamble if a live show will hold their attention.
But from the moment the famous Phantom-themed chords erupted as the chandelier ascended above the stage at the outset, I got to watch my daughter’s mesmerized reaction and knew that it was a success. She remained enraptured throughout the entire production.
As an adult taking in the show many years later, it astonished me how much I took to Phantom once again. What surprised me most was how well the musical has adapted to our modern times. Don’t get me wrong, all the magical moments still shine: Phantom’s solo hanging above the statue (“All I Ask of You”) still gives me goosebumps; the exciting descent into the Paris catacombs; Phantom appearing in the mirror made me gasp; the exuberance of the Masquerade; and of course the chandelier crash.
But it was how Phantom has been reimagined, at least by the performer I saw in March of last year. Ben Crawford’s intense, slightly menacing take on the Svengali music teacher was utterly captivating. And worlds apart from the Phantoms I remembered, especially the soft baritone of Michael Crawford. Tthey are not related, can you believe it?) And you know what? It worked.
When Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted Gaston Leroux’s 1910 French novel, the Phantom of the Opera was perceived more like a romantic lead—Christine Daaé’s true love—if a bit controlling and well, slightly homicidal. Frankly, it would be difficult to accept him as such a romantic counterpart in our times. And this is why Ben Crawford’s approach utterly fascinated me.
He managed to strip the character of counterfeit romantic qualities and presented a Phantom who was still passionate, to be sure, but with a focus on intensity rather than false pretenses.
Crawford’s approach gave the entire production a fresh perspective and made me fall in love with the musical all over again.
Phantom of the Opera returns to the Majestic on October 22. If you haven’t seen it in a while, do yourselves a favor and revisit this gem of a musical. You will be surprised by how it still manages to thrill and impress. I was utterly blown away.