After three decades at the Majestic Theatre, The Phantom of the Opera still runs like a well-oiled machine—including its well-oiled machines.
The chandelier still flies into the air (and down again) to the crashing sounds of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s organ music; the gondolas still glide; and the gates still crash down in the lair. But more importantly, the performances are just as fresh and thrilling as they were when Michael Crawford first lured Sarah Brightman to his rooms below the Paris Opera House.
“I can’t imagine how it is for other long-running shows, but for us it’s a pretty easy process,” current Phantom Ben Crawford says. “Hard work, but Hal [Prince, the director] was such a genius in how he gave you enough detail as an actor to find the character, but he didn’t give so much that there’s a specific form that each actor has to fit into. You get a lot of leeway.”
Don’t worry—Crawford and company aren’t reinventing the show. But there is one major difference between Crawford’s masked menace and those that came before.
“Every Phantom walks down these stairs backwards,” he says, “and I said, ‘I will fall on my ass. So I make it down safely or I fall on my ass.’”
And so Crawford’s Phantom descends the stairs facing forward, remaining upright.
That’s par for the course for what Crawford calls “this living, breathing entity,” in which new cast members bring their own singular spin to the material, which most audiences love. But some come in with preconceived notions about such a beloved show.
“Someone was very mad at me on Twitter because I didn’t do it how Howard McGillin does it,” Crawford jokes. “Howard is this ethereal specter on stage! He floats! He looks like an opera ghost. I’m a linebacker in a suit!”
For the most part, however, the response is positive. “People come and say the show is in really good shape and it doesn’t feel like it’s 31 years old,” Crawford says. “So we’re doing our job!”